Training for triathlon is a lot of work, swimming, biking and running. The one thing that is overlooked is how to train and be prepared for your arrival at a triathlon event site. Racing should be fun, enjoyable and something you look forward to. Reduce the stress on race day and be safe by considering the following triathlon tips. These tips will make sure your training pays off well while racing.
Tip: Check out and know the course ahead of time
At a minimum, you need to be familiar with the bike and run courses before you leave for your triathlon event. Some courses are marked very well while others could do a better job. If it's a multi lap course, know who many loops you need to do for your race. Not all bike courses are closed to traffic, know that before you venture outside the shoulder area or a lane of traffic. Volunteers can be positioned in places they are un-familiar with and don't necessarily need to know the whole course. Viewing the course online or on paper is not the same as actually experiencing it before the race. If you can, at least drive the bike course if you don't have time to ride it. You'll get an idea of what to expect. Pay attention to road conditions. Mentally note tricky areas, like merging with bike traffic if a multi-looped course or pot holes. Doing so will give you an advantage on race day.
Tip: Stay up-to-date with news from the race director
Things happen, so you need to be prepared. Some updated water temps before the race, to let you know if wetsuits will be allowed or not. If the water is too warm, you can make sure to pack a speedsuit / swimskin (a suit with no buoyancy that helps you cut through the water) if you have one. Also, pay attention to packet pick-up details, some races have it a day or two before the race while others allow it or might have it on race day. Note, some races do not allow packet pick-up on race day, so don't expect that. Make arrangements with the race director ahead of time if you have a valid reason and need to pick it up on race day. Make sure to have your ID, your USAT card or proof of your one day license purchase for packet pick-up. You can only pick-up your race packet. Race directors usually have a pre-race meeting, so know when that is taking place and be there for last minute updates.
Tip: Get your race gear ready ahead of time
A two days before your triathlon event, you should know what you're gonna pack for your race. Make a list! Buy any items you might need (tubes, nutrition, etc.) two days before the race. The day before the race, your stuff should be ready. Lay your gear out on the floor, except your bike and take a picture for future reference. Update the picture based on race distance or to include new things. Get everything packed up and ready to go so you don't have to think about anything in the morning before heading out the door. Make sure to check your gear, like the screws on your cleats, you bike tires, etc. If you received your race packet ahead of time, make sure to apply all of the stickers to the items, like your helmet and bike the night before. It's not a bad idea to pack a headlamp if you plan on arriving real early.
Tip: Eat a good dinner and breakfast
You need to be properly fueled up for you race, maybe more so for longer races, but still. Eat a good dinner the night before and make sure it's not greasy or something that might upset your stomach, stay away from red meat. Also, if it's going to be hot our, drink plenty of fluids to stay well-hydrated the day before, not the morning of the race. A can of V8 is good the night before, just in case it's going to be hot out. The sodium content in the one can of V8 will get into your system and will help with cramping on race day. On race morning, make sure to fuel your body with a good meal, as well as fluids. You want your system to have plenty of time to digest what you eat, so eat early.
Tip: Plan your departure and arrival accordingly
Figure out how long it will take you to get to the race site. Make sure to add time to find a parking spot, unload your gear and walk/ride to the race site. Important, investigate traffic delays or construction on your route to the race. Arrive at least one hour before they close the transition area. Arriving late only adds stress to your day and wastes energy as well as incontinences the volunteers and triathletes who were there on time. The earlier you get there, the better chance you have to get a good spot in the transition area or your assigned bike rack. Don't expect people to be nice to you if you arrive late and there is no room on the bike rack for your stuff. Don't expect volunteers to let you into the transition area if it's already closed, those are the rules.
Tip: Get transition area set up right away
Once you find a spot, get your stuff laid out right away instead of visiting with friends. Get everything set out for your race right away will help you identify anything you might have missed while packing and give you time to solve the issue. It will also help you relaxing before the race starts and/or have time to warm up. If you got for a quick ride on your bike, lay your wetsuit over the bike rack where you bike was. That's the universal sign that this spot is taken on the bike rack. NOTE: Please be courteous and not a hog. Some races venues have plenty of room in the transition area, while others pack us in like sardines. Your transition area spot along with your bike shouldn't take up excess space. Your transition bag should be pretty empty after setting up your spot.
Tip: Get aquatinted with the race venue
It's always a good idea to figure out the ins and outs around the transition area before the starting gun goes off. You should know where the swim start area is, the swim exit, the path from the swim exit to your bike, the bike out, the bike in and path back to your stuff as well as the run out. Also, it's important to know where the bike mount and dismount line is. The line indicates when you can get on your bike going out and when you have to be off your bike on the way in. Knowing that ahead of time will make you look like a pro and reduce the stress between the disciplines.
