Quakerman "Olympic" NECTC Race
Distance: This was a kind of odd distance, with a .6 mile swim, 39 mile bike, and 10k run. It seemed ideally suited for me, because it made the bike extra long compared to the run; since my bike is usually much better than my run, it seemed a recipe for success!
However, let me give an overview of the past three weeks: Three weeks ago, I went on a camping trip in Yellowstone National Park, a full 7 days without a bike (although it was a fairly active trip). When I got back, I rode ~30 miles two days in a row and then shipped my bike off to campus. 9 days later, I finally received it again, but then it was raining very hard so I couldn’t ride again until Thursday. Then, 7 miles in, my chain broke (so I “ran” back to campus in my bike shoes). Then I got in an 18-mile easy ride the day before the race. So, essentially, I didn’t ride for 3 weeks before this bike-centric tri. How depressing…
Anyway, Scott did a great job driving us the LONG way to Pennsylvania, mostly in the dark and at speeds that made me not want to look at the speedometer. I “navigated” with Google Maps on my phone, which mostly worked. We arrived just before midnight and went to sleep, grateful that at least this wasn’t a race we would have to wake up ridiculously early for.
Woke up in the morning and ate some DELICIOUS banana-zucchini-chocolate chip whole wheat oatmeal muffins (email me if you want the recipe; I’m trying to hide vegetables in my food, and this definitely worked)
Swim: .6++ miles/~21 minutes/~6th woman?/~30
The lake water was fairly warm, I’d say just below the legal wetsuit limit (mid-70’s), so the swim was quite pleasant. It was a bit crowded, though, and I may have accidentally groped a few people inappropriately – thank goodness for wetsuits!
I felt like I swam very well. Over the summer, I averaged a measly 1 hour per week in the pool, but the past 2 weeks I have gotten in a bit more and some real workouts; to my surprise and indignation, my times have improved by several seconds during my time not swimming (at least for fast 50s and up to 200 – haven’t tried anything above that). If only that would happen to my run…
Bike: 39.6 miles/~2:05 (19mph avg)/~4th woman
The bike course was very nice, with several long flat-ish sections and a few decent hills. I had some very bad shifting problems (my own fault – the other day, it was shifting weirdly so I messed with the derailleur things in the front, thinking that was the problem when in reality my chain just had a stiff link. My chain broke, I put it back together one link shorter, but I didn’t know how to change the derailleur settings back to the way they were), so I ended up in too hard of a gear for most of the race. My legs, which usually feel super strong, could definitely tell that I hadn’t ridden in 3 weeks. Still, I pushed through and managed a very good average time, though today some muscles are sore that I didn’t realize even existed. I kept going back and forth with a few people, strong men and tiny little women who would pass me on the uphill and say with a tone of superiority “Nice job, keep it up!” and who I would pass again a mile later when I powered down the flats.
Run: 10k/6.2 miles/~52 min/~9th woman
This was a very interesting run for me. Usually, I get to the run with still-strong legs but a very high and unpleasant heart rate and low blood sugar. This time, I started out with dead-feeling legs but barely breathed hard at all! That, I suppose, is the result of coming down to sea level after ~12 weeks at high altitude – a FABULOUS result, I might add. Almost makes the adjustment period when I go back worth it. Almost.
So I trotted along a rather hilly and completely-pavement (ouch) run course, weird inner-side-of-leg muscles threatening to cramp on the uphills due to my bike ride in too high of a gear. Drank some Gatorade at the aid stations, turned around, trotted back, felt glad to be almost done when some people were still on mile 1. I figured that with my current running state if I ran a 50, that would be fantastic, while if I ran a 55, that would be acceptable; I came in at 52 min, which made me happy enough. I actually have been running quite a bit (though still not nearly as much as when I used to run cross-country), but I have never been a fast runner and much prefer trails to roads, so speed isn’t really my objective.
