5 Things Nobody Tells You About Your First Triathlon


Preparing for your first triathlon can be a daunting task: the gruelling hours of training, eating an optimum diet and building your mental resilience. There are many blogs out there that share triathlon training tips about these topics, so instead, I thought I’d share some practical tips based on my own experiences as both a participant and a marshall at amateur triathlon events.

My tips focus on the things that nobody tells you about, but that I wish I’d known before my first triathlon which started in a cold lake in the Cotswolds many years ago.....

1.  Learn how to get dressed and undressed quickly....

People forget that as well as the swim, run and bike sections of a triathlon there are also two transition periods and these can have a huge impact on your overall event time. Spending time practising taking off your kit and putting it on again sounds silly but could save you precious time—especially if you haven't worn a wetsuit before.

I spent over 3 minutes on my first triathlon struggling with my wetsuit (as I was disorientated after the swim).  The next time, I saved nearly 2 minutes in changing time which equated to nearly 20 seconds per km— that would have taken a lot of run sessions to achieve!

Also, think about whether you need to put socks on for the bike ride—the time saved from drying your feet and struggling with socks could be worth a couple of minutes alone.

2.  Spend time learning the course

As much as organisers do their best to make sure the signs are as clear as possible, when you are in the middle of a race—tired and stressed—your ability to make decisions is reduced. Thinking through the triathlon route beforehand in your head and/or walking the course can minimise the risk of wasting time during the race.

Also, you often you need to count the number of lengths during a swim, or laps on a bike route. This isn’t a problem if you have an expensive triathlon watch (and remember to press the right buttons for each transition!) but there are other ways of remembering... 

For example, I sing a song in my head about how many laps or lengths to go... it’s weird, I know, but it works for me!

3.  Get into a lake before the event

The first time you do a triathlon with a lake swim can be daunting—especially if it’s the first time you've been in a lake. You often can't see the bottom, it's cold and you may be swam over by other triathletes at the start. 

My advice is to try and go to a tri-lake before the event, if only to experience what it's like getting in the water in a wetsuit.  Then, during the event wait for the rush to go at the start and take your time—get used to the cold and focus on breaking the swim down into sections. This helps to keep you focused and stops you getting overwhelmed. 

4.  Have the right kit for the event

Now, this isn’t talking about the right trainers or shorts, it’s more about those little things that you won't think of until you're doing the event.

For me, it was safety pins to attach your race number (either to make a hole for your race belt or to attach to your top), a small towel to stand on when in transition after the swim, a pen to fill out the race number contact details, and Vaseline to stop chaffing on the back of your neck in the wetsuit, but it can also be used in other places...

Most of these little items will be down to personal preference and will be learnt after making your own mistakes, but if I can share my own mistakes, then hopefully your first triathlon can go more smoothly than mine! 

5.  You don't need to spend thousands on kit

I completed my first triathlon on my Dad's old 1988 Kellogg's Tour of Britain Raleigh racer  which in its day was the bike to have. However, my Dad’s bike weighed a ton, or at least it felt like it over the 20km bike circuit!

For my next triathlon I spent around £1,000 on a shiny, new,  light bike and whilst undoubtedly I looked more professional, I saved all of 1 minute on my bike time. Compare this to the 2 minutes I saved from being able to get undressed quickly and it’s clear in what you should invest and that is time and practice. 

We hope that you have a fantastic first triathlon!  Don’t forget to take a Shower in a Can to get clean and fresh with no need for water so you can get to the celebrations quicker!  Find out more about Shower in a Can by visiting our FAQ page.

Also, keep an eye out for us and come say “hi” at The London Triathlon or at the Salty Sea Dog Triathlon Series

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it and we’d love to hear any suggestions that you have too!


Written by Stuart Budd—amateur triathlete, triathlon marshall and co-founder of Shower in a Can.

Stuart Budd