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Coaches Blog

Race-Day Tips for Triathletes

Whether you're a first-timer or a finisher of 100+ Triathlons, it's always a good idea to review some details before your first race of the season, as there is always something to learn. Let's go over some race-day tips, as the season is now upon us!

First of all, going into a race with some goals is always essential. Goals are what lead us to success. Know your goals and share them with people you trust. No matter your goal, they help keep us motivated and accountable!

Race Day Swim Tips:

As the triathlon kicks off with a swim, let's explore some essential race-day swim strategies. These pointers actually commence well before race day, as it's imperative to test your race-day gear, including your wetsuit and goggles, prior to your first event of the year.  

Familiarize Yourself with the Starting Point:

Be mindful of where and when your swim leg begins, and plan accordingly. Many races use a self-seeding system or base your starting position on estimated swim times. Take the opportunity to survey the course layout.

Scout the Course:

Pay attention to swimmers starting ahead of you to identify optimal lines and anticipate potential bottlenecks. Understanding the course layout is crucial for a smooth swim. Look for fixed landmarks that can serve as reliable navigation points.

Master the Art of Sighting:

Sighting, or periodically lifting your head to orient yourself, is essential. Aim to swim the exact course distance, avoiding unnecessary extra yardage. Staying focused on your direction ensures efficient navigation throughout the swim leg.

Maintain Calmness in the Water:

Keeping calm while swimming may seem challenging, but it's crucial. Firstly, ensure you're relaxed before entering the water. Having a clear plan is essential. If panic sets in, have a calming strategy to turn to. I suggest flipping onto your back or finding a volunteer kayak/paddleboard; take a moment to focus on relaxing and alleviating concerns about moving forward. Give yourself time, then restart with a fresh mindset.

If panic persists, force yourself to submerge and exhale fully. Often, panic stems from a focus on inhaling without consciously exhaling. Purposely exhaling allows you to take a full breath in. Sometimes, that's enough to calm your mind and body.

Focus on your swim technique, particularly your rotation. If you start to panic, look upwards to the sky for reassurance. Positive self-talk can be remarkably effective: "I'm calm, I'm skilled, I'm buoyant, just a few yards to go."

Conserving energy in the initial stages of the swim will help save energy and your legs for the rest of the race. Monitor your kicking intensity, gradually increasing it throughout the swim, reserving a strong kick for the end to prepare your legs for the bike/run transition.

Race Day Bike Tips:

Before race day, ensure your bike is meticulously cleaned and primed for action. Check your tires, cables, and battery charge, giving your bike a comprehensive once-over to instill confidence before you hit the road. A clean drivetrain enhances speed and efficiency and minimizes the risk of encountering mechanical issues.

During the pre-race phase, ensure your bike is geared appropriately for a smooth start. Opt for smaller gears, which will ensure your chain is securely in place and eliminate the need for immediate gear adjustments upon mounting your bike.

Equip your bike with all necessary essentials: computer, race number, and nutrition, if needed, to streamline your ride experience.

Know the race rules, including drafting, blocking, and overtaking protocols, as well as anything that might be course-specific.

Race Day Running Tips:

Running straight off the bike can be challenging. In my first race, I had a pace goal that turned out to be unrealistic. It's essential to understand that race day conditions can vary, and your plans may need adjustment. Don't let setbacks discourage you; be prepared to adapt as necessary. 

Break the run down into smaller segments to make it more mentally manageable. Whether it's by miles, quarters, or any other division that works for you, compartmentalizing the run can help keep you focused.

If the course is an out-and-back, use the turnaround point to regroup if you've been struggling or maintain momentum if things have been going well. Remind yourself that you're halfway there, and keep pushing forward.

Positive self-talk can make a significant difference. Encourage yourself with affirmations like "I'm almost there, I've got this" to maintain motivation and confidence throughout the run.

Transition Tips:

Understanding the logistics of transition is crucial. While some races have numbered racks, ensuring you don't need to worry about placement, it's wise to arrive early if transition spots aren't assigned. Aim for a prime spot at the end of a rack, close to the bike in/out area.

Practice your transition routine beforehand. Race day brings heightened heart rates and nerves, so simplicity is key. Minimize the number of items you bring into transition; clutter slows you down and inconveniences others. Keep your gear compact and organized to prevent it from being jostled around.

Take note of your location in transition. Memorize your rack number and any distinguishing features to avoid confusion during the race. Identify a fixed object like a tree or post for reference; avoid relying on movable items that may change unexpectedly.

Stick to what you've trained for. Avoid trying new techniques like flying mounts or dismounts if you haven't practiced them extensively beforehand. Develop a clear plan for your transition sequence and organize your gear accordingly. Visualize your transition routine in advance, from exiting the swim to completing the bike leg, and adhere to your plan without deviation.

Remember to remove your helmet before heading out of transition. It's a common mistake to overlook in the heat of the moment (especially at the beginning of the season).

I hope something here proves helpful for you, and if you have any good tips, please share them with us!


Allen Stanfield is a Team MPI Senior Coach who has been part of TeamMPI since 2012.  He is a Level 1 USAT Coach, and works with multisport athletes of all levels. He has coached a Guinness World Record Holder, as well as first-time triathletes, plus Junior Elite Athletes, ITU and IRONMAN™ 70.3 and 140.6 World Championship Finishers, Boston Marathon Finishers, and numerous first-time IRONMAN™ Finishers. Allen is a passionate ambassador for the mutlisport lifestlye.  



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