What Beginning Triathletes Need to Know About Safety

Newbie Stank: (noo-bee STANK) noun. The gaffes of the new triathlete which make it very obvious he or she is new to the sport. See also: Susan Lacke, No Meat Athlete’s resident triathlete and Perma-Noob.
There are things that I wish people had told me when I began training for triathlons…things that seem like they should be obviously ingrained in our common sense. However, people make newbie mistakes all the time – myself included. I’m used to making an ass of myself on a daily (actually, hourly) basis, so I readily confess that I’ve made almost every mistake in the book.

Yes, lovely NMAs, my Newbie Stank is pungent, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I wear it like a fine perfume.

Some of my mistakes have just been embarrassing, while others have been downright dangerous. The world was not designed for triathletes (I know, I’m shocked, too!), and when you begin triathlon training, you’ll learn this firsthand.

It’s a mad world out there.

Recently, during a bike ride in the backwoods part of town, I was minding my own business in the designated bike lane when a pickup truck whizzed past me, spanking me with its side mirror. When I realized what was happening, I saw that the truck was partially in my bike lane…and he wasn’t stopping, even though I was down for the count.

Maybe he was trying to be ironic about the “Share the Road” sign posted not even 20 feet away. Maybe he wasn’t paying attention. Or maybe he was just a jerk. Whatever the case, I hope karma comes back to hit him. Literally. And then maybe backs up to hit him again, just for good measure.

This is the second time my training has caused me to get up close and personal with an object of the vehicular variety. In addition to my recent experience on my bike, I’ve also been buzzed by a car during a run, sending me to the Emergency Room with some scrapes, hip issues, shoulder pain, and some pretty sexy bruises. I consider myself lucky. It could have been much, much worse.

You might be your own worst enemy

I’ve made no secret of the many bumps, scrapes and bruises self-inflicted by my own lack of grace. But some of my injuries have been a direct result of Newbie Stank, and were entirely preventable — if I had just been smarter. Learn from my mistakes, NMAs. Some of you may read the tips below, roll your eyes, and think I’m being patronizing. I’m not trying to insult your intelligence, I swear – I’m pointing out the stupid, ridiculous, asinine mistakes that I see all the time. Here’s what you need to know to keep yourself safe when you’re training for a triathlon:


Don’t try to be Michael Phelps if you’re not. If you’re a newbie, know this: There’s no shame in asking for swim lessons, even if you think you’re ”too old.” It’s much less embarrassing than the alternative — trying to teach yourself, only to have the lifeguard come to your aid when she sees your pathetic doggy-paddle ain’t keeping you afloat. A Masters Swim Group (basically an adult swim club) is a GREAT place to hone your skills.

And please…don’t attempt a triathlon with an open water swim until you’ve logged some hours in the pool or lake building up the fundamentals. You don’t have to be the world’s strongest swimmer, but you definitely need to have a strong enough stroke and breathing abilities to stay afloat and focused in the mass swim start.

Your lifeguards may not look like David Hasselhoff or Pamela Anderson, but they’re still your best friends in the water. Whether in your fitness center’s pool or in a lake for an open water swim, always swim with someone watching you. This person, ideally, should be a lifeguard employed by the place you swim. Not only will they rescue you if you face distress, they’ll also prevent the errant kid from cannonballing onto you. If you can’t snatch up a lifeguard, find alternatives. Many triathlon clubs host group open-water swims where people paddle alongside the swimmers in kayaks, dispensing help as needed.

Stay inside the breakwater. Choppy waters are highly dangerous for swimmers, plus you have an added threat – big freakin’ boats. You wouldn’t run in the middle of the freeway, would you? That’s pretty much what swimming outside the breakwater is. So don’t do it.


Wear the right gear. This includes the obvious helmet, but also the not-so-obvious. If you slide sideways on your bike, your shoulders, hips, ankles and knees usually take the biggest beating, so cover them up if you’re able – the fabric may minimize your road rash. Wear eye protection, too. My friend Summer tells a story of the time two bees flew into her eye and still had 20 miles to go before she could get home. It’s actually a pretty common occurrence for cyclists and triathletes, believe it or not.

