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Tips for your first triathlon

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Photo by Ken Klotzbach.

When the airhorns sound at 8 a.m. on Sunday, June 19 at Foster-Arend Park, it’s not because you’re about to hear a reggaeton banger or experience a tornado, it’s because the Rochesterfest Triathlon, presented by Toyota and organized by Final Stretch, is going down.

Competitors in this time-honored Rochesterfest race will compete in one of two classes – sprint or Olympic. The sprint course consists of a quarter-mile swim, a 10-mile bike and a 5k run. The Olympic course features a 1.5k swim, a 40k bike and a 10k run.

"This is a perfect course for beginners…with the nice smooth water for the swim, the ten mile bike, the run is off from the roads, so it’s a nice comfortable, fairly shaded course for the three mile run," says Mark Bongers of Final Stretch.

This year, to make first-time participants more comfortable, a Rookie-Triathlon wave has been initiated with separate start times, and mentors available for advice and support.

Brad Mitchell, a serious amateur with aims to break into Minnesota’s elite bracket, took second at last year’s Rochesterfest Triathlon and competed in this year’s World Championships. He is a mentor for the Rookie-Tri experience.

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"A lot of people see pictures of triathletes and see these really fit people with these $10,000 bikes and they think that that’s out of reach," Mitchell says.

But according to Mitchell, instead of expecting scorn for ramshackle equipment or non-existent experience, beginners should come expecting heaps of support.

The common transition area makes social interactions a central part of the experience, and Bongers says the camaraderie among triathletes, regardless of ability, is incredibly strong.

Mitchell has some advice for first-time triathloners, starting with breakfast, which you should eat three hours before the race. 

Swim

The swim is in Foster-Arend Lake.

During the swim, the trick is to, "just absolutely relax," according to Mitchell.

"It’s not a congested swim, there’s lots of room, you’re not going to get run over or get clipped," he says. "For most people, even if you’re a very slow swimmer, you’re getting out of there in less than ten minutes."

The rookie leg will be in shallower water and participants are allowed to stop and hold onto a support kayak or a noodle on the course without being disqualified. Also, swimmers needn’t stick to the freestyle stroke - you can backstroke, doggy paddle, or little-bird-big-bird-flap your way to the end of the swim, it’s all good.

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Bike

The bike portion of the triathlon takes place over rolling hills along roads.

Mitchell recommends using this leg of the race to get hydrated and carbo-loaded. "You make sure that you’re getting ready on the bike, nutrition wise, for the run, because when you jump off that bike to run, your body’s in a lot of stress and running is just a lot harder on the body, you’re not going to want to eat or drink too much on that 5k," he says.

Lots of serious athletes fall apart on the run because they over-taxed themselves on the bike, so stick to how you’ve been training, don’t push yourself harder than that.

Run

The run happens on trails along the Zumbro River.

Here again, Mitchell urges a cautious start. "It’s amazing, when you get off the bike, your legs just want to go go go, and you just want to run fast. And you do have bike legs, you kind of feel a little funny," Mitchell says. "Spend the first half mile just getting your wits about you, getting yourself to feel good and then you can always start running faster."

Throwing water on your head is also recommended.

"The key is keep within yourself and race like you’ve been training and then you’ll have a great day," says Mitchell.

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Brad Mitchell. Photo courtesy of Scott Jacobson.

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