After weeks and months of training, you want to make sure your race goes well so take some time to think about the day and prepare for each step in advance. That means getting your equipment sorted, knowing where you need to be and when plus eating and drinking right before and during the event.

All that’s left then is to enjoy race day and start planning your next triathlon!

Prerace planning

When you sign up for your race, you need to think about what you need to enter and how you are going to get to the event. Do you need a race licence? Is your equipment working and do you have everything you need?  There are two things you need to review in advance of the race.

Race briefing

The race briefing is produced by the race organisers and details the timings and rules which you need to abide by for the day. Sometimes the final document will not be available until late, but the majority of the relevant information will be on the race organisers website, so check this out in advance.

The key things to check out are:

  • What documentation do you need to bring with you in order to register? Does your national Triathlon body require you to get a race licence and if so, where can you get one? This will generally be available on their website, and some major bodies are linked here. There are usually two options, a one day licence and a full season licence so get the one that makes the most sense based on the number of races you expect to do in the year.
  • Where and when is registration? You need to sign up either on the day or the day before and sign the relevant waivers, collect your race numbers, bike stickers, race hat and timing chip, so make sure you know where and when this is, and build your travel plans around this.
  • Where is the race parking and transition? Parking may be a couple of miles from the event transition, and you need to factor in how long it will take and how you are going to carry all of your equipment.
  • Specific race rules. This tends to relate to the bike or wetsuit, but check all rules just in case.
  • When Transition Closes. Forget the race start time, this is your deadline! If you have not racked your bike and set out your equipment and left transition will everything you need for the swim, you may not get to race, so make sure you are ready well in advance.
Race day equipment checklist

Triathlons require a lot of essential and optional equipment and kit, so having a good checklist, excellent packing skills and a suitable bag or box to take to transition is essential. Find out all that you will need here.

Fueling your body

A triathlon is a long, hard event and it’s very likely that you will use up all of the stored energy in your body well before the end of the race if you don’t fuel appropriately. You need to test out your fueling well in advance of the race, so you need to understand how you use the body’s fuel, how to top it up and when. Find out more here.

There is no point in reviewing the checklist on the day of the race and find out you’re out of wetsuit lube! Check in advance and make sure you have the time to restock on gels and BodyGlide and that your bike and equipment are in full working order. Don’t forget the suntan lotion as well!

Numbering

Each participant in a triathlon has a unique number and you will be given a pack of stickers as part of your registration. Usually, there are instructions on how to put these on, but if you, check with the marshals, they are there to help.

Generally, there are stickers for your Bike, the front and/or sides of your helmet, Your triathlon bag or luggage that you are leaving in the bag drop, and your race number. Sometimes this will come with holes for a race belt, but if not, you can usually pierce it with your keys. These need to be put on before your race, and often the marshalls will ask you to prove that you have the same race number as the bike you are taking out of transition after the race to avoid theft.

Some races also use transfers that stick to the skin, just like tattoos for kids! Just get the backing paper wet and the numbers should slide off.

Warm up

The warm-up serves two purposes.

Firstly it wakes your muscles up, engages muscles memory and starts the blood flowing to the relevant muscles in advance of the main effort of the race, ensuring you start fast and efficiently.

Secondly, it lets you burn off the nervous energy that has been building up in anticipation of the race.

Warming up for three events can be difficult, especially if you can’t get into the water to warm up for the swim so here are some warm-up routines you can do in advance of the race.

Triathlon checklist

There’s a lot to think about on the day of your first triathlon, so the last thing you want to do is get to the race and find out you forgot your goggles! The key is to have a good triathlon checklist to hand as you pack, so print this out to make sure you pack right.

Bag or box.

Let’s be honest, you’re going to be taking a lot of kit from your car to transition whilst also pushing a bike, so a good container ( or a helpful friend) is a must! There are two main options:

  • A plastic box that can sit on top of your handlebars. This takes a little practice but is definitely a good option if you want to save money. Make sure it’s plastic though and has holes at the bottom so the water can drain.
  • A transition bag. Slightly more expensive, but a lot more practical, transition bags are designed to hold all of your kit, from dry bags for wetsuits to specialised helmet compartments, transition bags are ideal for storing and transporting your kit, plus they help you organise all of your equipment to make packing simpler. You may also find it has a triathlon checklist attached as well, so there would be no excuse! Wiggle has a good range here.

The best way to approach the triathlon checklist and packing is by section from pre-race through to dressing for the swim and on to what you need for the bike and run.

