A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to do a clinic geared towards first timers. It was a great time, and really got me thinking about how valuable it is to have a set of race day tips to occasionally run through. Whether you’re a first timer, or a finisher of 100+ triathlons, it seems like there is always something to learn. There are so many lists out there, and this a compilation of things I've read, learned from athletes, or personally experienced.
First of all, I think it’s always important to go into a race with some goals. Goals are what lead us to success. As Coach Mark pointed out a few weeks ago there really isn’t any reason not to share our goals. What do you want to accomplish? What do you want to learn?
It's also important to remember that you are doing this by choice. It should be enjoyed! Anxiousness can provide excitement and be such a good thing if handled correctly, but it can also turn to fear and become an additional life stress. That's not why we do it. This is a pastime. Have fun. This is a hobby that you’re doing for a reason. This sport you chose to do should be something that “fills your cup” in some way. Keep that in your thoughts.
Race Day Swim Tips
Know where/when you are starting and plan for it. If you can, watch as the race begins and see where the action is happening. This allows you to select a line, find clean water, and avoid bottlenecks. Know the course and look for stationary geographical landmarks to site on. Scout them prior and be sure to be able to identify them while you're in the water. Sighting is key, swimming the course distance is always better than swimming extra yardage
Don't panic! Easier said than done, I know, but just be sure to stay relaxed going in. Knowing where you are going is key. If you do start to panic just flip over on your back or grab on to a kayak and try to relax. Take a minute and then begin as if it's the start of the race.
If you are having a panicky feeling, put your face in the water and do a maximal exhalation. It sounds counterintuitive, but when we are freaking out, we are trying to get air in but not consciously blowing air out. Performing this exhalation allows you to get in a good fresh breath. Focus on your roll, and see the sky if you’re starting to panic.
Never underestimate the power of positive self talk- I’m relaxed, I’m a good swimmer, I’m floating, it’s only a few hundred yards more.
Try to save your legs at the beginning of the swim. This helps keep your HR down and saves your legs for the bike/run. I try to stay conscious of how much I'm kicking during the early parts of the swim and slowly build up to kicking more and more, pushing hard on my kick towards the end of the swim to get the legs primed.
Race Day Bike Tips
Pre-race, make sure your bike is in the right gear for when you get on. Keep the gearing really small, make sure your chain is on first and foremost and that you won't have to immediately switch gears once you get on.
Have everything you need on your bike - computer, race number, and nutrition. Know the rules regarding drafting, blocking, overtaking, etc.
Once you get going on the bike, take it easy to start. When you take off on the bike, it usually feels good to start, but be really careful going out. Personally, I've begun to use the strategy of riding an entire mile and then lapping my bike cpu so that I'm really only focused on any target speed/watts/hr after I do that first mile easy. On some courses, an uphill start makes “easy” almost impossible. Remaining conscious of the fact that you’re trying to go easy will help you keep yourself reined in and allow you to maximize your ride.
Eat/Drink Nutrition prior to getting back to transition. Whether you’re in a sprint or IM, it’s always easier to take in your last big chunk of calories prior to starting the run. I always try to finish them off about 10 minutes before I’m going to be getting off the bike.
Race Day Run Tips
Running off the bike isn’t easy. My first race I had a goal pace and it turned out to be unrealistic. Recognize that race day is different and whatever you’ve planned might not work out. Adjust as needed and don’t let yourself be discouraged. Try and break up the run into separate portions. Think in terms of miles, quarters, or the next intersection or aid station. If it’s an out and back, take the opportunity to regroup at the turnaround if things haven’t been going well, or just keep it up if they have because you’re halfway there! And once again, don’t leave out the positive self talk. This is all I have left to do! I’m crushing this!
Know how the transition area works. In some races the racks are numbered and you don’t have to worry about it, but if they aren’t assigned it pays to get to the race early to secure a good spot in transition. Ideally, this is a spot on the end of the rack close to the bike in/out.
Practice transition, but know It's different on race day as your heart rate is going to be high. I preach less is more, the less you touch the faster you'll be. Don’t bring 500 things into transition - you don’t need so much, it’s in the way of others, and the more spread out it is the more likely it is to be bumped around.
Take note of where you are - what rack are you on and what identifies it.
Find a tree or post that can’t move during the race as an identifier. I made the mistake once of identifying a trailer that I thought wouldn’t move before the race. I was wrong and ran around aimlessly wasting time.
Do what you've practiced and adhere to the adage of nothing new on race day.
Flying Mounts/Dismounts, if you haven’t practiced and planned it, don’t do it. Things seem like a good idea when your HR is skyrocketed, but have a PLAN and stick to it.
Organize your gear in the order you will use it – run through transitions in your mind. This is something you can do before you even get to the race site. What are you going to do, when are you going to do it, etc. This is also something that you can do as you’re approaching the swim exit and bike finish. Know your plan, run through your plan and don’t deviate from your plan.
Take off your helmet - Every race someone runs out of transition with their helmet on. Don’t be that someone.
Bungee Laces - If you’re not using them, think about it or at least plan on how you will be putting on your shoes.
I hope something here proves helpful for you, and if you have any good tips please share them with us!