Results: Disappointingly, the timers did not receive a chip time for me! I am not sure if it was because they gave me the wrong chip (at packet pick-up they switched my race number, saying the old one had problems – I guess the new one may have too), or because the chip was faulty. There were several others who complained about not being in the results, and apparently a few people who were in the results but never actually showed up for the race. In any case, I timed it roughly on my watch and told them what I thought my finish time was (between 3:21 and 3:22, with a 21-min swim, 2:05 bike, and 52 min run, then approx. 2 min T1 and 1 min T2). Unfortunately, they decided to enter me in at 3:23:00, which dropped my placing by a few collegiate women and took me out of 3rd place for the under-24 women (but I wouldn’t have gotten a prize anyway, since they scored collegiate separately).
I just hope that the time still counts and doesn’t drop me too far in the USA Triathlon Rankings; before this race, I was ranked #12 in my age category nationally, and I would quite like to keep it that way or improve. Hard to believe that I’m even the same person who came in 2nd-to-last in the entire state in cross-country and couldn’t even run 3 miles just 5 years ago!
It was an enjoyable race and good distance, but very far away from Boston; maybe next year they will re-add Lobsterman to the NECTC schedule, because that was a wonderful and nearby race.
Age Group World Championships 2010
Originally one of my A races, due to a difficult last semester and summer at
MIT, I ended up far from being in top shape for this event. Despite the fear of
huge embarrassment, I did not want to give up yet another race this season. So
after many ups and downs, both in Cambridge and at home (Bratislava, Slovakia),
fighting my fears, lack of motivation, as well as common laziness, I arrived in
Budapest this Friday ? with my mom, my brother, 3 bikes and 4 sets of wheels
(a bike for each of us + my disc wheel and trispoke for the race).
The fun started on Saturday morning, when we left our hotel bright and early to
cheer on my US friends, whom I met at the last year?s World Championships in
Australia, this year competing in the Sprint World Championship. I got to see
all of them getting on the bike and one of them running and loved their
surprised but happy looks when they heard and saw me and my family :-) The
drizzle gradually changed into heavy rain as we watched the following U23 women
category (including a girl from Czech Republic who we all raced against back in
Slovakia and who I beat a year ago ;-) - unfortunately due to her bike
crash?) The U23 were swimming 2 laps of the sprint course and were very fast
and organized in the water ? except for a few stragglers, they swam in a
tight pack, which disintegrated a little bit only in the last quarter of the
race ? a fascinating thing to watch ;-)
After my friends were off for the run, which finished 5km from the transition
area and race center, we came back to hotel to get dry and to get my bike ready
for the evening mandatory bike check in. And that?s where a little drama
began? It turned out that the pump that we brought was more of a mountain
bike pump and by pumping my front wheel to 120psi, the pump started leaking
from its side (personally, I think it was not completely alright to start with,
but oh well). So as we kept pumping my rear wheel, it went from about 90psi to
maybe 40? I started getting nervous. My brother kept trying to fix the pump
by reassembling it and lubing it everywhere he could think of. But it would not
work? Finally, he took out a hand pump and managed to pump up the wheel to
about 60psi, while sweating out a gallon :-) Even though I really appreciated
his effort, I got pretty impatient and insisted on heading to the race center
right away to find a pump. However, before we got to the car, the wheel
deflated almost completely. I forced myself to believe that it was because my
brother forgot to close the valve after he pumped it up? Just in case, we
also pumped up my regular, not-so-aero wheels at the bike service and headed
over for some sightseeing. Unfortunately, before we left the car to see the
castle district, the disc wheel deflated again. My biggest fear became true ?
I got a flat tire on a tubular and did not know how to change it, nor had
anything to change it. My brother assured me that they will have something at
the bike service, but I was hesitant, so the two hours we were sightseeing I
could not stop thinking about my poor disc wheel and how ?terrible? it will
be racing on a regular wheel after I lugged a special wheel case for my disc and
trispoke across the Atlantic? So I rushed my family back to the bike mechanic
an hour before the start of my mandatory bike check-in, determined that I would
pay anything to get my disc fixed. As one would guess for a bike mechanic at
triathlon world championships, they had extra tubulars and knew how to replace
them. I was greatly relieved, even after they charged us 58 Euros.