Pre-race

  • Race briefing – this is essential as it will help you remember the timings and locations, plus let you check any last minute concerns or registration requirements
  • Race licence – if you race demands a licence, you need to have bought one in advance
  • Triathlon Checklist, to double check!

Swim

  • Trisuit – racing in the nude is not allowed! Whatever you are wearing under the wetsuit needs to be suitable for all three legs, comfortable and packed!
  • Wetsuit 
  • Body glide, baby oil or lubricant of your choice
  • Goggles. If you have them, take a spare pair as well, as goggle elastic has a nasty habit of breaking just when you don’t want it too!
  • Race hat. Most races will give you a specific hat which may be coloured if there are different waves and must be worn. However, if you are worried about the cold or like to have two hats to keep your goggles on, make sure you carry a spare. Don’t forget to wear the race one on top though.
  • Timing chip – You won’t be packing it, but need to remember to put it on!
  • Race belt – One of the problems with triathlon is where the number goes. You need one on the front for the Run and one on the back for the Bike, but you don’t have time to put them on before the Bike, so they need to be on during the swim. It’s totally fine to pin them on to your trisuit ( assuming they give you two numbers) but the best option is a racebelt, which is an elastic belt that the number attaches to. You can either put it on under your wetsuit or slip it on after the swim. Wiggle has a selection here 
  • Flip flops – Optional. There can be a long walk from transition to the swim start, so you might want to wear some light shoes which you can leave at the swim start and pick up later.
  • Water bottle. You might want to have extra water available if it’s warm and you have a long wait between transition closing and race start. Don’t forget you can’t take it with you so don’t take the bottle off your bike.
  • Towel. This is a good marker for transition, if allowed, and lets you dry your feet before you put your socks or shoes on.

Bike

  • Bike – this is a difficult one to miss, but it does happen! Not only must you have your bike, but it needs to be in full working order. That means tires are pumped up, gears and brakes work and you are complying with any specific bike rules ( bar end caps is a common rule for example)
  • Helmet – You shouldn’t be riding a bike without a proper bike helmet in any case, but it’s essential for racing. you won’t be allowed into transition without a proper bike helmet that clips under the chin and fits properly. If you have an aero helmet, make sure that any attachments are also in the bag
  • Bike shoes
  • Socks – One of the big talking points in triathlon is whether you should run and ride with socks on, but if you decide to, make sure that they are in the bag, your feet won’t thank you if you haven’t planned for barefoot running!
  • Talc – if you are going barefoot, putting talc inside your shoes is essential to avoid rubbing and to soak up some of the water from wet and clammy feet- but don’t go sockless unless you’ve tried it. Blisters halfway through a race will definitely slow you down more than taking the extra 30 seconds to dry your feet and put socks on.
  • Gels or nutrition – Whatever fueling strategy you’ve decided on, the bike is going to be where the majority of the fuel is taken on, so make sure your gels are on your bike, whether in a bike bag or taped to your frame so you can access them easily
  • Bike bottle – full of water or sports drink as appropriate, easily accessible and not leaking. Practice using your water bottle in advance so you are comfortable accessing it on the move.
  • Bike computer. Optional, but if you are setting specific pacing goals, you want to make sure it’s charged and working in advance, including being connected to any cadence or power meters you are planning to rely on. Make sure they are working to.
  • Sunglasses. Again, optional especially if it’s a dull day, but the will keep any flies, dust or stones out of your eyes, so are good protection. Wiggle’s range Includes the cheaper own brand DHB glasses, and it might be worth buying a clear pair in case the weather is dark but you still want the protection
  • Lightweight rain jacket or Gilet. Again, weather dependent and optional. You are wet already, so a little rain shouldn’t bother you, but a long cycle in cold or windy weather is no fun, so its worth having the option
  • Rubber bands – if you want to do a flying mount, make sure you have a handful available in case one breaks.
  • Bike tools and inner tubes – If you are out cycling you need to know how to fix a flat and carry the required kit. If you are competent, you should also have a quality multitool. Whether you take it on the bike or leave it on your bag is a matter of distance and whether you value plan to complete or compete!
  • Cycling top or t-shirt – optional, but worth having with if it gets cold.

Run

  • Running shoes – you can’t run in cycling shoes, and barefoot is rarely an option, so make sure you have your running shoes available. Similar to the bike, if you are planning to run sockless, make sure you have practised and put talc in your shoes before the race.

