Race Day Tips
Warm-up and Plan ahead!
Awake early enough to eat and get yourself to the transition area at least 60 minutes before your wave start. Bring a backpack large enough to hold your towel, wetsuit ,and everything you’ll need. Check your bike one last time as you shift through your gears. BYOTP (Bring Your Own Tire Pump – just in case). Dress very warmly; bring gloves, as it can be quite cold early race morning. Arrive to the swim start with enough time for a 5-minute warm-up swim. Plan strategically to avoid getting cold before the start. A pre-race stretch is suggested. Practice relaxation drills…visualize!
This is not a time to experiment with new types of foods. Plan well for your pre-race meals, beginning two days prior. Absolutely avoid overeating! Stay away from spicy or high-fiber meals. Your race day nutrition is critical and will vary depending on the distance, as well as how long it will take you to complete the course. Use only soft foods, such as gels during the bike ride. If you prefer bars or fruit, consume these early in the ride between 30 minutes and the midway point for long course, or half Ironman races. Sport drinks will also contain calories. Your calories during the run should come from gels, sport drinks, and squeezed juice from fruit.
Avoid going over yours! This is especially important for the long course, or half Ironman athletes. Some short course or Olympic athletes will actually be racing at or slightly above LT. By definition, LT is the intensity that can be maintained for about one hour. Crossing the LT and becoming anaerobic will require a period of metabolic recovery, which reduces efficiency and quickly depletes glycogen stores. Proper pacing is the key. Ideally, start the ride at a moderate pace as you climb from the lake and gradually build your intensity throughout the course. The majority of long course or half Ironman athletes will go out too fast only to fade during the final 10–12 miles of the bike course.
This is often easier said than done. There are two types of drafting: deliberate and unintentional. Be familiar with the USA Triathlon rules. It’s not uncommon to be literally consumed by large packs along the flat portion of the bike course. If this happens to you, you have two options: 1) speed up your pace and stay ahead of the pack, or 2) gradually and carefully slow down and let the pack pass. The course is well marshaled and penalties will be issued. Avoid falling into a competitive bike race as this will surely zap your energy stores and leave you empty for the run.
Fluids – Drink Them!
Most endurance athletes fail to drink enough fluids during training and competition. Even the slightest state of dehydration can result in a noticeable decrease in performance. There’s no way to predict what the weather will be on race day, so you’ll want to prepare for the heat. The race organizers do an excellent job providing adequate aid, so take advantage of the stations along the bike and run courses. Take note of the conditions early on the bike. If it feels warm at the onset, you can guarantee things will certainly heat up later in the day. Begin drinking early and continue hydrating throughout the race. There are different opinions on whether to consume water and sports drink, or sport drink only. If you have experienced heat-related problems in the past, you must take special precaution to prevent it from happening again. Long course or half Ironman athletes will benefit from drinking more sports drink as it contains important electrolytes as well as carbohydrate calories. Each year, medical tents are full of athletes who simply don’t drink enough.
A little dab goes a long way… Remember to use a non-petroleum base lubricant to prevent wetsuit chaffing, and to make it easier to strip it off after the swim. Products that come in rub-on dispensers are clean and convenient. Other options include spray cooking oils and tubes. For the bike ride, wipe a liberal glob of lubricant (this can be petroleum-based) under the nose of your saddle before the race. You will really appreciate this hidden treasure when your tri-suit starts to dry a few hours into the bike ride. A quick finger wipe under the saddle, followed by the appropriate distribution of the lubricant can literally save your butt.
Make it a habit to periodically do a quick inventory of your entire body. Begin with the head and continue to scan down through every section of your finely-tuned anatomical machine. Pay special attention to areas that feel tight or constricted. Those are the places that will likely become more problematic later in the race. Learn how to relax while performing at race intensity. Shake it off, stay loose, and stay focused!
Watch…where you are going
Especially on the bike. Most cycling mishaps are due to carelessness. Race courses are the places to easily cruise along. They usually contain numerous challenging hills with some dangerous descents. Add a few thousand other competitors on the road and you have a recipe for disaster for those who don’t pay attention. Communicate with other riders by warning them when you are about to pass by yelling “on your right,” or “on your left!” Avoid riding two or more abreast. Also watch where you are going while swimming. Although less dangerous than cycling, swimmers who practice poor navigation skills will add yards and time to their swim.
Expect the Unexpected
Even the most well prepared tri-veterans can always discover new Gremlins once the gun goes off. The key to overcoming these seemingly impossible barriers is to be mentally prepared to accept anything. The truth is, the longer the race, the more you’ll learn about yourself and how you deal with unexpected circumstances. Visualize a perfect race, but leave a few holes for surprises.
Recover After the Race
You’ve worked very hard and laid it all out on the course. You cross the finish line and now what? Too many triathletes will grab a cup of water and collapse on the grass immediately after crossing the line. This is counter-productive to the healing process. The body needs to be refueled and attended to following any race effort. Keep drinking water and sport drink and keep walking. Take a few minutes to stretch and if possible, seek a gentle post-race massage. I suggest a relaxing dip back where it all began. Eat a small meal within 30–60 minutes (include protein) after finishing and continue to refuel throughout the afternoon. Avoid the temptation for a victory beer until you are well hydrated.
Good Luck and Train Smart!