The second pre-race mini-drama happened at the transition entrance. A young,
strict but not very trustworthy looking lady told me that the front wheel must
have at least 12 spokes. I was pretty sure that I saw many people around with 3
and 4 spokes in front, so I tried to argue my way out, but she relentlessly
wrote my number down and said that one of the officials will go check my front
wheel in the morning. I was desperate one more time and so I spent part of my
evening researching ITU rules to prove her wrong and hoped that someone more
knowledgeable will be there in the morning?
The following morning I woke up at 4:45am and felt pretty non-dramatic ? like
before just another race... I just hoped my wheels survived the night. And they
did. I did a very ?leisure? warm-up ? running around for maybe 5 minutes
total and then swinging my arms around like everyone else did. This was
probably not enough? Unfortunately, we were not allowed to have a swim
warm-up (what a stupid rule!) and they allowed us to enter the water and hold
on the pontoon only 30 seconds before the start, so after the gun went off, I
was pretty shocked by the 59F water and resorted to swimming breast stroke for
the first few minutes. In addition, my goggles were leaking, so I stopped
several times and tried to fix them. I was getting really behind and the
kayakers asked me if I was OK. I was, except that the water was cold and I was
getting nowhere. After 5 or 10 minutes, I got accustomed to the water and my
goggles, though foggy, held tight on my face, so I actually started swimming
normally and catching up with one swimmer in front of me. Eventually I passed
her and was swimming very close to the second to last swimmer (out of 56
starters), which made me pretty happy since last year I was last out of the
Running through the transition felt pretty hard, which was probably a good
indicator that I was not slacking too much in the water. It took me some time
to get to a steady pace on the bike. After that I was cruising and managed to
pass a couple girls and one guy. I got passed by a lot of guys and towards the
end by quite a few 25-29 year old girls. However, towards the end I was running
out of steam, so I was trying to drink more and as a result got passed back by 2
or 3 girls. My mom and brother were cheering on me loudly during each of the 3
laps, which felt great. Towards the end of the bike, I was ready to be done
(with the bike and everything), but unfortunately, I still had to run 10K?
Transition 2 felt even harder than transition 1. My back hurt and running was
hard too. Just running through the transition was at least 1/6 of a mile if not
more. I managed the transition OK, leaving for the run without socks. My mom and
brother were cheering on me right outside of the transition before they headed
back to the hotel to eat their breakfast (since my finish was 5km from the
transition and it would be cumbersome for them to transport themselves there).
The run was in beautiful scenery ? first along the Danube, then in the city
center. I saw a lot of nice buildings, bridges and boats. However, I was
running very slowly. I felt tired and didn?t want to overdo it, but I still
got cramps in the side of my stomach (or lungs?) with maybe 2 miles to go. I
walked a bit, but it would not go away, so I walked-ran for a while and then
after one of the British athletes tapped me on my back and told me that I can
do it, I resorted to my slow run again? I drank twice during the run, which
is also unusual for me because I usually don?t drink at all during the run in
an Olympic distance. Another confusing situation arose with the laps on the run.
We were supposed to run 5K along the river and then do 2 laps around the city
center. But the laps were really unclear, so on the second lap, I was trying to
ask several slower runners whether I was supposed to do one more lap or I was
done. It turned out I was going to be done very soon (had I known it sooner, I
might have run faster, but one can always say that, so I won?t elaborate
here), so I sped up for the last 1/6 of a mile or so and did a very lame
?sprint? and was done ? yay ? relief? My US friends were waiting for
me at the finish and we took a boat back to the race center/transition area
where my mom and brother were waiting for me.
I didn?t have any expectations of this race, so I was not too upset at when I
finished 51st out of 55 finishers (I guess one girl did not finish?) with a
time of 2:38:00 (this seemed an OK time, but it was actually pretty slow since
the first girl in my age group finished in 2:01:18). My split times were
nothing surprising either:
Swimming: 32:54 (54th ? considering the initial chaos, it was surprisingly
T1: 3:27 (50th ? as I said, the transition was really big?)