Shine. Even if you aren’t riding in absolute darkness, cars will have trouble seeing you. Make yourself as visible as possible. Wear light colors and reflective materials, and equip your bike with a blinking tail light. Include mirrors that help you see what’s coming behind you as well as reflect the headlights of vehicles. Who cares if it looks like Tour de France meets La Cage Aux Folles? It’s better to be seen and alive than not seen and roadkill.

Ride the left stripe, in the same direction as traffic. When I first started road biking, I wanted to be as far away from the cars as possible, so in the bike lane, I’d ride all the way over on the right hand side. I’ve since learned that when you do that, cars driving in the next lane either don’t see you, or assume they can get by just fine without moving over. When you ride closer to the left-hand side of your bike lane, cars are more likely to see you AND they’ll feel obligated to steer to the left to give you a bit more space. When they do that, don’t forget to smile and wave at them in their rear-view mirrors.


Run as far off the road as possible, facing traffic. If sidewalks or dirt paths are available off the road, use them. However, if you must run on the road, stay as far off to the side and run facing traffic so you can see them and they can see you.

Reflective stripes are sexy. Same principle as on the bike – the more you glow using bright colors or reflective stripes, the better odds that you’ll be seen. Add a headlamp if you must run when the sun isn’t out – you’ll not only increase visibility, but also have an easier time seeing potential hazards, such as potholes or debris that might cause you to trip.

Carry water in a squeeze bottle. This not only gives you the benefit of hydration, but also might keep you safe. One friend, Tim, was chased by a loose dog while on a run. In a mad attempt to protect himself from being attacked, he squirted the dog in the face with his water bottle. It stunned the dog long enough for him to get away. This may also work for those annoying kids who are fond of yelling “Run, Forrest, run!” They think they’re so darn clever, don’t they?

One essential item for safety, regardless of sport

As the daughter of an EMT and sister of a paramedic, I remember more than one family dinner where blood, gore, and injury to a cyclist or runner were described in gruesome detail. It’s made me realize that no matter how many precautions we take, we can’t control what other people do. Accidents happen every single day.  If one happens to you, I want to help people like my dad and brother give you the best care possible.

Enter RoadID. This is a set of identification products available to people to wear while training and racing. RoadID allows you to wear your essential information so that, in the event that you’re injured and can’t speak for yourself, EMS professionals know how to best help you and reach your loved ones. Sure, you could carry your driver’s license, but that doesn’t have your medical information…and, child, those silver Med-Alert bracelets are SOOOOO 1990’s. RoadID comes in multiple styles and colors, and some are stylish enough to wear even when you’re not working out.

RoadID sent products for Matt and I to test out. Matt wears the WristID Elite, and I tried the Ankle ID. Both of us liked the look of the products, and found them easy to wear during training activities. The Ankle ID was especially nice to have during a recent triathlon I did – I was able to wear my timing chip on my RoadID. It was kind of nice to have that peace of mind that if something happened to me, my friends and family would be contacted.

RoadIDs are easy to order – you visit their site, select your style and color, then go about personalizing the information engraved on the plate. Most people choose a format that looks kind of like this:

That’s it. Six lines, 24 characters per line. It’s not complicated – and yet, in an emergency, those 6 lines with 24 characters each can speak volumes about you. It may even save your life. It also can be a way to wear your inspiration. Many people put some sort of motivating quote in the “Et Cetera” line…Matt chose the poignant “MILES 2 GO B4 I SLEEP,” while mine reads “WHERE’S MY DAMN CUPCAKE?”

Don’t judge me. We all have our ways of being inspired.

RoadID is way cool, and on behalf of EMS professionals everywhere, please get one. I like all of you too much to let you go without one.  Also, RoadID has given us three gift cards to give away to three lucky NMAs. To win, comment below…if you won, what would you put on the “Et Cetera” line of your RoadID? Remember – it needs to be less than 24 characters!

This post is part of a six-part guide designed to help the beginning triathlete get started (without screwing up too badly).  Check out the entire series!



Dig this post?
Spread the word!

