Finish, and don't get kicked in the head. That was the goal for my first triathlon almost 15 years ago. This year's goal: Finish, and don't...

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Finish, and don’t get kicked in the head. That was the goal for my first triathlon almost 15 years ago. This year’s goal: Finish, and don’t get kicked in the head.

Entering one or two races every few years keeps me a perpetual novice, so I understand the fear that first-timers feel. Let me calm your nerves and convince you how doable this really is, with help from Lois Marquart of Trisport Coaching in Federal Way and Victoria Scott of Body Electric Fitness Company in Seattle. Both have been competing and getting athletes across the finish line since the early ’90s.

If you have a moderate level of aerobic fitness now, you can be ready to complete a sprint (generally a half-mile swim, 12-mile ride, then 3-mile run) triathlon in about eight weeks, according to both our experts.

All you need to do is work out three or four times a week, with longer or combined workouts on the weekend, Scott says. So we offer a few tips for training and race day.

Getting ready


Coaches: Lois Marquart: trisportcoach.com, 253-588-3049; Victoria Scott: bodyelectricfitness.com, 206-985-2987.

Seattle Triathlon Club posts race-related events and hosts forums on its site, www.seatri.org. A good place to ask questions and find training buddies.

REI is hosting a Triathlon101 free clinic at the Seattle flagship store April 21, call 206-223-1944 to register. Check www.rei.com for similar events at other REI locations.

Wetsuits can be rented from Speedy Reedy, 206-632-9879 or Triumph Multisport in Seattle, 206-328-4676.

Getting there


The morning of the race is all about nerves. So pack the night before. Remember everything you needed during training plus extras like sunscreen, body lubricant, safety pins, your race packet if you already picked that up and dry clothes.

Get to the race about an hour and a half early.

Get in line for the bathroom. It’ll be a long one. Stretch and drink more water while you’re waiting.

Lubricate your body anywhere your clothes might rub as well as your calves and ankles if you wear a wetsuit.

The dreaded swim

Training

Most of us don’t swim as often as we ride or run, so there’s just no getting around some serious work and major nerves. (Snorkeling on your last vacation does not count .)

Scott says pool time depends on your skill level. Try shorter workouts or classes to focus on breathing or longer swims if you need endurance. Thirty-five lengths of a 25-yard pool equals half a mile. Some races are only a quarter mile, so train accordingly.

Open water will dramatically improve your stamina and confidence.

“There are no walls. There’s no hanging on,” says Marquart. She also advises that you practice sighting: Test yourself by swimming 10 strokes with your eyes closed to see which way you tend to veer.

Race day

• Some races require wetsuits. These may be cumbersome, and none too flattering (think sea lion), but they do add warmth and buoyancy. If they aren’t required and the idea of wearing one is keeping you from racing, skip it.

• I’ve finally learned that warming up with a few strokes just before the race burns off adrenaline and calms me down. It’s also a chance to find out if your goggles leak or your wetsuit isn’t zipped up.

• Most races start in waves, divided by sex and age. If you’re tenuous, Marquart says start at the back or side of the pack, stay calm and get the job done.

• Look up every fifth stroke to see if you’re on course. Follow the buoy, not the swimmer in front of you.

Like riding a bike

Training

You may see some competitors at your race with high-end bikes, geared out with all the accessories. Ignore them. You do not need an expensive bike to get to the finish line.

Train on the type of terrain and the distance you’ll be riding. If possible, train at least once on the actual race course. A little familiarity will make a world of difference to your nerves and race strategy.

Race day

• Take water and a sports drink on your ride and hydrate before you get thirsty.

• Most courses are not closed during races so pay attention to traffic and ride safely.

Run for your life

Training

Running doesn’t take much time or expense. A decent pair of shoes is a good investment, but break them in well before the race. Make sure you do some runs at the distance you’ll be racing. Marquart strongly recommends combined workouts.

“Always run off the bike,” she says. “Once you’ve finished your bike ride for the day, run 10 minutes.” This will prevent you from wobbling around like a Seafair pirate when you start your run on race day.

Race day

• Running is the sweet reward. At this point there’s no way you aren’t going to finish, so relish the feeling of accomplishment that weeks of hard work have brought you.

• Your age (yikes) and number will be written on your skin for all the world to see. Look at competitors’ ages. Nothing feels better than passing someone younger than you.

• Finish strong and get out of the way. Drink more water, cool down and stretch.

Transitions — not rest areas

Training

You’ll add costly minutes if you don’t train for this too. Set up a transition area and practice at home with everything you need for each leg. Bike shoes, socks, sunglasses, water for drinking and for rinsing your feet, running shoes, shorts, helmet, towel, energy gel to consume on the run.

Practice taking your wetsuit off. Sit down if you must. My hopping about like an idiot amuses my husband but hurts my time.

Race day

• Walk through both transitions in your head, double-checking that you have everything at the ready. Pay special attention to where your bike is from where you’ll exit the water so you can find it quickly.

• Bring something to blow your nose on. It will make the bike ride much more pleasant.

Heather McKinnon is a graphic designer for The Seattle Times. Drop her a note if you decide to train for a race: hmckinnon@seattletimes.com.