Bike: 1:02:32 (39th ? the bike was entirely flat and the fastest girl in my AG
did it in 55:48)
T2: 3:26 (51th)
Run: 55:40 (50th ? my worst 10K race time ever ? oh well, but considering I
had to walk and the last 2 miles hurt quite a bit, it was OK?)
Full results can be found here:
and a news article here:
Being my last race of a not very good season, I?m happy the Worlds are over
and after a month or so of totally unstructured activities, I?m going to
start training again. Should be good. And I believe next year Worlds in Beijing
will be much better.
Espirit Triathlon (Ironman Distance)
Time: 11:41:46 (S: 1:28:51/T1: 9:56/B: 5:38:14/T2: 7:49/R: 4:16:57)
This past Saturday, I finally did my first triathlon, an iron distance race in Montreal. My goals going into it were pretty basic: I wanted to have fun and when the opportunity arose, I wanted to be able to encourage other participants. Ok, maybe this sounds a little cheesy or cliche, but for me, the essence of doing ultra distance events is about forming a bond with other participants, people who don't even know your name but who share a very particular passion and the experience of doing one of these events. In my first ultra distance race a few years ago, a 56 mile run in South Africa, I started to feel really dizzy and sick during the latter part of the race due to low sodium, as the aid stations had run out of salt. Some random participant saw that I was struggling and asked if there was anything she could do to help. When I explained that I needed salt, she walked with me for a mile and asked every single person by the side of the road cheering for salt until we found someone who did. I felt much better and was able to safely finish the race, with the encouragement of lots of people who were themselves exhausted. It's a bit hardr to be encouraging when your face is under water or everyone is zooming along on a bike, but I still really wanted to have the chance to form this kind of bond with the other participants. I definitely did, especially on the run, and also really enjoyed the majority of the race.
The main thing I can say about pre-race is: Murphy's law of triathlon. Don't fight it, just embrace it and deal as effectively as possible.
For example, several days before the race, I got some pretty nasty road rash on my elbow, hip, and knees. I was quite concerned about getting a wetsuit on and off. It turned out ok, Tegaderm bandages work miracles. I can't drive, and two days before my race it turned out my ride couldn't get me to Montreal until midnight the day before the race; for awhile I wasn't sure whether I could get a ride there at all. It turned out ok, the race director let me pick up the reg packet morning of the race. Some personal issues arose a couple of days before the race, in part because I was stressed about race-related stuff going wrong. It turned out ok, but wasted a lot of energy. En route to Montreal, we stopped at Subway and a scraggly looking guy on a bike made off with a couple of my water bottles that I'd sat down while loading the car. Um seriously, I'm not kidding. Thankfully I had extras. And so on...
Morning of the race, we get up at 4 am after only a few hours of sleep - ughhh. We left plenty of time to get to the race venue, located quite aways from our cheap hotel in the suburbs of Montreal, and it was a good thing because there was insane road construction that had shut down the highway and took us on a really long detour. It took a ton of concentration to keep following the sparsely placed French signs without getting lost. We finally arrive with less than an hour to go til race start and so much to do: pick up my race packet, mix my protein shakes for the bike, lay out everything for transition, bodymarking, waiting in line for the porta-potties, I even had to take off my front wheel to put the Champion chip on the skewer, and yes, the skewer was on way too tight and it took forever to get it loose.
I really, really did not want to be THAT dude - you know, the one who is sprinting from the transition area to the swim start with a wetsuit half on with just a few minutes to go til start. But it happened despite my efforts otherwise and it turned out ok. It was not ideal, and if I was doing it again, I would fork out the money to stay closer to the race start, to minimize the chance of having the very bad outcome of missing a race due to getting lost or hitting massive road construction. But at that point all I really cared was that I made it to the start line with a couple of minutes left to relax, and things had been so crazy that I didn't have time to get at all nervous.
