The Newbie’s Packing Guide for a First Triathlon

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Whether it’s your first-ever sporting event or you’ve come to it from another sport, your first triathlon is a nerve-wracking experience. It’s important to do as much as you can in advance — knowing you’ve prepared well ahead of time will help calm your nerves on race day.

Participating in a triathlon is a test of endurance, so you need to prep long before race day. (The endurance trial doesn’t start then!) By making sure you’ve covered the appropriate distances in your training swims, bikes, and runs, you’ll know that you’re ready, both mentally and physically. It also means taking the time to properly pack your bags so there aren’t any last-minute panics!

Preparing for the Big Day

There are a few things you can do to prepare before you unzip your bag:

1. Practice transitions: If you’re new to the triathlon, the transitions can be the tricky part, so make sure you practice those, too. We’ve all seen relay runners struggle with their baton passes, and transitioning in triathlons is the same: You can panic when you’re tired. By practicing and stripping down what you need to a minimum, you can develop the confidence to cut the time it takes.

2. Research the race course: Preview the race course so you know what to expect, and chat with others who’ve completed the race before.

3. Check the weather: A few days in advance, check the weather conditions and choose your gear accordingly. For example, tinted swimming goggles are best for sunny conditions. Is the water going to be cold? You might want to bring a wetsuit.

4. Plan your outfit: Don’t forget that your tools for a triathlon are largely your clothing, so make sure your helmet is properly fitted and your running shoes are comfortable and adapted to your feet. You shouldn’t be trying out anything for the first time on race day.

I know from personal experience that the adrenaline on race morning can make my brain fuzzy. When the nerves kick in, it’s easy to forget the essentials, so make sure you have your kit ready before race day.

Packing the Tools of the Trade

If you’ve practiced your transitions, then it’s easier to think through each step to determine the equipment you’ll need. Make a list of every item you’ll want (from energy gels to your bike), and triple-check it as you pack. You don’t want to realize you’ve left your race number and bike helmet at home as you walk up to the starting block.

Here are the essentials — and some optional items — you may want to pack:

Essentials:

  • Tri suit
  • Swimming goggles (tinted or clear, depending on the weather)
  • Bike
  • Bike repair kit
  • Bike shoes
  • Bike helmet
  • Running shoes
  • Race number
  • Safety pins

Optional: These will be weather- and distance-dependent.

  • Sunglasses
  • Wetsuit
  • Bike gadgets (e.g., a computer)
  • Heart monitor
  • GPS tracker
  • Energy gels/drinks
  • Water bottle
  • Race belt
  • Socks

My top tip: Take a brightly colored towel to place your transition items on so you can easily spot it amongst the (possibly hundreds of) others.

Different triathletes will want different equipment with them on the big day; your list will take into account the event distance, the weather, and what you’ve practiced with. You shouldn’t be taking along anything on race day that you haven’t used before, and the transitions will be much quicker if you keep things to a minimum. It’s also best not to try out new nutritional supplements or fluids on race day.

Simply think ahead to make sure you’ve practiced enough to get it right. While practice might not make perfect, it will certainly help calm your nerves as you swim, bike, and run your way through an enjoyable first race.

Chris Thornham is a co-founder of FLO Cycling, which engineers aerodynamic cycling wheels. The company uses computational fluid dynamics software to develop its wheels and verifies its results in a wind tunnel. Less than three years after launching, the company has sold 10,000 wheels to customers in 51 countries. Chris enjoys learning, triathlon training, skiing, hiking with his dog, and spending time with family.

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