Keep in touch:

How to Train for Your First Triathlon on a Plant-Based Diet

triroadmapcoverEver wished there was just a roadmap to guide you to the finish of your first triathlon, starting from where you are now? The No Meat Athlete Triathlon Roadmap covers everything you need to know to train for and race your first triathlon on a plant-based diet, including:
  • How to choose the perfect race for YOU
  • A 12-week training plan that shows you exactly what to do to safely increase your fitness and endurance
  • What to eat before, during, and after your workouts in order to maximize their effectiveness
  • Equipment basics, so you know what you need (and what you don’t)
  • A sample meal plan with 20 high-energy plant-based recipes for endurance training
  • A walkthrough of the race itself, so you'll know just what to expect on race day
  • Audio interview with pro Ironman triathlete Hillary Biscay
Click here to learn more »


  1. I LOVE my RoadID. I actually opted out of the motivational phrase to include my blood type and specify myself as a blood donor. I figure if I survive, the first part would be applicable; if I don’t, the second. 😉

    If I get a gift card, it’s going to be a tough choice between giving it to one of my Tahoe friends and using it for the ankle version…

    As an aside, it’s really ridiculous that cycling is so dangerous in the U.S. I commute by bike sometimes, and I feel really lucky to live in an area with both bike lanes and dedicated bike paths. I should probably start wearing my RoadID when I commute too. 😛 Didn’t think of that.

  2. At the moment, my best answer is “Will run for beer.” 🙂

  3. I keep meaning to get a Road ID, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. For my etc. line I would put “Just keep swimming” from Finding Nemo. It’s a fun reminder that sometimes you just have to keep on going.

  4. My etc line would have to read,”What r u? Finnish?”

    It’s a long story…

  5. Fantastic post. I’m just starting to get into triathlon training and found your thoughts to be really informative. Thank you.

  6. whoops I forgot to add my et cetera line

    “almost there”

  7. I would definitely put: Will Run for Ice Cream!!!

  8. I would love to win one of these! My etc. line would probably say “Keep on Trucking” or something similar to that!

  9. I really want a RoadID! If I don’t win, I will probably try to get one for my birthday. My line would be “Do it for the cake!”

  10. This may also work for those annoying kids who are fond of yelling “Run, Forrest, run!”

    This has only happened to me once, except instead of kids it was a panhandler outside a convience store. I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse.

  11. I would put ‘relentless forward motion.’ 🙂

  12. I need a new one…my old RoadID is splattered with paint and hardly legible! I would put “fortuna favet audaci,” which means “fortune favors the bold.”

  13. Steph F says:

    I’d love a road ID! I would put “Veni Natavi Vicci” (I came I swam I conquered). I’m a swimmer, turned tri-athlete, doing my first tri this Sunday!

  14. Dragon fly in my mouth at 20 mph, ouch and yuck, learning to keep my mouth closed.

    With the swimming I have found swimming along the shore to be helpful. There’s no reason to be all out in crazy deep water all the time. I like to hang out where I can touch, sure you need to have the mental tenacity to not put your feet down but aren’t all triathletes crazy fierce anyway?

    I have enjoyed the rear view mirror on my helmet and it helps me see those not so courteous folks before they buzz by me. I have had to ditch it a few times to avoid oblivious drivers. Without the rear view, I would never have known they weren’t moving over.

    Also, in line with bees in eyes and bugs in mouths, I think it’s mentally helpful to be prepared for that, if you get stung at 20mph by a horse fly or a bee you cannot react the way you would if you were standing still or even running. You natural instinct is to whack at it and that can be incredibly dangerous, swerving, losing control, etc, right in mixed traffic.

    As the wife of a police officer, I must completely agree, he just saw one last week for an unconscious runner who had medication allergies, saved his life.

    So I should probably have one, he has been bugging me too. Mine would obviously need to say, “Keep your mouth shut.” And since I’m such a blabber…

  15. Oh, I’m sure I’d have to give this even more thought! So far, either:
    Health is wealth
    Run 2b faster than dog

  16. Hmm…I always wanted a Road I’d but never thought I’d put a quote on it. Maybe something Beatles or Paul McCartney related? My mind is blank for shorter quotes besides “Let it be” or “Ram on”! Those could work, though. 🙂

  17. Thanks for this post. I know someone that was just ran off of the road on his bike. Literally ran off the road on purpose by a truck full of kids. He ended up badly bruised and with a concussion. He was pretty far from home. Be careful!!