My conjecture going into triathlon (which definitely turned out to be true) was that the toughest part of doing an Ironman would be to make it to the start line, relatively healthy and fit, with the necessary skills and equipment. So when the starting gun finally went off and we started the first lap of the two lap swim course around Montreal's Olympic rowing basin, I felt an enormous sense of relief. The swim start was not too aggressive, and it was hilarious when I took a breath to see a bunch of spectators walking (very!) slowly along the side of the rowing basin in which we were swimming, keeping pace with the swimmers and taking pictures. About 600 meters in, I started to get a headache from the goggle straps not being put on quite right, and more generally the first lap of the swim was surprisingly enough the overall low point of the day. By the second half of the first lap, I had that sick stomach feeling that I always get when I haven't slept enough the night before. I thought I might puke - yikes, the race had barely started! Besides the head and stomach, my draft was zig-zagging back and forth, and it was driving me crazy to stay on his feet. There was no way I could breach the gap between us and the next pack without expending way too much energy, and I found that it took slightly more energy to swim in a straight line by myself than to draft off the circuitous swimmer. Why wasn't anyone else passing us? Were we in dead last place? Seriously?
Running for a few meters between the first and second lap was the best feeling and gave me a fresh burst of energy for the second lap. I discovered that in fact I had not been in the back, and was able to hop behind the feet of a woman going at a relatively relaxed pace and take it a bit easier for the rest of the swim. The stomach ache started to go away. I contemplated going with a slightly faster swimmer who came by, but my calf started to cramp and I decided there was no way a few extra minutes I made up in the swim could be worth it if it wore me out for the rest of the day. My swim was almost 1:29, taking nearly three times as long as a half iron swim for an aquabike I'd done on tired arms and legs had taken a couple of weeks before. But it was well worth the lost time to stay relaxed, given that I had a long day ahead and my number one priority was to enjoy the race.
Um, I seriously took nearly ten minutes in the first transition? Definitely need to work on hustling more if I do this again, you would think that I took a nap or called my mother... But in reality I just yanked off my wetsuit, praying it wouldn't irritate the road rash too much, and helped a guy in transition next to me who said he couldn't get his off by himself. Drank some protein shake, made sure I was smothered in sunscreen so I wouldn't fry uncovered slivers of skin like I had in the half iron race a couple of weeks ago, put on arm warmers, stuffed my pockets full, and changed my bike computer to just read off my power in giant numbers since I had unfortunately forgotten to do this before the race. And ran off with my bike...
The bike course consisted of 41 loops around a Formula 500 race track. It was pretty flat except for one hill each loop, which I used as an excuse to get out of the aero bars and stretch my back. The course had several tight turns each lap, and I definitely felt my lack of cycling experience come into play. There were a lot of racers in close proximity, and I thought during the first lap after some guy almost clipped my front wheel: ``it's not a matter of if I crash, it's when.'' A substantial number of riders were pedaling aggressively through the corners, but I had to lean my bike quite a bit to get through them in a tight line. Would I clip the ground with the inside pedal, wipe out, and potentially end my race if I tried to pedal through? I'd never pedaled through tight turns in training because the info on cornering I'd read said it wasn't a good idea, but I was falling behind on curves. What should I do? In the end I ended up playing it safe and focusing intently on leaning the bike the right amount so I could steer well clear of other riders and not worrying about pedaling. I definitely lost time and some momentum on the turns, but was so happy that I didn't crash or get a flat. There were also guys on motorcycles calling various people out for drafting, and I was really glad to avoid that.
When I started the bike, the pro half iron men were still on the track. It was pretty cool (and slightly horrifying) to hear the whoosh of disk wheels and suddenly be surrounded by a big pack of them pedaling past me at high speeds. Slowly the half iron people cleared, then came the Olympic, sprint, and duathlon people. After like four laps, I lost track of where I was and didn't figure it out again until the announcer yelled well into the race that I was on lap 26 of 41. It was pretty easy to get into a rhythm; my PRE felt a bit too high with the power I had planned to hold based on my long training rides, so I knocked it down 10 watts and it was fine. I ate gel every other lap, sipped perpetuem throughout, and made a few stops: once to pee, once to take off my arm warmers, and once to grab the special needs bag so I could reapply sunscreen.
