Triathlon is a healthy sport, with the potential to add years to your life. It can also send you to the hospital, if you’re not careful. All three sports come with their attendant risks; you can mitigate them by knowing the rules, learning the right techniques, and paying attention to the right things. Here’s how to stay safe on your triathlon-for-beginners journey.
We’re not being cheeky when we say this: learn to swim. We mean learn to swim well. If you have no competitive swimming experience, take lessons and get coaching. Excellent technique is not only necessary to being competitive, but for keeping you safe in waves and swells of open water, and in the turbulence and jostling of a mass-start.
When training, stay within sight of a lifeguard. Especially in open water, a swim can turn from casual to emergency in a heartbeat. You could be caught in a riptide, you could fall prey to a cramp, you could be slammed by a wave into an inconvenient rock. Don’t face such an emergency alone.
Stay inside the breakwater. Choppy seas and surfable waves are dangerous for swimming. So are motor boats and ships. There is no training benefit to being keelhauled by a fishing trawler.
Obviously, wear a helmet. Also wear good sunglasses with shatterproof lenses—they keep out the bugs, dust, and any gravel kicked up by cars. If you’ll be out at dawn or dusk or into the night, have good lights. Small, battery-powered ones are inexpensive and are bright enough to ensure that you’re seen. If you’ll be on unlit country roads, you’ll need a more powerful headlight with a long reach.
Ride defensively in traffic. Always look, always signal your moves. Ride with traffic and ride in a dead-straight line. If you need to claim space in the lane (like for making a left turn) do it decisively—don’t let any drivers think they can squeeze by. If you ride with the assumption that all drivers are trying to kill you, you’ll make the best decisions.
Keep your tires properly inflated and your brakes inspected and well adjusted. Double-check the quick-releases on your wheels. Choose training tires with excellent wet traction. Your race tires can be all about lightweight and low rolling resistance. But you’re going to get caught in the rain while you train, possibly where there are hills and tight turns and difficult traffic. Just make sure your rubber is up to it.
If running on the road, face traffic. Wear reflective clothing. Stay as far to the side as possible. Know that half of those drivers are texting, fiddling with their radios, sipping from their coffee mugs. They’re not looking for runners to not run over.
Avoid dangerous neighborhoods. If you’ve just run ten miles, you’re not going to out-sprint a gang of kids who want your phone and neon-pink running shoes.
Have ID, emergency contact information, and other emergency info for medical professionals (prescriptions, conditions, allergies) in an easy-to-find place. It can be in a money clip, on a bracelet, or in the emergency section of your smartphone or smartwatch.
Much of this will be common sense to anyone who’s practised these sports. But it never hurts to stay vigilant. Train hard, and keep your head about you.