To perform at your best in your first triathlon, it’s ideal that you warm up before the race. It’s not essential and there will be times that you can’t either because of the structure of the race or just timings, so don’t worry if you can’t.
The warm-up serves two purposes as it increases blood flow and kicks in neurotransmitters which stimulate the muscles you need to perform in the triathlon, but it also helps you burn off some of the nerves and release the tensions that you are probably feeling prior to the race.
The swim warm up
Warming up for the swim can be tricky and you may not have access to the water before the race either for safety or organisational purposes. If you can get in, absolutely do! The key things you want to achieve if you are new to open water swimming relate more to comfort than swimming stroke. You want to make sure that your wetsuit fits properly and you’ll find it’s easier to adjust when you are in the water, so get in and give it a good stretch, especially around the shoulders.
Secondly, getting your face underwater is essential. If you swim with your head out, you will slow yourself down, fatigue will kick in and your heart rate will increase dramatically. So get used to the temperature as fast as you can, and get used to blowing out underwater.
If there is ample time to warm up in the water, do a short evenly paced swim, no more than 100-200m to get your shoulders moving, your blood flowing and get used to the water before the race.
Cycling warm up
If you have a triathlon bag instead of a box, put it on your back and cycle from your car to transition at the very least! If you have more time, drop your triathlon gear in transition, and cycle out and back on the course if possible, focussing on form and making sure that you are comfortable and everything works on the bike, especially your gears and brakes.
You want to avoid tiring yourself out, so aim for a higher cadence in a lower gear to get the blood flowing and your body used to running at race tempo, rather than grinding in higher gears. At the end of the warm-up, make sure you put your bike back in the gear you want to start the race in.
Run warm up
You are a long way from the run leg, any warm-up that you do should be focussed on tempo and form to set your body up for race pace. A 5 minute run, with some change of pace just before you plan to get your wetsuit on will wake the muscles up.
Warming up for an event 60-90 minutes before the event is only going to have a limited effect anyway, so it makes sense to ease yourself into each leg using a negative split type approach. The negative split is a key marathon strategy and uses the fact that the energy usage is disproportionate. As you increase your speed, your energy usage increases at an accelerated pace, so going out fast means you’ll run out of energy.
Start each leg at a steady pace until you feel comfortable and the relevant muscles have warmed up, then you can up the pace and catch up with your target timing pace towards the end of the leg.