Triathlon Season – Tips for Your Race!

Schools across the country consistently analyze which sports of theirs are doing well – and pick up different sports in exchange for others accordingly. In the NCAA, the triathlon has been steadily growing in popularity.

In 2014, the NCAA approved women’s triathlon for collegiate programs and, since then, 28 schools across the country (and counting) have picked up the sport and seen success. To be considered for championship status, the emerging sport needs to be a varsity-level program at a minimum number of 40 schools within the first 10 years. In my opinion, based on how fast it has already grown in just five year, the triathlon will far exceed the minimum.

Bringing it home, two South Dakotan schools already have tri memberships: Black Hills State University and the University of South Dakota. In fact, USD just added a team this past year and finished runner-up at the 2018 USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championship. Here’s the full list of participating schools:

  1. American International College
  2. Arizona State University
  3. Belmont Abbey College
  4. Black Hills State University
  5. Calvin College
  6. Coe College
  7. Colorado Mesa University
  8. Concordia University Wisconsin
  9. Daemen College
  10. Davis & Elkins College
  11. Drury University
  12. East Tennessee University
  13. Eastern Mennonite University
  14. Hampton University
  15. King University
  16. Millikin University
  17. Milwaukee School of Engineering
  18. Montana State University – Billings
  19. North Central College
  20. Northern Vermont University
  21. Queens University of Charlotte
  22. St. Thomas Aquinas College
  23. Transylvania University
  24. Trine University
  25. University of San Francisco
  26. University of South Dakota
  27. Wagner College
  28. Willamette University

The Making of a Triathlete 

What makes a good triathlete? The simplest answer: A lot of hard work. Becoming good enough at three different sports to complete a tri is a tough feat – no matter if you are just starting out, or competing at the national level.

Quite a few triathletes compete in one of the three sports in team-based competitions before transitioning into triathlons, while others begin doing tris at a young age – and some are just starting out, doing it for fun and to stay in shape. No matter your background, the best advice I can give to new competitors as a seasoned triathlete is to focus on what you can do to improve your own race.

Are you a beginner and ready to get started this summer? Here are some tips I have learned from my own team tris and from my tri club workouts:

Practicing for a Tri


Once you have chosen your triathlon, train for that distance accordingly. Start out slow and build strength and proper technique in these areas before attempting to do each area’s distance.

For example, for a sprint tri swim, start out with a 450-meter swim 3x a week and keep building until you feel comfortable with the 750m. Then practice the 750m with biking or running after, so your body knows how much energy you need for the swim, and how much to conserve for the other two legs. PACE IS KEY.

Here are common tri distance combos:

  • Sprint: 750-meter swim, 12.5-mile bike, 3.1-mile run
  • Olympic: 1500-meter swim, 25-mile bike, 6.2-mile run
  • Half Ironman (70.3): 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run
  • Ironman: 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run

Another workout to try is a ‘brick workout’ which is biking then running. Doing this workout with intervals of warm-up speed, race speed and recovery. By switching between the two types of legs multiple times you will train not only that individual leg, but for the “jello-like” feeling your limbs will have when you transition from the bike to the run.

Last endurance tip: Be sure to work your core! Two full body strength workouts a week along with training will also help you get into good triathlon shape.


  • Swim: Make sure that you’ve practiced in open water and that you have a breathing pattern that you’re comfortable with. Also, be aware that you often lift your head forward to see where you are in the pack.
  • Bike: Don’t push too hard on the ascents and be careful to control your descents with the chance of catching too much speed and wiping out on turns.
  • Run: Shake your legs out after the bike and find your pace and stick to it! Good news is, you don’t need to conserve energy for another leg, bad news is you’re probably feeling the race by now. Grab some Gatorade and finish strong.


  1. Practice your transitions so you do not lose time on your race changing out of your suit into your biking gear, and then to your running shoes.
  2. Only have what you absolutely need, use only essential gear to keep it simple and cut down on time on your race.
  3. Have everything laid out as you would on race day such as: helmet, towel, sunglasses, shoes, energy gel for longer races.
  4. If you feel confident to do a flying mount (running and mounting your bike) to save time, practice running and controlling your direction as you ride off.
  5. Practice dismounting your bike and getting to your transition spot and getting your running gear on.

On Race Day

Get There Early

Have time to check-in and get your race number and tracking chip. Oftentimes, it's a bracelet you wear around your ankle to locate you during the race and keeps track of your time as you crossover the timing pads. For bigger races friends and family can follow you on an app.

Enough time to get set up in the transition area and know exactly where your bike and equipment are located. You don’t want to spend time during a race looking for your stuff.
Be able to scout out the course and see where you will be entering and exiting the swim leg, and where the exit of the T1 is for the fastest route out on your bike.

Visit the finish line! Gives you something to think about during the race!

What to Eat and When 

This varies for every athlete and for different races, but I’m sharing what’s worked best for me.

  • 3 Days Out Tips 
    • I believe in fueling with carbs and lean protein without overdoing it.
    • Clean and healthy eating, with five meals a day with smaller proportions has always worked best of me.
    • Example daily diet:
      • Breakfast: Yogurt and granola
      • Snack: Piece of fruit mid-morning
      • Lunch: Sandwich or wrap with chicken, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, light dressing
      • Pre-workout snack: Half a bagel with peanut butter
      • Dinner: Chicken breast with rice and broccoli. (And if it was a hard workout, possibly add in a protein shake as well.)
  • Day-Of Tips 
    • I like to stop eating about 2-3 hours before the race.
    • Breakfast: I’ll try to have a banana and a bagel with peanut butter and Gatorade.
    • 20 minutes out: I’ll have a gel or grapes – or something similarly light.
    • Midrace: A gel, water, or a sip of Gatorade. Depending on how long it is, you may need less or more.
    • Note: Throughout the biking and running portion race volunteers will hand out water or Gatorade.
    • After-race: Always important to have something after a race to refuel what was depleted. Triathlons will likely have snacks for athletes, but feel free to treat yourself – you’ve earned it!

If you’re thinking about it, sign up and tell someone that will hold you accountable on your goal. It doesn’t matter what level you’re competing at – just remember to enjoy what you’re doing and know there’s no perfect race!

Filed Under Varsity Sports | College | University of South Dakota | Running/Track and Field