Pat Berry made the drive from Lakeville to Mankato on Wednesday evening to pick up his race packet and get a few tips ahead of his first triathlon.

“It will be challenging,” he said. “I’ve done some 5K races and I’ve done a lot of biking, but not a lot of swimming.”

At last count, Berry will be one of about 40 first-timers during the annual North Mankato Triathlon, which begins at 8 a.m. Sunday at Hiniker Pond.

According to race director Mark Bongers, president of the race company Final Stretch (which also manages the Mankato Marathon), about 125 experienced racers were also registered, along with 50 others for the kids triathlon at noon.

For rookies like Berry, Wednesday’s early packet pickup at Scheels was a chance to get a few ideas of what to expect on race day.

Race mentor Megan Christopher was on hand to dole out advice on getting through each leg unscathed and handling the transitions, first between the swim and bike then between the bike and run.

Bongers said it’s all about making sure first-timers have a good experience so they’ll stay with the sport and sign up for more races.

The North Mankato Triathlon is a sprint triathlon with a quarter-mile swim in the pond, a 12-mile bike ride and, finally, a 3-mile run.

Prior to Wednesday’s event, Christopher said the swim is what makes participants most anxious about their first triathlon.

“They either haven’t spent as much time training for it or they’ve trained in a pool, at a Y or a rec center where there’s clear, chlorinated water.”

It’s different in an open body of water, such as Hiniker, she said.

“It was eye-opening for me my first time,’ Christopher said. “It’s all bodies. There are feet all over and hands and heads. … It’s darker; you don’t have the visibility.”

Berry and his 15-year-old son Zach were the first to arrive, and, sure enough, he said he expects the swim to be the toughest part.

“I’ve practiced every day all summer, but I’m still not good at it,” said Berry, whose daughter Julie, 24, is also racing. “I got better, but I’m not good.”

Christopher said people sometimes ask, “Do I have to do the swim?”

“That’s part of a tri,” she said with a laugh. “If you want to do a du (duathlon — biking and running only), do a du.”

Berry said he also wanted to know ahead of time how the transition area will work. That’s the area where racers get on their bikes, get off their bikes, change shoes and add or subtract any other gear.

Christopher set up a mock transition area at Scheels, showing biking and running shoes, socks, gloves, helmet and even some comfy flip-flops for post-race all laid out on a towel next to a road bike.

While competitive triathletes try to get through the transition areas as quickly and as smoothly as possible, Christopher said rookies can use that time to get their heart rates down a bit, maybe eat at a small snack for extra energy and think about what’s next.

“You have to have the mindset that you’re going to finish it,” she said. “Like anything in life, it’s the journey.”

Berry is looking forward to his first one.

“It’s a celebration of fitness,” he said.

People can still sign up for the North Mankato Triathlon. Walk-up registration and packet pickup for pre-registered racers will take place 6-7:30 a.m. Sunday at Hiniker Pond Park. Cost is $78 for individuals, $129 for relay teams and $35 for the kids tri.

Follow Shane Frederick on Twitter @puckato

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