“Hey, Megan! Guess what? I just signed up for my first triathlon!”
“Oh, cool! Which one? When is it?”
“It’s a half-ironman in four months!”
“Wow, that’s impressive! Are you going to do any other races before that?”
“Nope, I want this one to be my first.”
Now. You all know that I’m the biggest proponent of doing things that scare you. I’m all about getting people to sign up for their first race or convincing someone to tackle a new distance when they’re ready.
When. They. Are. Ready.
Lately, I’ve been seeing way too many people, instead of picking up Couch to 5K, pick up Couch to Marathon. Which does not exist, and for good reason.
Now, I’m no expert. But I think when you start running, you probably benefit by starting with some smaller races. Maybe you start with a 5K or a 10K. Just to get used to the idea of racing. Learn about fueling for a race. It’s very different from fueling for training. Learn about how the excitement at the start will affect you and how you will be tempted to run way too fast at the start and you have to keep yourself from doing that or you will burn out.
Do I know people who made a half marathon their first race? Yes. And it’s doable with proper training. I think you miss out on some of the benefits of learning how to race by immediately jumping in to something big, but you’ll probably be okay if you’re smart about it.
I don’t think a marathon should be your first race. That’s a bit much to bite off right away. Besides, if you’re a non-runner, you’ll need the time to train, so why not add some local races into that training?
And then there are the people who have signed up for Dopey as their first race ever. For those of you not up on your runDisney lingo, that’s a 4 day race series. 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, Full Marathon, all on consecutive days. I mean, I guess by doing that, you are doing a 5K before you do your 10K, but when I say you should start small, I’m implying that there should be more than 24 hour between races.
I’ll be honest – if you’ve signed up for Dopey as your first race, I wish you luck, but I won’t be surprised if you don’t finish. You have time to train, yes, but you really should get in some other races before Marathon weekend. Learn how to race. Learn how your body feels after a race. If you can’t walk on the day after your half marathon, how in the world are you going to run a marathon that next day?
And the same goes for triathletes, possibly even more so, because there is so much to learn in triathlon that I really think you only get in a race experience. Don’t start out with a half-Ironman (1.2 swim, 56 bike, 13.1 run). Start out with a shorter race. Maybe that’s a sprint, maybe it’s an olympic distance. But there’s a lot you learn from racing that will really benefit you before you go into that really big race. Transitions, for one. Sure, you can practice in your yard (and I think you should before your first race), but there’s nothing like the adrenaline rush of coming out of the water and running into the transition area and trying to remember where your stuff is and trying to remember to grab everything you need for your bike ride. Maybe you’ll find that your well planned transition area isn’t so well planned and you forget to grab your bike gloves. No big deal in a shorter race. Maybe a minor annoyance. But you’ve got to ride 56 miles without your gloves after always training with them? Not great.
Now, I’m not saying that a newbie triathlete shouldn’t sign up for a 70.3 in their first season. If you’re a good athlete, you can certainly do it. But it shouldn’t be your first race. Maybe it can be the last race of the season – the big race that you are prepping for and training for while doing your shorter races.
I just hate to see people set themselves up for failure. If you take on something too big as your first race and then don’t finish, will you want to try again? Or will you quit? Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Make smart decisions and enjoy this new adventure!