8 lessons I learnt from my first triathlon

After one triathlon digital ed Debbie Graham is hooked on the sport. Here's what the triathlon newbie learnt from her supersprint debut


For 18 months, since joining the 220 team back in January 2016 as digi ed, I have managed to avoid, with considerable skill I might add, actually taking part in a triathlon.

Advertisement MPU article

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the sport and follow it with a passion but am under no illusion of my own abilities. Yes I can manage to pedal a bike and run a few yards, but swimming?  Let’s put it this way my style is firmly of the breaststroke, head-above-water kind.

But then came the question ‘would you like to take part in La Tour Genève Triathlon in Switzerland?’ Hmm let me think – 24 hours in Switzerland in return for 45 mins of pain – and possible humiliation – yep I’m in.

The supersprint distance appealed too; a 250 metre swim in the turquoise waters of Lake Geneva (Lac Leman to the locals), 7.5km bike leg that passes the Palais des Nations, and a 2.5km flattish run along the lake shore. If I was going to embarrass myself, at least it would be over relatively quickly. However with sunny conditions and beautiful surroundings it would prove a perfect tri to debut at, with lessons learnt along the way.

1. Breaststroke is just fine, whatever anyone says.

Like many I thought swimming breaststroke would be frowned upon but in reality there were probably more breaststrokers than crawlers, and the swim was no way as scary as I thought it would be. Yes when they all ran into the lake it was a bit intimidating, but I just let them all go, and went at my own pace – and you know what I wasn’t last out.

2. If you have never swum in a wetsuit it’s a good idea to practise beforehand

In the end it came down to a choice and I opted against wearing one, but just in case it would be advised I gave it a go a week before. This was when panic set in, as I got tired far quicker than normal as, due to its restrictiveness, swimming breaststroke in a wetsuit is much more exhausting than in a swimsuit. This was something I hadn’t catered for, and suddenly the 250 metre swim looked a lot longer. In the end it was warm enough to swim without, but I learnt my lesson!

3. Don’t worry about transition

Yes if you’re being competitive it’s good to have slick transition, but if it’s your first tri don’t worry if it doesn’t go to plan. I was the 62nd longest woman in transition (out of 64) because I didn’t prepare properly but you know what? I still enjoyed it, and it wasn’t the end of the world that I got on the bike leg a bit later than I should have.

Ah yes the bike…and lesson 4

4. Don’t use new equipment

It wasn’t so much a new bike as a totally new type of bike. As a keen, but unskilled mountain biker, I had never ridden a road bike before and with hindsight I really should have made time to ride one before race-day… The first km was a bit of a wobble, trying to get used to the gears, the brakes, the skinniness of the whole thing – and the position. However I survived, avoided crashing into other riders, and almost had it sussed by T2.

Thanks to www.geneveroule.ch/ for lending me the bike.

5. It’s worth doing some brick sessions, even for supersprint

‘Have you done any brick sessions?’ 220’s feature ed and experienced triathlete Matt Baird asked me two weeks before my tri. A negative shake of the head led him to escort (drag) me to his gym and supervise me doing one, and that one was the only one I did. I was therefore little prepared for how dead and heavy my legs would feel starting the run. I concentrated on just putting one foot in front of the other, promising myself it would be over soon. And although it wasn’t, it did get better and a plodding stumble became a jog, which became a run when I saw the finish line.

6. Choose your first tri carefully and pick a course that suits your ability.

The distances, conditions and course of Geneva Triathlon were perfect for me, and yes maybe I could have coped with a longer swim and bike, but this event meant I finished my first tri confidently on a natural high, wanting to race again – an important factor for the tri newbie. It also meant my colleagues had to endure hours of listening to me explaining ‘how I  became a triathlete at last.’ If only I had have been given a T-shirt to wear, then whatever our esteemed Martyn Brunt says, I would have worn it everywhere with pride…

• Race T-shirts: what yours says about you

• What are the different triathlon distances?

7. Don’t be intimidated

As we lined up on the beach it was easy to be intimidated by the seriously-fit looking athletes, and feel completely inadequate. But you know as the race progressed I got passed ( a lot) and in turn passed ( a few) people. Whatever race you do there will be faster and slower athletes out there, and all will have strengths and weaknesses. It really doesn’t matter whether you’re last or first, it’s about the experience and having a go. This sport is for everyone, particularly at supersprint level, and it is ok to wing it. There’s plenty of time to get serious in your second or third season or perhaps never; it’s up to you – however get prepared for lesson 8;

8. Expect to become addicted

Since racing in Geneva I have bought a road bike, signed up for my next tri (the Cotswold Triathlon in early September where the distances are slightly longer and conditions not so sunny) and joined my local tri club, the friendly and very supportive  Cheltenham Triathlon Club.  I am not sure they know what to make of my attempts at front crawl and rather think that soon I will be getting told to give up trying and stick to breaststroke, which is just fine by me.

Advertisement MPU article

La Tour Genève Triathlon takes place in July every year and has supersprint, sprint and standard distances. You can fly straight to Geneva Airport with easy jet from a number of UK airports.

5 training tips for beginner triathletes

Free 8 week supersprint triathlon training plan