  18. I would totally put “Chipotle: It’s waiting.” in my ‘etc.’ field.

    It’s becoming my new favorite tradition to scarf a MASSIVE vegetarian burrito after each race. It’s certainly my most delicious . . .

  19. makes total sense to have one of these. kind of a no-brainer now that you write about it.
    My last line would be “conceive,believe,achieve”

  20. Courtney says:

    I would put “consumed” (so many deep meanings for me).

  21. KellyLA says:

    Thanks for all the triathlon tips- I’m seriously considering doing my first tri!
    As for my Etc. line- it would be a toss up between “Finish Line = BEER” and “Stronger”

  22. Bess Giles says:

    As the mom of 3 young boys, my saying would have to be “Run like a mother!”

    I gave Road IDs as Christmas presents this year, but didn’t get one for myself. I should probably look into one because training for a marathon in NC in the summer time has been a killer.

  23. Mine would say “But I’m not finished yet.” 🙂
    I think a roadID is a great ID. I would love to win one.

  24. I like that those bracelets give you more characters than twitter 😉

    Mine would say: Running hurts

  25. My Road ID is pretty trashed at this point – how I would love love love to win a new one!!!! I have the interactive ID, and feel nekid going out on a run without it. My etc. line would probably be “Buck up, Buttercup” or “Let’s get going, Princess” – both phrases you’d hear me say a during training!

  26. Brooklyngirl says:

    Mine would say, “Shake your booty”.

  27. I would put, “I run for me!”

    =o) I was just telling my husband the other day how much I want/need one of these!

  28. katie didit says:

    24 characters? Everything I want to put is longer…Why can’t “Hurry up because when you’re done you get to eat cake” fit in 24 characters???

  29. I’ve been meaning to get one of these for years, but have not wanted to spend the extra $20 on it (I know, it’s only $20 but I’m a broke grad student!). Anyways, my last line would probably say “dance till you’re dead”– yes, that sounds morbid, but it’s a line from a yeah yeah yeahs song that ALWAYS makes want to go out and run 20 miles. Either that or “runs on plants.” 🙂

  30. Thanks for the tips! I’m thinking about trying out a tri next weekend! 🙂

    My RoadID (which I really need to get!) would read “have faith in your feet” or “run happy!”

  31. I’d love a RoadID! mine would say “believe”

  32. I’ve been wanting to get a Road ID for a long time! My line would be: You got this! That’s what I tell myself at the tough parts of a race.

  33. Britney says:

    Et cetera line: “Carpe diem!”

    I’ll probably ask for a RoadID for my birthday/Christmas if I don’t buy one for myself sooner. I do most of my running outside in an urban area and I’d like to be identified in the case something unfortunate happens.

  34. Never stop running.

    Great giveaway!

  35. I’d put “today is the day” to remind myself of the Priscilla Welch quote “If you want to become the best runner you can be, start now. Don’t spend the rest of your life wondering if you can do it.”

  36. I have one of these, too, and I love it! I have the shoe id: http://www.roadid.com/Common/LearnMore.aspx?PID=3
    It’s the least intrusive since it fits on the shoe like a timing chip (but it never gets in the way of the timing chip). I guess it isn’t that helpful for biking, but it’s ideal for runners. I’ve had it for 5-6 years now, and I just switch it to the next set of shoes each time. the velcro is as good as new, which is pretty amazing given how hard I’ve worn it (think: several marathons, daily trail runs, and 20 mile hilly runs in through Redwood forests). They also make great gifts for athletes in the family — I bought my dad one of the wrist ones as a present a few years ago and he wears it whenever he goes out to run.

  37. ‘just one more mile’
    I really should get one of these. I live in a very rural area and some of my runs take me down some scarcely populated roads.

  38. great post, and something we don’t think we’ll ever need until we do.

    my etc line would have to be

    R U an EMT? Thk you NMA!

  39. I keep meaning to buy one of these, but money’s tight, etc. My etc. line would read, “No regrets.”

    Great tips, but I’m still too scared of biking on the road!

