10 Things NOT to Bring to Your First Triathlon

by CBCG athlete Amy VT

If you scroll through our past blogs, you’ll mostly find vernacular, topics, and discourse geared towards experienced endurance triathletes. Indeed, the majority of CBCG Athletes are Iron-women and -men with decades of experience, looking to progress to that proverbial “next level.”

This week, however, we bring to you a refreshing change of pace. If you’re a vet triathlete, share this with that pesky coworker or cousin who’s peppering you for advice. If you’re a beginner yourself, read on for ways to streamline your first race. 

You’ve likely already gleaned a litany of tips from magazines, online forums, and other triathletes. Is your head spinning? Perhaps less is more when packing up for your first tri. 

If you watch a pro athlete transition from the swim to the bike, she’s only doing two things: removing her swim gear, and putting on her helmet. That’s it. Here’s a refreshing approach to your first race, suggesting what you don’t need, in the spirit of simplifying your transition and your headspace, in general. 

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1. Gloves

‘Nuff said. Cycling gloves, whether half- or full-finger, are designed for protection against abrasions in a crash. They also absorb shock, which is advantageous for longer rides. It’s not worth the time during races, however, to remember, stage, or put them on, which is why you never see gloves in triathlon. 

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2. Towels 

Some transition areas, particularly the more rookie setups, colonize upwards of five square feet with spa amenities. Foot pails, towels, bath mats, bags, dinette sets...When did the memo go out that T1 is the prefect time for a pedicure? 

True, wet, sandy, and dirty feet might portend blisters, but transitions are too frenzied for perfection. A quick one-two Tinder swipe of your bare soles against your opposite calf should suffice. Perhaps during a half- or full-Iron distance it’s more important to take a few seconds to clean your feet, but a sprint or Olympic isn’t long enough to worry.

That stated, if you just freaked out reading that advice, then a smallish towel in T1 is fine so long as you don’t spend too long with it, that you don’t colonize beyond your area, and that you don’t flip if it’s not there when you get there, or your neighbor already used it. 

3. Sunblock

SPF is extremely important. CBCG Coaches recommend applying and reapplying for all activity in the sun. For race day, you should obvi apply liberally before the race, which should be enough if you use a thick or waterproof variety. It’s not worth it, however, to take the extra time to reapply from your own tube in transition, which might be futile since you’ll be soaked from the swim. Most races in blazing sun offer reapplication on course, so don’t complicate your transition. 

4. Body Glide

Ditto. 

5. Nutrition for the Bike

It should all be on your bike. During sprint or Olympic tris, you’ll only need to eat one-to-three times on the bike, and it should all fit on your frame. If you don’t have a “bento box” for your top tube, then you can attach bars and gels with electrical tape. Rehearse a ton: practice finagling the packages, and consuming them while you’re steering and cycling fast. 

Festoon your bike with all your stuff on it and then take it for a shakeout ride before your race.  Indeed, this means sleeping your bike overnight bedecked with your nutrition. (Let’s not broach the hilarious practice of adhering open bars to your top tube, just plastering on sticky little squares without their packaging.) 

There is one exception to this rule: if you are super quick and adept at grabbing a handful of nutrition and shoving it in your race kit, pockets, or sports bra. If that works better for you than bike storage, then ensure you’ve practiced rushing through the process with precisely what you’ll be wearing on race day. 

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6. Hydration for the Bike

Ditto. It should all be on the bike. In fact, most triathletes pack too many bottles on their frames, seats, and aerobars, rendering their ride unnecessarily heavy. Exactly how much to carry is highly race- and athlete-dependent, so discuss with your coach, but there’s no need stage extra bottles on the ground in transition. 

7. Frame Pump

Again, many triathletes load up their beautiful bikes with unnecessary weight. Of course bring an extra tube and flat repair, but learn how to use CO2 cartridges (or tubeless repair), and practice to the point of confidence before race day. (Let’s not broach spoke reflectors.)

8. Hand-held Water Bottle for the Run

Especially for a sprint or Olympic tri, there will be ample hydration on course. If you’re worried about spilling, getting enough down, or picking up the right thing (water or electrolytes), then it will be more worth it to slow down through aid stations than it would to set up your own bottle in transition, which might disappear, and it will definitely get hot.

9. Tons of Nutrition for the Run

Ditto. For a sprint or Olympic tri, you will only need to eat one-to-three times on the run. It may be be more worth it to adapt to what’s on course than it will be to set up your own buffet, save for a baggie or pile of a few gels, bars, or blocks. Fuel belts are contraptions we usually reserve for longer events, but they can be convenient when they double as race number bib belts, so that one comes down to personal preference. Bottom line: keep it simple and try to rely as much as you can on aid stations. 

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10. Helium Balloon

You’ll see at least one at every race. It’s a self-centered, if not egregiously rookie move when a triathlete marks the coordinates of her transition area with a balloon so that her crazy, hazy, post-swim eyes can hastily locate her rack. What a spectacle if everyone did that! Selfishness aside, c’mon people, memorize your bike coordinates.

Many triathletes over-think their first race. If you have studied up via magazines, online forums, and other triathletes, then hopefully you’ve imbibed the most salient words of advice: have fun. The adage is a bit hokey, but if you can’t have fun stumbling through your first triathlon, why do it? And if you simplify things by minimizing your stuff in transition, there will be less on which to stumble.