I started counting down the laps with ten to go, and they went fairly fast. I was passing lots of the sprint and duathlon racers, which I have to admit was pretty fun. And finally felt an immense sense of relief to be off the bike and running it towards my rack in the transition zone. 5:38.
I'd realized right before I dashed off for the swim that I hadn't laid out my Garmin. No way I can run without that. So the first line of business was dumping out my hiking backpack that I stowed next to my bike, fortunately found the Garmin without too much difficulty. I was convinced that these pesky bees who were in love with the gel flasks I'd laid out were going to sting me when I reclaimed my gel, but miraculously that didn't happen. I smothered my feet in blister ointment and put on a fresh pair of socks, which was the best investment ever. Totally saved my feet on the run. Pulled on running shoes; grabbed fresh gel flasks, gel chews, and my perpetuem fuel bottle; and I was off through a maze of bikes searching for the run start.
Now it was only the run left, only a marathon... and running is what I do, one of my biggest passions. Spending the better part of an afternoon on a beautiful day outside running was almost heaven. Just almost, because 1) the run was on pavement (soooo hard on your body compared to dirt) and 2) given I'd already been out there for seven plus hours, I needed to choke down a lot of calories. But minor details, I love to run! My legs felt really good going into the run, looked down at my Garmin and was like ``yikes, I absolutely have to slow this way down.'' Due to a hamstring injury, I'd only been able to do a few moderate-to-long runs, and my goal was to keep the pace between 9:30 and 10:00 min/mile. The course looped around the rowing basin that we'd swam in earlier, with the loops just shy of 5 km each. I was in total ultra-running mentality. Translation: I knew that the most important thing I could do was to consume as much gel and perpetuem as I could, let the slightly queasy feeling in my stomach subside, and repeat. At a 100 mile race I did in Colorado last year, I seriously felt like it was a multi-sport event, some sort of combination between running and an Oscar Meyer wiener eating contest, where instead of shoving down hot dogs, the goal was to stuff down as many hammer gels as possible. The marathon of the tri had a similar feeling. At each aid station, I yelled out for two waters ahead of time, slowed down briefly to dump one over my head and used the other to water down the gel and perpetuem.
Eating aside, I loved the crowd support. Each time I came around the basin, there were crowds of people screaming in french, my boyfriend encouraging me on, and a squad of cheerleaders (like football game-style cheerleaders) who I'm convinced must have burned more energy doing loud cheers throughout the bike and run than any of the race participants. Once I settled in, I was holding the pace at a little bit under ten minutes, and it felt pretty decent besides for how tight my hips and hamstrings got. I loved having the course marked in kilometers and not miles, after thinking about all my training runs in terms of miles, it was so nice to have things broken up into smaller increments. I knew I might crash at some point, in which case the name of the game was to keep running, however slowly, until I got a fresh burst of energy. I knew from my ultra-marathon training that low points have upturns, as long as you keep eating and getting some sodium, and I can run through them. But thankfully, my pacing worked such that the crash didn't happen, and I was able to continue running at the same pace through to the finish line.
Finish and some general thoughts
By the time I finished, the other tris and duathlon were done, and the crowds had thinned out quite a bit. But it was nevertheless awesome, and I was really happy that I didn't need to go to the medical tent and was still able to walk (after my 100 miler, I tried somewhat unsuccessfully to walk into the hotel and the receptionist brought me a wheelchair, so did United Airlines:-). Yay, I'd actually trained for this event rather than doing only about half of the necessary training, and the result was that my body was actually prepared. And I absolutely loved that they gave out a super-plush, big finisher's sweatshirt to put on as soon as I crossed the finish line. So much better than an emergency blanket! I walked around a bit, talked to a guy from a Montreal foundation for visual impairment who'd noticed that I had albinism and was really excited I'd been able to do the race despite not having full vision. This was pretty cool, and it was nice to chat with him since he'd done the race for many years and had a great perspective on it. Then finally a massive ice bath and bed, I love being outside working hard all day, with other people who understand why this can be cool and lots of encouragement from the sidelines, great race overall!
