By Jessica Post
Nation’s Triathlon in 2011 was my third race as a triathlete, and my first Olympic-length tri, and the night before the race my heart was pounding out of my chest. I’m still a back of the pack racer, so you are likely to see me on race day. I’ve outlined thirteen tips below, in honor of your next race.
Credit for many of these tips go to my coach, Lloyd Henry of OnPoint Fitness, my triathlon sensei, Emily Passini, and my OnPoint Fitness mentor and fellow Nation’s Triathlon Brand Ambassador, Heather Butler.
1. Have a race plan. Before you jump in the Potomac, it is worth considering how quickly you want to swim, what mph you want to maintain on the bike, and your goal pace for the run. You could also consider run/walk intervals to the run, as I did at my last race. It is worth figuring this out before you go out too fast on swim, or hold back too much on the bike. Also…
2. Remember race nutrition and be the queen of hydration. Multisport events require a considered approach to eating. Plan out when you are going to eat during the race. Before the race, eat a healthy breakfast and hydrate. Many athletes eat oatmeal and a banana; my go to is a whole grain English muffin with peanut butter, a cup of coffee, and at least 24 oz of water. During the race, my coach advised me to take one energy gel packet before the swim, one energy gel or three Clif Shot Blocks before the bike, three more Clif Shot Blocks on the bike, and one energy gel pre run. It seems impossible, but taking in a little nutrition during the race helps a lot. Many other racers fill one water bottle with a sports drink and another bottle with water. Remember, there is no bottle exchange on the bike course, so make sure your bottles are full when you show up to transition on race day. You also may want an extra bottle of water to lie on your transition mat, to drink between events, so you don’t take from your bike water.
3. Nothing new on race day. Race day often provides temptations to try out a new tri kit, sports bra or new race nutrition that is provided by generous race sponsors. Stick that energy gel in the pocket of your tri suit, and take it on your next training run. Save those cool new socks from the race expo for your next ride.
4. Trust your training and rest. The body does not gain strength in the last two weeks before the race, that is why we taper. I’m sure you are ready to race, so rest your legs now so you feel fresh for the race.
5. Body Glide everything, especially if you are swimming in a wetsuit. Body Glide is a triathlete’s best friend. When you swim 1500m in a wetsuit, your neck, and arms are likely to chafe. Body Glide around your neck, arm holes, anywhere your tri suit hits your body, especially around the sportsbra, for the lady racers.
6. Attend the course briefing, and ask questions. During the Nation’s Expo, there are course briefings, if you are a first time racer, this is a great place to think through the course, and help your spectators plan for routes along the course.
7. Read the athlete’s guide and take note of race rules and road closures. The athlete’s guide will help you with any uncertainties, and provide course maps for your spectators. This is worth downloading on you or printing out. Always remember to stay to the right on the bike course, and follow the instructions of the race officials.
8. Use a checklist for your items to take to the transition area. Lay out your transition area in advance the night before, on the transition towel. Most triathletes are friendly to newbies, so unless they have their headphones on, Michael Phelps style, and feel free to ask questions about the race course. There are several good triathlon checklist sites (h/t Heather Butler) you can use to make sure you have everything you need as you head into transition.
9. Go for a short jog the day before, for around 20 minutes. This is especially good advice to work some of the nerves out the day before, so you can sleep more easily.
10. Be off your feet by 8 p.m. the night before. Many people have trouble sleeping the night before their first big race. It is still worth reading a book and relaxing in bed, since you will be on your feet all morning in transition.
11. Keep calm and race on. Things may happen on race day. You may forget your goggles, or lose a water bottle on the bike course. You could get kicked in the Potomac by another swimmer. Just take a deep breath and keep going. Perfection is in finishing. Visualize yourself racing a great race, and adjust on race day as needed. Be zen and accept the world as it is.
12. Keep a sense of humor, and approach the race playfully. Many of my pre-race mantras are not appropriate for this family-friendly blog, but breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth to calm down the morning of the race. Everything is going to be fine.
13. Get to transition early and make friends. I overslept the day of my first tri, and had to run into transition as everyone was leaving, which did not make the morning any less stressful. Learn from my mistakes. Think through your day plan, and ride the athlete’s shuttle if possible to leave yourself plenty of time before transition closes. And remember to be kind to the other athletes, and thank the volunteers.