  40. My “etc” line would be a phrase I also have tattooed on my left arm. I’m a Latin & Roman history geek, so it is a phrase attributed to the emperor Augustus. But it also my main running mantra:
    “make haste slowly”

    It seems like a paradox, but it works perfectly for me.

  41. Good stuff. Texas recently passed a law that cars must pass a cyclist with at least 3 feet to spare, and semi trailers with at least 6 feet to spare – which would help…if people followed it! It seems like only the cyclists even know about it and the bubbas that run us over either don’t know about the law or still don’t care.

    My etc line would have to read “beat the genes” because I train to fight my heritage of large Germans!

  42. Another good tip for cycling at least is to “take the lane” early when you need to – since we on bikes are considered vehicles, we are legally allowed to take the entire lane if necessary. If there is an obstacle (gravel, roadkill, tree branch, etc) in the shoulder or bike lane, take the next lane early so you are predictable to cars – make sure if there are cars parked in the bike lane that you pass with enough room in case somebody opens a car door…

  43. I have a Road ID which needs to be replaced (phone# change), so my new motto after running a 25K Trail run in the dark last night – I’m no billy goat!

  44. I have been thinking of getting a Road ID this year. Mine would say Will Run for Food!

  45. I would want mine to say “Like a shooting star.”

  46. I’m currently training for my 1st full marathon and really need to get a RoadID. My etc. line would say, “I run for life!” in honor of my mom who is an almost 10 yr breast cancer survivor! She totally rocks!

  47. i keep meaning to get a road id, so i dont’ have to wear pockets or my spi belt on shorter runs. my motivational statement would say something like “if you wait for the right conditions, you do nothing”

  48. This ID would go well with my pepper spray…

  49. For the newbies (and weak swimmers)…consider using a wetsuit during the swim. You can rent them for a number of places on line. You may think they negatively impact form but they make you much more buoyant so it’s an easier swim. For the ladies…a bunch of Glide on your hips makes the wetsuit easier to slide off. 🙂

  50. My line would simply read:
    snowball with marshmallow

    Man Im hungry…. Thanks for blogging

  51. My etc. line would be either “change is possible” or “beat cancer, lost to car”

  52. Jeannie says:

    I have a FIXX ID necklace. My etc line reads “Go Vegan!!!” The other image on the other side is Location Earth, which is modeled after the Voyager plaque — it shows Earth, our solar system, and a locator for 11 star points. I haven’t thought about it lately, but sometimes while I’m running I will think about that image and muse about my place in the universe. It’s very grounding.

    Happy running, biking, and swimming everyone!

  53. Although I haven’t fully decided yet, I may keep the etc line as “etc”. I can do whatever I set my mind to without limits.

  54. Marianne says:

    Thanks for the tips. And I have spent the last two days thinking of what i would want for an Etc line and I could come up with is the awe inspiring
    ‘Who needs toenails!’ If you saw my feet you would understand…UGLY!

  55. Stephanie says:

    Thanks for the safety tips! I am going to start training for a tri and I am most concerned about riding my bike in the streets. Even on my daily runs, I have almost been hit by a car not paying attention numerous times. Now that I think about it, if something were to happen, I carry no identification with me. How scary! I think I need to order one of these ID’s. My etc line(s) would say “The harder you work, the luckier you get”.

  56. Honestly, I probably would put “Catch that bitch!” Because there is always someone running in front of me that I would love to catch. It would look awesome on a stylish purple band. 🙂

  57. Lindsay says:

    My comment would be “Without risk, there can be no joy.” It’s a quote that stuck out to me when reading Francis Moore Lappe’s “Diet for a Small Planet”.


  59. Great post, and some really important tips in there too. My ect. line would be : Do resusitate!

    I think I saw that on a t-shirt once, but I think it would perfect here.

  60. My etc. line would be my mantra…smooth & strong. Love the blog!

  61. Hmm, 24 characters is tricky. I think I’d go with “Laziness is for suckers”.

  62. Love this! Mine would be:

    There’s homebrew waiting

  63. I’ve been looking at these for a while. I love everyone’s etc. lines so far. I think mine would be “Run for your life!”

