Posted: May 18 2015
Training, determination, and time are all necessary to properly prepare for a triathlon, but they’re not enough. On race day, you also need to be aware of a variety of strategies that you can use to ensure that you have a good, efficient race.
Before Race Day
Practice each race transition to ensure that your gear is well-organized. Be sure to get your bike tuned up, and replace the tubes on your tires if they’re old. Label all your gear with an indelible marker, and put reflective tape on your running gear if the rules require it. Try to get a good night’s sleep two nights before the race - that’s when you’re likely to get the most quality rest. Avoid using any new gear for the first time on race day, and study the course in advance so you’ll know what to expect.
The Night Before
You should eat normally. Now is not the time to start experimenting - stick with the foods you normally eat. Try to incorporate some protein into your meal, such as chicken, fish or turkey. You’ll want a little healthy fat from nuts or avocados, and a lot of carbohydrates from beans, whole grains, and vegetables. Be sure to get plenty of rest. Go to bed early, and set multiple alarms so you can put waking up out of your mind for a more peaceful, relaxed night’s sleep.
Morning of the Race
As with the night before, you’ll want to stick with a breakfast you’re accustomed to. You should eat at least 2 hours before the race, so your food has time to digest. Foods high in carbohydrates are good choices, such as oatmeal, pancakes, and muffins.
You’ll want to arrive about an hour before the race - the earlier you get there the better choice you’ll have in selecting a spot. Take your number with you to the officials and get marked. If it’s a USAT sanctioned race, be sure to take your membership card and photo identification with you.
Related: 5 Amazing Triathlons for Beginners!
Swim Gear Tips
A wetsuit increases your buoyancy and saves time overall, though it does take some time to take one off. They are allowed and optional in water temperatures of 84 degrees or less, but in higher temperatures the USAT governing board prohibits them. Ladies you'll want a swimsuit underneath of course.
It’s wise to have two pairs of goggles - clear ones for darker conditions and tinted for sunny days. You should also have a second pair on hand in case a strap breaks. Be sure the straps and lenses are comfortable, yet snug enough to keep water out. For maximum visibility and comfort, consider using a swim mask instead of goggles. Don’t forget your swim cap, earplugs, and nose plug.
Survey the swim course, and be certain you know which buoy is your target if there are multiple races. Look for landmarks around the buoys so you’ll know where you are during the swim.
If you’re a strong swimmer, you’ll want to be in the front. If you’re new, stay to the side or behind faster swimmers. Respect others’ space as much as you can.
If you’re starting waist deep, you should dive forward, give a powerful kick, and transition into strokes. If it’s a beach start, run to the water, dive in, use the ground to pull forward, and then start stroking.
It’s impossible to completely avoid contact during the swim. When arms are flapping and feet are kicking, someone may swim over you. Know it’s going to happen, don’t panic, and keep swimming. To stay on course when visibility is poor, stay close to the feet ahead of you. If your goggles come loose, roll on your back, get them repositioned, roll back over, and keep swimming. If you get tired and need a break, find a lifeguard’s vessel, hang on and take a rest.
Leaving the Water
When you’re about 50 meters from shore, quit kicking from the hip and begin bending your knees. When coming into shore, swim as far as you can, using the ground to pull yourself in farther. It’s quicker and easier to glide than run in waist-high water. Once you hit the shore, immediately start unzipping your wetsuit as you move to the transition area.
If you’re riding with others, stay to the right until you’re ready to pass. Warn “on your left” when you are about to pass, then pass quickly and get in front of that cyclist. When you are being passed, stay to the right. Remember that passing on trails is more difficult and risky.
Nutrition and Hydration
Be sure to hydrate while cycling. Water is good, but an energy drink is better since it replenishes carbohydrates and electrolytes. Keep 2 water bottles accessible in holders. If you know in advance what type of energy drink will be provided at aid stations, practice with that beverage during your training so you are used to it on race day.
On the Course
Ride single file except when passing, and don’t draft behind other riders. Be sure to have a spare tube, CO2 cartridges, or a pump on hand. Watch the road for normal road hazards, know the location of aid stations, and do some shoulder shrugs occasionally to relax your shoulders.
Finishing the Ride
As you are nearing the transition, downshift, increase your cadence, and start spinning to loosen up your legs for the run.
Try to relax and settle into a comfortable pace. Keep hydrating as you go, stay focused, and watch for traffic. Try doing a negative split run. This is where you start slower and get faster as the distance increases and as you loosen up more from the ride.
Remember to pass on the left and stay to the right if going slower. If using the portable toilets, try to keep the line moving as fast as possible. When using the aid stations, go to the middle or end rather than the beginning to help control congestion.
Get your finisher’s shirt, keep hydrating, and keep walking to avoid cramps. Get out of your running shoes, change into something comfortable, and give your feet a rest. Within the first 30-45 minutes of finishing, replenish yourself with a protein-rich food. Give yourself a pat on the back and enjoy your accomplishment!