Tip: Know the race rules
This is key for many reasons; besides possible disqualification it helps with your safety and the safety of others racing. If it's a USAT sanctioned race, you need to read, know and follow the rules, like no-drafting on the bike so you don't get disqualified or a penalty. Other infraction can come from riding to the race site with no helmet on, or taking control of your bike without your chin strap buckled as well as listing to music while on your bike on the bike course. Some races allow you to listen to music while on the run. That's doesn't mean it's allowed on the bike, so don't do it!
Tip: Position yourself appropriately in the swim
For most newbies and even some experienced triathletes the swim discipline is the most nerve racking thing. Most triathletes don't like to swim over slower athletes ahead of them at the start of the swim wave. In general, if you are a good swimmer, get out in the front or the middle of your wave. If you are a slow swimmer or get nervous, head to the back of the pack. When the wave start, wait 10 seconds and then start. Also, the most action will happen on the inside of the swim course, closest to the buoys. If you are anxious, head towards the side farther away from the buoys. Not that in races that have multiple swim waves, you could get caught and passed by swimmers in the wave behind you.
Tip: Use body glide or other lubricant on race day
Use body glide or a non-petroleum lubricant before putting on your wetsuit. It will help get it on. Don't use Vaseline, it's not good for you wetsuit. Don't forget to put some in spots that might rub against your skin, to prevent chaffing from the wetsuit, especially on your neck. Body glide or other products are also good to prevent chaffing with other items, such as tri tops or running shoes, so use appropriately. There is nothing worse that biking or running with a chaffed area. Also, it's a good idea to use sunscreen if it's going to be a sunny and hot day.
Tip: Fuel your body accordingly during and after the race
Know ahead of time if the race will have aid stations on the course and were they might be distance wise. Make sure you have the right amount of fluids and nutrition with you, based on the race distance. On your bike, have your water bottles, and maybe some gels taped to your bike, depending on the distance you are doing. If it's a half or more, a bento box would work to store items. For the run, consider a race belt for fluids and/or nutrition. Don't forget the electrolytes. It's not a bad idea to a water bottle and/or nutrition in your transition area handy. If a half or longer, try to find out what drink and nutrition they will have at the aid stations, to see if that will work for you. After the race, make sure to take in some calories and plenty of fluids to make up for what you lost by doing your best. At a minimum, you maybe burned 1500+ calories on a sprint, so do don't over indulge. You want to make sure to be in good shape if you have to drive home after the race.
Tip: Bring a spare and tools, know how to use them
Every triathlon event varies when it comes to the bike course; some take you on rural roads while others might have your biking in an urban setting. On race day, make sure you have a spare tube, a CO2 cartridge and tools with your, in your jersey or bike bag. Before race day you should know how to change a flat tire. Events don't allow outside help, so asking a spectator to help should NOT be considered. Some races have a sag wagon or people that might be able to help you on the bike course if something happens while others don't. Don't expect them to be right there, right away for your service if something happens.
Tip: Don't look back to see Family, Friends Cheering
Let your family or friends see or know what you'll be wearing on race day. That just makes them cheer for the right person. If you want, you can give them estimates of your expected times, so they can make sure to know when you might be around the transition area. It's great to have people cheering for you, but make sure to stay focused and use the cheering as a mental boost. Maybe coordinate ahead of time where it might be a good idea to watch you. Important, when you are on the bike and you hear people cheering for you, pay attention, continue looking ahead, don't look back to see who it was. At the speed you are traveling it only takes a second or two for you to come up on another biker or come across a pot hole. Don't worry, they won't be mad at you if you did see them or if it was someone else, they might come up to you after the race.
Tip: Pack a change of Clothes for after the race
Triathlon is a social event as well, so don't leave early just because you want to get out of your sweaty, smelly racing gear. Pack some Action Wipes (pre-moistened body wipes for when you can't shower) or put a wet washcloth in a Ziploc bag to wash up after the race. Pack some clothes and maybe some sandals to change into afterwards. They come in handy if you plan to stick around for the awards ceremony or the prize giveaways.
It's no fun when things don't go your way before or during your race. If you follow these rules, you should be relaxed before the start of the race and enjoy crossing the finish line.
P.S. Plan accordingly, the porta potties get pretty busy before the race and some run out of toilet paper, so it's not a bad idea to bring your own.
These triathlon tips have been gathered from years of racing, being a spectator or photographer at many triathlon events, as well as input from friends, like Coach Kris Swarthout at OptumHealth Performance.