You put hours of consistent workouts into your training week, yet race day is over quickly with no room for error. With all the time you put into your training you want race day to go smoothly, reflecting training time well-spent. With proper preparation, planning, and predictable sequence of events on race day, you can control the outcome.
Make sure your race goes as planned with a set sequence of events to follow during the last several days, and on race day morning. You can follow the same pattern every time you participate in an event, thus reducing potential problems.
Select an event that matches your level of experience and preparation
Choose a suitable race, train well, and set an attainable goal to make race day a positive experience. There are several factors to consider while selecting races: Am I ready for/do I have time to prepare for the distance? Am I/can I prepare effectively for the terrain/conditions (waves, climbs on ride and run, heat). Is the level of competition suitable (local race, or national level competition)? Triathlon is a great sport because there’s a place for everyone regardless of experience or age, but it’s more fun to be ‘in the race’ rather than finishing while everyone else is at the post-race feast.
Finish your first race; race your second
Many first-time Ironman competitors come to me with their race day times for swim, bike, and run carefully mapped out, only a few finish in their goal time, but everyone finishes. My point is if you’re a first time triathlete or first time competitor at a new distance, focus on finishing the race and don’t worry about time.
Set realistic goals
What are your goals for this race? Realistic goal-setting is pivotal to make your race day a positive experience. Compare the competition to those of similar distance and terrain that you’ve done. If the goal is to go faster than in previous events, set a satisfying margin of improvement that’s realistic for the day.
Are you psychologically ready for the event? Are you aware of specific challenges for the day like waves, heat, or hills? Has your training gone well? Are you ready for a max effort over the distance, or is this race just a step toward a more important goal?
Consider race day logistics
Research what the logistics are like on race-day if known. How many people are participating; what’s the parking situation; where’s transition area and registration relative to parking; will the crowds be large or small? The larger the race, the more time that’s needed for race-morning prep. In most cases it’s safe to arrive at race location 1½ hours prior to the event.
Know the course
Upload a course to your triathlon watch. If possible, see and train on the course. If your first time at the race site is race-day morning, do your best to research course details beforehand. Study any course maps that are available; see any key portions of the course that you can.
Pay attention to details
Where is the swim start and how far is it from the transition area? How much time do I need to allot to get to the start? Can I get there barefoot, or do I need sandals? Check out the footing between the swim exit in T1, also check out the footing in the transition area itself. From the swim exit to transition area try to pick out rocks and obstructions to avoid. Assess whether you can go barefoot through the transition area or if you’re better-off running in your bike shoes.
Know the transition area
Check all your gear. As you place your gear in the transition area, be sure to memorize your rack position; look for landmarks — trees, poles — and if the racks aren’t clearly numbered, memorize your row and count the number of racks from transition entry. As you’re in the transition area, make sure you have the in’s and out’s memorized. If it’s not clear, ask a race official.
Claim your transition space and make it easy to find
Think of a way to make your transition spot distinctive so when you’re racing at redline it will be easy to find. Use bright colors — an unusual towel, or a bright seat cover on your bike — whatever separates your stuff from the sea of bikes and gear. Don’t let others invade your space on the rack. Making sure you have ample space and that no surrounding competitors will knock your gear around.
Get to the start and warm up
Wear a triathlon wetsuit and a swim buoy if necessary. Get to the swim start area at least 15 minutes before your wave is scheduled to go off. Always do some sort of a warm-up before the start. If the water is not too cold, you’re I recommend a swim of 10 minutes out to the first buoy on the course and back. If the H20’s very cold and you’re afraid of getting chilled prior to the start, try a dry-land alternative like a jog, jumping in place with arm swings, or a quick stretch-cord workout.
Control your swim
Know the course. Locate the swim entrance and exit as-well-as all the buoys. If it’s a mass start, position yourself realistically based on your pace. If you line up with faster swimmers they’ll swim right over you and that’s no fun. If you line up too far back, you’ll spend much of the swim wasting time and losing momentum passing slower swimmers. If you’re new to the sport and nervous with other swimmers around you, line-up on the side, taking a slightly longer diagonal line to the first buoy. Move your way into the pack once the group thins out. Once you get in with a steady-paced group of swimmers, move tight in behind another swimmer and draft. If the water is clear, you’ll be able to follow the group both with your head down, and head up sighting. If the water is murky, follow the bubbles coming off their feet and follow the caps as you sight. It’s been said: “You can’t win a triathlon on the swim, but you can lose it.” A few seconds gained on the swim, doesn’t mean much once you begin the bike leg. Therefore, in most cases you’re better off drafting behind a fast group rather than putting out a huge solo effort that only gains you a few seconds. Just a little energy saved during the swim can make a big difference on the bike.
Be steady on the bike
You’ll be on the bike for a while and coping with some lactic acid left over from the swim, so start at a comfortably fast pace and build as you go. The first few miles of the ride can be ‘finding your legs’ post swim, but then it’s time to push. In Ironman distance races the race ‘begins’ at about 80-miles into the bike. If you’ve paced well to that point the rest of your ride, and the run that follows well go well. The same rule holds for sprint, Olympic, and even 1/2 Ironman distances. While there’s less need to hold back for these distances, if your 56-mile 1/2 Ironman ride is at sprint distance pace, you’ll be in trouble for the run. Be aware of drafting rules and keep your focus. There’s no one out there protecting you but you! Ease-up with your pacing for the last mile of the ride and start getting psyched for the run. Yes, I said get psyched!
Be tough on the run
You’ve gotten through the swim and bike in control, now comes the toughest part for most of us. Is running fast ever comfortable? Not for me, but I take solace in the fact that the race is almost over and if I can hold a good pace I’ll have no regrets. Just as you did on the bike, start at a speed you know you can maintain throughout and build as you go. If you can’t build your effort, just hold it where it is…if you can’t hold it—just hold on! Good luck!