I give the Esprit Triathlon really high marks. The organization was great, the volunteers were great, it is much cheaper than an ironman brand race, and it is barely commercialized. No powerbar, no gatorade, no cervelo ads all over the place... I did a half iron aquabike in Vermont a couple of weeks before this race; it was a great race, but was so commercialized that I felt like I was at some sort of radio party or something. Esprit, which has been around since 1974, felt more like a fun local tradition, that nevertheless had top caliber athletes. It doesn't have giant crowds of people screaming at the finish line, it doesn't have kona slots, and it doesn't have armies of volunteers to help you pull of your wetsuit, rack your bike, etc. But these things weren't very important to me, and I didn't see them as drawbacks. Another great thing is that it definitely feels like an authentic international experience, with most people cheering in French, but is within easy driving distance from New England. If you plan to do it, though, just be sure to learn to count to 41 in French, so that you can be sure to understand the lap countdown.
I also have some general tips on ironman training. First, know that it can be a lifestyle change, especially if you have little-to-no experience in a couple of the sports. A LOT of time is spent training, and it takes time to figure out all the gear and equipment that you need. It is also really expensive relative to a sport like running. Second, it is not necessary to have experience with shorter triathlons to do an ultra distance one. It does help a lot to have some endurance experience, either in the form of half iron triathlons or long distance racing in one of the disciplines.
Third, nutrition - and particularly getting enough protein and sodium during the race - is really, really important. I love perpetuem for protein, even though it tastes pretty gross. I use Nunn electrolyte tablets on the bike and salt stick pills on the run. In my training, I have found that I need a very precise amount of electrolytes not to feel sick and implement this in the race. Getting enough salt is hugely important to me, as I have extremely salty sweat and have had dangerously low levels of sodium in the past before I knew how important it was. I use hammer gel throughout. It's not my favorite gel, but a big jug of it is fairly cheap and convenient to squeeze into flasks. Gel chews can be nice for something different, but you may have trouble getting them liquified enough to swallow by the end of the race when your throat is unlikely to be working so great. It's also nice to have a couple of bars along on the bike in case your body demands solid food at lunch time, and I carry a bit of crystalized ginger, which can be good for upset stomach. Finally, I take a little bit of caffeine in the form of gels and chews, around 50 mg in two doses on the bike and 50 mg on the run. I don't consume much caffeine on a daily basis, so more than this upsets my stomach, but an appropriate dose will vary a lot depending on your tolerance.
Fourth, learn as much as you can about the physiology behind training. Phil Skyba has a couple of fantastic books, and there is a lot of information on the internet. Relatedly, read other people's race reports and learn as much about the event you are doing as possible. Fifth, try to find a swim coach if you can. I was lucky to have a fantastic coach, Bill Steele, through MIT triathlon. If you can't afford a coach, try to get feedback from friends with swimming experience and check out Swim Smooth, a great online resource about freestyle technique.
Sixth, plan for contingencies. If you get hurt, what's your backup race (I was originally going to do Lake Placid but couldn't due to an injury). Non-ironman iron distance races make great backup races, because they are more likely to have spots left close to race date. Seventh, prevent injuries by using a foam roller, doing some dynamic stretching exercises, making sure you have a good bike fit, and being careful to appropriately space your hard workouts. Seventh, learn some basic bike maintenance. For example, my seat kept on slipping down on long rides because I didn't know that I needed to grease the seat bolts. This hurt my knees, wasted good training time, and would have been avoidable if I'd learned a bit more beforehand. Finally, and most importantly, have as much fun as possible with it.