  64. As soon as I read this post, I headed over to the RoadID site to check out what they have, and I really think these are a great idea. As a fellow cupcake lover, I have to admit, putting something about cupcakes on mine came first to mind. So, I’d probably have it say either “Get me a cupcake!” in hopes that if something happened I’d awake to a delicious cupcake. Or, maybe a little motivation of “swimmers can run too” since I swam in high school and college, and never really thought I’d be able to run well, let alone finish a half marathon!

  65. Thanks for the giveaway! I would love a Road ID – and it’s a great idea to use it with your timing chip!

    My etc. would say:
    “Run CorCor Run”

    which is what my 3 yr old nephew tells me before races! 🙂

  66. Mine would read: PBJ

    That’s Pursuing Balance & Joy 🙂

  67. I think mine would be – You’re doing it! I often repeat this to myself during a hard workout when I want to quit.

  68. Great offer and wonderful write up. Glad I am not ready for quite that much yet. No Tri in my immediate future but a marathon in October.

    That etc line: “Trust the training”

  69. My etc line reads “organ donor” and I don’t mean that in an ironic way!

  70. Mine would likely read either:

    Be Yourself; Everyone Else = Taken


    For My Dad: Go Team!

  71. Great Post. I am a swimmer, who has been encouraged by friends to do a tri….hope to start training in October after I do my first marathon. Any advice on how to get started?

    My ID would read: “Don’t forget.”

  72. Great post. I have decided to take up road biking after years of only mountain biking. Dealing with cars is the primary reason I haven’t done it yet, so I guess getting a RoadID would be a good idea. Since “Should have stayed on trails” doesn’t quite fit, I’ll go with “Don’t Call it a Comeback”. Not bc I’m coming back from anything, but b/c LL rocks.

  73. Susan Kelley says:

    I’d put a favorite Verve lyric to remind myself that the pain and discomfort of training have an end: “And so it goes..”

  74. kristin s. says:

    these are good tips… when i transitioned from running to triathlons, i realized it’s a whole different world. i keep meaning to get a RoadID. i’m glad you like the ankle one – i wasn’t sure if it’d be annoying.

  75. Mine would say: Will run for food.

  76. Awesome et ceteras everybody! I think mine might be:

    “Do or do not…” or perhaps
    “They call me the seeker”

    Thanks for the posts – very inspiring! Going to do a tri next year!

  77. I love Katie’s comment! I would either steal that great line outright (“Catch that bitch!”) or go for something like, “Yes, again” because I get injured ALL THE TIME.

  78. Thanks for the tips, I needed them!

    I really want my hubby to get a RoadID. I don’t know what he would put on his, probably some obscure mathematical reference, or maybe a line from Ghost-busters. I would put on my etc line “Just keep spinning, just keep spinning…” because I have to tell myself that when I bike up long hills.

  79. Great tips – they seem commone sense, but I wish someone would have mentioned some of that stuff to me in the beginning! I especially like your tip about where to ride on the road. Road biking still freaks me out, but I totally understand your logic.

    If I had a RoadID, my ETC line would be “Runs for beer.”

  80. I’ve never given much thought to a RoadID but after reading your post, I’ll buy one even if I don’t win a gift card! My etc line will say: Life Is Beautiful.

  81. I would write “slow and steady” in the ect. line. 🙂

  82. Mine would read ‘That’s ridiculous’ and ‘AB-‘ for 2 reasons.
    1. I say ‘ridiculous’ ALL THE TIME and I don’t even mean to and
    2. I’m AB- and have certain antibodies that make it very hard to find a blood donor. It’s important to me to have that information out there in an emergency.

  83. Pam Wilson says:

    Love the articles. They are entertainig and informative. I’m getting ready to participate in my third Danskin Tri this Sunday with some amazing women including my daughter.My bracelet would read “R we having fun yet?” Pam

  84. paula roth says:

    my line is ” my give a damn’s busted”

  85. “feet don’t fail me now”

  86. Because I’m a scifi nerd athlete (yes, we exist!), my RoadID says, “Live long and prosper”. \\//,

Leave a Comment