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11 Big Mistakes I Made as a London Triathlon First Timer, and a Few Things I Did Right

Last year I did the London Triathlon for the first time. It was kind of a peer pressure thing, kind of a self-improvement thing, kind of a trying to look good at work kind of thing, as it was for our company charity at the time Make a Wish.

I signed up to the sprint distance – 750m swim, 20km cycle, 5km run – as I didn’t want it to be too ‘easy’ and definitely didn’t want it to be too hard.

London Triathlon First Time

It’s safe to say I didn’t manage to fit in much training. To tell the truth I went out about ten times for a morning run before work, I probably went swimming the same amount and I cycled the 20km home from work a few times too. I could’ve tried harder. Oh… and didn’t I regret that come race day!

1. Made a verbal training plan, didn’t follow it

I’d signed up with my friend, colleague at the time and fellow travel blogger Monica (Travel Hack). We made all these big plans about training at lunch times and after work and generally being better people, and I think in the end we made it round the park once. This was not effective training for my first time in a triathlon.

Check out the London Triathlon website for training plans if you need one.

2. Didn’t have the right equipment

London Triathlon First Time

I was trying to be a tight arse and not buy a wetsuit at circa £130. Found out the day before that it’s an absolute necessity that you have one. My parents would not have been happy about making the journey and then just watching me be turned away. Quick trip it was to the wetsuit shop then.

3. Didn’t get public transport

Mum and dad had come to watch me, don’t think they believed I was actually doing it, so we went down in the car. Big mistake.

It’s at the Excel Centre and getting out was an absolute nightmare. I think it took us about three hours to do the 32 minute journey back to my house. I’d definitely recommend going public for this, they make a special allowance to take your bike on the DLR for Triathlon time too.

4. Didn’t know you weren’t allowed ear phones or music

London Triathlon First Time

Only found this out the week before too – I was gutted, had my playlist and everything.

5. Forgot where my spot was

Now I haven’t actually worked out in my head what a good spot actually is in the Excel hall – it all depends on exits and entrances and your strongest discipline. I’ll leave the tactics up to you, but make sure to check out the Excel map they publish online beforehand.

I also wasted valuable seconds trying to remember where my spot for the changeover actually was, so make a note in your head before you leave.

6. Didn’t consider my bike might not be in the right position

I had to stop twice on the bike ride just to stretch my back out. Actually hate that bike now. I guess in my 20km back from work I’d had to stop and lights and such like and had had the opportunity to straighten up, not in the non stop London Triathlon though. Heads down, pedal on, break back.

7. Drank the coconut water

They gave out all this coconut water beforehand – just a promotion I think. My family didn’t like them so I took them to keep at my station in the Excel for the changeovers. I’m a thirsty person when I’m not doing exercise, so I was drinking litres of fluids on this little adventure. I drank about three bottles of the coconut water before I registered how disgusting it was. I could feel it churning around while I was running and thought I was going to vom. Stick to delicious water.

8. Lost my timer in my wetsuit

I was so paranoid about losing the timer beforehand, I didn’t want to go to all the trouble of doing the London Triathlon and then not even know my final time. I can’t have been that paranoid though as when I took my wetsuit off in the panic outside I’d got the timer caught up in the leg and hadn’t noticed.

This meant I’d ran to my bike, got dressed for that part, sorted myself out and gone to leave when I realised I hadn’t bleeped as I’d left the centre. I had to go back, running with my bike, and wrestle with the blummin wetsuit to find the timer folded up in the leg. Then I had to put it on and run back out, wheeling my bike. A good waste of about four minutes I reckon. At least I noticed though.

9. Never comprehended how horrific the swim would be

London Triathlon First Time

“750m, that’s not far, I can do that easily at the pool” was my standard answer. I didn’t do one training session in open water and seemed to forget the fact there’d be no sides to push off and pace myself with. Also, the worst, is all the people. Oh, sure, everyone’s friends before we push off, laughing and joining in with the organiser’s chants. As soon as that horn blows though expect to get kicked and whacked in your face, flank and feet. I’d started with breast stroke as I didn’t want to hurt anyone – terrible idea.

After the 50th face palm I decided to join them and just pelted it round the rest of the course, face in and front crawl.

If you feel overwhelmed by the amount of people, just try and get out the way and stop for a bit. I saw a few people calling over the rescue boats immediately, but you just need to get used to it and find your flow. It gets better.

1o. Didn’t know you had to take your wetsuit off outside

I wore some lycra swim shorts and a sports bra top under my wetsuit. All good. Until you find out that they won’t let you indoors with your wetsuit on, in fact they won’t let you within about 15m of it. I had to strip the stuck-like-glue wetsuit off, embarrassing enough in front of the crowds of people, but thanks to the cold water and my now wet bra top my nipples were like bullets and I had to walk past everyone to get inside. Awkward and embarrassing. Made even worse when a photo of me in this state made it to the London Triathlon Facebook page. Not amused.

11. Never checked the bag was mine

You’ll be given a big plastic bag to keep all your stuff in.

Remember point 2 where I told you about my £130 wetsuit? Well, I picked up a totally different one on the way out. An old one, smaller than mine and of absolutely no use. While my day-old £130 jobby had found a new home. I contacted the triathlon team, posted on their Facebook and generally pestered them, but no one came to give me mine back, or claim theirs.

What an annoying end to a great day – don’t let it happen to you.

And a few things I did right…

12. Took some sweets and energy packs on my bike

Ooo these got me through. I had some jelly babies in a little case on my bike and some of those gel sachets. Just kept scoffing them on the cycle ride and they made me happy.

13. Smiled as I went

On the run, by which time I was totally nackered, I was just laughing insanely to myself at the fact I was doing a triathlon. And that I’d chosen to do it wearing a neon yellow shirt (I had to pick up my walk every time I went past the Make a Wish tent). Passersby mistook this insane laughter for joy and friendliness and some would give me a few words of encouragement or convince me to run faster with them. That was nice. I liked having running buddies.

14. Brought some friends for support

London Triathlon First Time

Seeing my boyfriend and brother when I got out of the water was a high point. Well, just getting out the water was actually a high point, but it was the ketchup on top. And then they managed to find a spot on the cycle route where I could wave at them as I ‘flew’ by, twice, as it’s a circuit. That was fun and I was looking forward to seeing them that second time round.

Also, mum and dad had managed to position themselves at the finish line, so close that I could high five mum as I went past.

15. Had fun

London Triathlon First Time

I wanted to get under two hours, but having not stuck to my first point I didn’t really deserve to anyway. In the end I just tried to have fun. And, if you’d have asked me at the time, as I tried to haul myself around that running track if I’d had fun, there may have been naughty swears, but now when I look back on it, it was a really fun day.

Oh, and I finished in 2 hours and 12 minutes. Not bad for a first timer!

Let me know if you have any questions about doing the London Triathlon for the first time – I’m happy to help.


Friday 25th of October 2019

Hi Vicky,

I used your post before my London Triathlon this year. By sheer coincidence I also used Monika's website when I was in Australia. I just wanted to say thank you for your post as it answered a few questions before my triathlon. I've posted my experience as a first timer too:

Regards, Ollie


Sunday 25th of January 2015

Wow you are smiling in every single picture=) And these colors. It's good motivation. If you want to take part in the marathon, I invite you to Krakow, there is also good fun.


Monday 26th of January 2015

Ha, I think a marathon might be a little beyond me I'm afraid – although I'd love to!Really enjoyed the triathlon. I should do another one actually...

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