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You’ve put in the training for your triathlon (see tri training tips here) and race day is fast approaching. While many factors may be beyond your control, that doesn’t mean you can’t plan for the best day possible. Here is how to put your training into practice and optimize your race day.
#1 The Head Game
Don’t underestimate the power your mental game brings to the table. Hopefully you have been working on your head game throughout your triathlon training. If not, start now. Build a mantra for yourself; it can be as simple as “Feeling strong,” or “Just keep swimming.” My personal favorite is “Pain is only temporary, glory lasts forever”, whatever works for you. Practice your mantra in your challenging workouts so it comes naturally to you during the triathlon. The difference between a good race and a great race can be the attitude you bring to the course.
#2 Have A Triathlon Race Day Strategy
With a coach, or on your own, sit down and plan your race day strategy. Are you a strong swimmer and planning to lead the pack? If so you will want to be in front of the crowd before the gun goes off. On the other hand, if you are less confident in open water you may want to hang back a few seconds to avoid the swim start mob. Ask questions like where should your heart rate be for the bike? And the run? Will you be running the entire last leg, or will you be taking walk breaks? When will you be eating, and how much? A triathlon race day plan becomes more important the longer the distance, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. If you are competing in a shorter course at least think through how you would like your race to go.
#3 Tri Race Day Nutrition
If you are racing a sprint triathlon, or even an olympic, water may be all you need. However, as the distance increases nutrition becomes increasingly important (see triathlon nutrition tips here). For long course races nutrition can make or break your race. Use your long bike and run workouts as an opportunity to test out different race day options. You should know what nutrition works best for you before race day.
If you are competing in a half Ironman or longer, consider creating a detailed plan for your nutrition. You may even think about programing your watch to sound an alarm every time you should eat. This takes all of the guess work out of fueling during the race. Decided what works best for you, and stick with it. Know where the aid stations are on the course and what they will have in stock. Decided ahead of time if you will be using nutrition offered by the race, or if you will be carrying your own. For more triathlon nutrition tips check out this article from Dave Scott.
#4 Review Your Race Packet
You will pick up a packet containing important information about the race prior to the big day. Make sure you read the materials and familiarize yourself with the schedule. There will be important times to note, like start waves and cut off times.
Also review the race course. Ideally you have had a chance to ride part, or all, of the bike course in training. While most races do an excellent job of marking the route, this is not true of all. Missing a turn can add up to a lot of extra miles, and per USAT rules it is ultimately your responsibility to know where you are going.
#5 Transition Tips
If this will be your first triathlon try practicing transitions a few times in your training. You can set this up like a mini triathlon including the swim, bike, and run in one session, or you can break it into separate swim to bike and bike to run bricks, performed on separate days. For these sessions lay your gear out like you would on race day and practice how you will transition. For the swim to bike use one of your open water swim sessions to practice exiting your wetsuit under pressure. If this will be your first race keep it simple, don’t try anything fancy. If you already have a few races under your belt you may consider practicing more advanced techniques like the flying mount.
On Race Day
On the big day make sure you arrive with plenty of time to get your gear set up and familiarize yourself with the transition area. After you have racked your bike walk the transition area and visualize how you will find your spot during the race. Some athletes use brightly colored towels or balloons to help them hone in on their area. Even if you go this route it is still best to walk from the swim area to your rack and make a mental note of where it is in the transition area. Exiting the swim can be disorienting and the last thing you want is to get lost in T1. Try walking the transition area from swim to bike and bike to run making mental notes of how you will pass through transition during the race.
This REI article does a good job of outlining the transitions in depth.
#6 Stay Flexible
Arrive at race day prepared and ready to rock, but remember to stay flexible. In a race there are many factors you cannot control. You may have had your heart set on a PR (personal record), but didn’t count on gnarly cross winds slowing you down. Don’t punish yourself by trying to make up time. Stick with your race strategy and take comfort in knowing that everyone else is facing the same conditions you are. Likewise, you may have prepared for one flat tire, but as luck would have it you got two. Or maybe your well planned nutrition strategy went out the window when your bento box dumped all of your bars across the pavement. Whatever happens don’t let factors that are out of your control ruin your day. You put months of hard work into getting here, make sure you enjoy it, even if things don’t go as planned.
Read Part 1 and Part 2 of our Triathlon Training Tips Series here: