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Race Day Triathlon Tips

Adam Nakada

Whether this is your first race or you’ve got a rack full of triathlon bling, having your race day mapped out both physically and mentally is the final step of training. While some things are not up to you on race day, being well-prepared for whatever comes your way will give you peace of mind and help eliminate last-minute unpleasant surprises.

Test All of Your Gear

Race day is not the day to try new gear. You should have done at least one swim in your wetsuit and goggle set-up, as well as completed a run in your kit/run gear. If you’ve recently changed your bike tires, do a test ride to ensure they were properly changed. 

It is also not the time to try new nutrition. Make sure the energy drink and gels you plan to use sit well with your stomach. You don’t want any race-day surprises!

Proper Fueling Begins the Day Before

To set up for a good race, you have to start fueling properly 24 hours before the race actually starts. That doesn't mean you should try to eat everything in sight (forget the term “carbo-loading”!) - it just means you need to pay extra attention to your diet.

Lighter meals that include lots of lean protein are your best bet. Avoid grains and sugary drinks, which can be bloating. Also, try to finish your pre-race dinner 10 hours before you plan to eat your pre-race breakfast. Water intake should be as you normally would drink; no need to gulp down several extra gallons.

Be Finished with Breakfast 2-3 Hours Pre-Race

Your pre-race breakfast should be comprised of 25 to 30 percent protein, 50 percent carbs, and 20 percent fat. If you have a sensitive GI system, you should still take in a minimum of 60 - 120 calories. Your blood sugar will be low after sleeping, and the brain taps into your liver glycogen. Both of these are important for racing so, at the very least, you need to top off those two resources. Avoid heavy foods like doughnuts and cold cuts. Yogurt, bagels, oatmeal and dried fruit are safer options.

Don’t Drink Just because You’re Nervous

Just like the day before a race, avoid drinking too much water. Drink to thirst. Wait until eight minutes before the start of the race to start sipping on your fuel replacement drink, or to eat a gel. Those are calories that will be useful at the onset of the race. If you sweat a lot, you can take up to 12 ounces of your fuel replacement drink eight minutes before the start.

Map Out Your Transition

After you set up your bike, take a while to see where the Swim Out is in relation to transition. Walk the area from where you will exit the swim to your bike. Find the Bike Out, Bike In and Run Out. Note any poles or other standing structures to provide a landmark for your transition area.
Do a final walk-through before leaving that day so you will know your surroundings on race day.

Go Through the Motions

After you set up your transition area, mentally rehearse your transitions. Know the order you will put on your bike and run gear. Make sure your race nutrition is carefully taped to your bike or stashed in an area that is easy to access.

After your setup is complete, make sure your bike is in a low gear. This will help your breathing rate and heart rate rise naturally when you start the bike portion of the race. A high gear will force your heartbeat up too high, too fast.

On Race Day

Warm Up

Get your heart rate up to aerobic zone for eight to 20 minutes before the race. Ideally, you should do a warm-up swim to get a feel for the water. If you are not comfortable doing this, ride your bike little ways (2 to 5 miles)—if you can take your bike out of transition.

If you can't do either of these, do a dynamic warm up. Mimic the motions you will do in the water to prep for your start. Stay warm; wear gloves and a hood if necessary.

Swim Smart

View the swim course, including key turns, before your wave. Take a mental note of the key turns and match them with something on the shore if possible. Also, note on which turns you will have the sun in your eyes. If you can, swim the course, or sections of the course, the day before. Avoid short, panicky breaths when you start the swim. Breathe slow and steady as you acclimate to the swim. You’ve got this!

No Food in T1

After exiting the swim, wait eight to 15 minutes before taking in liquid or food. This is to avoid extra GI stress. Your heart rate should rise and your breathing should reach a steady state.

One of the biggest problems triathletes have is that they consume too much, too soon. You should be on a steady drip system. Think smaller quantities, not big gulps. Sip your fluids every eight minutes. When you’ve got your heart rate and are in the flow, you may start consuming nutrition.

Be Smart on the Bike

Your bike should be in an easy gear when you head out of T1. Start your ride slowly and ease up to your comfortable gear. It should not feel like you are pounding down on the pedals. If you begin feeling dizzy or light-headed, slow down, and do not hesitate to stop at aid stations if you feel like you might faint, which, though uncommon, can have drastic results on a bike. If you're comfortable standing up and have a flat stretch of road about 30 minutes into the bike, take advantage of the opportunity to stretch your hip flexors by standing up and leaning slightly forward with your hips.

Finally, don't drink anything within the last 10 minutes of the bike.

Don't hurry to come into transition 2 (T2). If it's wet, it can be slippery. Just take your time and walk through the transition.

Ease Into the Run

Just as in T1, you want to avoid food in T2. Giving your body time to adjust to the next activity before food intake is a smart move. Wait six to 10 minutes before drinking; then drink according to your thirst. If you are carrying a hydration belt, you know what you’re going to be drinking (besides on-course water). Another reminder: if you’ve never tried what they are serving in terms of a sports drink: be careful and start slow. Different drinks can cause GI upsets, especially when mixed with gels or chews.
If you start to bonk, a “walk a minute per mile” trick might work for you. Although it sounds as though it might really slow you down, it can refresh your body enough to get you through a slump and back into high gear. Remember to keep your pelvis tucked in and your chin level (not up). Remember that you trained for this, and give it your all…if you’re in the run, you’re almost done!

Race Day Triathlon Tips

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