Phone and money are obviously important but don’t forget, you won’t be able to listen to music during the run most races ban headphones on the bike and run legs.

Finally, you need to have a change of clothes, as the last thing you want to do is spend the rest of the day in a sweaty trisuit and wet trainers.

Triathlon Warm-ups

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

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

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 your self 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

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.

Pace yourself.

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 your self 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.

Mental skills and triathlon performance.

Triathletes need to spend as much time training their mental muscles as their physical ones to overcome the anxiety of waiting around at the start, avoid panic whilst swimming and managing pain, especially on the run, so what’s the best way to do this? Here are three of the best approaches that will get you through the race

We’ve all stood at the start of the race and been anxious about the start or taken it easy on the bike because we’re worried about the run, but this is wasted energy, you’re not focussed on the task at hand. instead, you are focussing on negatives, which can lead you to doubt yourself which escalates and makes everything you do seem more difficult, which makes you doubt your self more, etc. etc.

Fear and anxiety are based on a negative expectation of future events, often based on past experience, but neither of these has any real relevance to your current experiences. You can’t know what’s going to happen in the future, and you are better prepared and trained than you probably were for previous events, so the past is not now.

The idea of mindfulness is to cut your brain off from the past and future and just focus on the now and the more effective sports psychology techniques are designed to keep you in the moment. Added to this is the idea of goal setting, where you set small, realistic and achievable goals each of which takes you one step further to your final objective, breaking the task down into bite-sized chunks that are easier to swallow.

Finally, you need to monitor your self-talk, that voice at the back of your head that tells you can or you can’t, your confidence or paranoia if you are fans of Red Dwarf. This monologue has no grounding in reality, but is hot-wired to your reptile brain and can have a profound effect on the type of hormones secreted into your body and therefore your mood and performance.

Develop a WINning mentality.

One approach is to focus on What’s Important Now, which brings you back to the moment and forces you to concentrate on specifics. This allows you to zone out anything that you might be worried about in the future, as it’s not important now, similarly, whatever you did in the past isn’t relevant, as it’s not important now, (you get the picture.)

The concept forces you to calm your mind and where you are and what you are doing, whilst identifying the key goal that you need to focus on right now. As an example, you are in the middle of the swim, you’re pushing the pace too fast and it’s starting to hurt and your brain is telling you that you aren’t going to make it to the end. You have two choices. You can panic, and give into the self-doubt and give up, knowing that you can’t do it.

The other option is to consider what’s important now. In this case, you need to get your rhythm back, you need to calm your breathing and you need to focus on a relaxed and more efficient stroke. This is your goal. To get back to a relaxed pace. So you know what you want to achieve and are in control. You can focus on your stroke. Pick something small, like the rate or keeping your elbow high. This focus on the body takes you out of your head, and means the negative self-talk will be replaced by a more controlled and positive voice that is commanding your body to do what you want it to.

At any point in the race you will encounter similar challenges, so rather than thinking you can’t, think what you need to do to take the next step.

Counting

Another technique that comes from the world of Ironman and ultramarathons is more hypnotic and is designed to take your mind off the pain induced by fatigue under extremes. This one is simple and again, focusses the mind on the body, taking it out of the brain. If you find your self struggling, start counting something and keep counting until you lose count, you’ll be surprised how far you can go without realising it.

This works on anything, counting strokes in the swim, pedal strokes on the bike or steps on the run. As the mind struggles with the task of keeping track, it doesn’t have time to worry about the signals it’s getting, whether self-doubt or pain.

Visualisation.

We have all seen pro golfers and professional rugby players seeming to follow the flight of an imaginary ball prior to taking their shot, and this is part routine and part visualisation. The effect of the routine is to trigger muscle memory which allows the body to perform tasks it has done successfully thousands of times before without the brain having any effect, like how your arms know where to go when you are swimming without you having to think about it, and why proper form and training is essential.  Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent!

Visualisation involves seeing yourself in the ideal situation for the activity at hand and gives you both a goal and a positive feeling towards achieving the goal. However, this isn’t the same as seeing yourself at the end of the race with a new T-shirt and a medal, it’s about seeing yourself getting to that point.

This is not wish-fulfilment or “Fake it till you make it”, this is goal setting. Don’t visualise the end of the swim, visualise the journey to the end of the swim, see yourself swimming calmly to the next buoy, and reaching the beach. See the smooth, balanced stroke and the rhythmic nature of your breathing.