Racing a triathlon can be a little overwhelming for some. With 3 disciplines and a variety of race distances, below I share with you what I have learned throughout my racing. Enjoy my mini-novel
WEATHER – there are things we can’t control on race day and one of them is weather. Yes it could be hot with high humidity, windy, choppy water conditions, or cold and raining. But that doesn’t mean you should psyche yourself out or worry too much about how you are going to get through it. Keep in mind, everyone else is racing in the SAME conditions therefore they will have the same challenges as you, however you are going to embrace them. Talk with your coach and adjust your game plan based on weather forecast; things to consider are nutrition & hydration, your equipment and clothing.
RACE COURSE – study the course and have a good understanding of the swim, bike and run. If you can’t preview the bike or run course (i.e. drive it) review the course map for any trouble spots such as hills or steep grades. For an out-and-back course, the key is to know where the halfway points are. This will allow you to know when to pick up your pace and finish strong. For the swim, count the number of buoys so that while you’re out there you can pace yourself. Additionally, sometimes on race day they change the direction in which you will swim the course. While this does not happen often, it is something to be aware of and they would announce this pre-race. Lastly, know where the aid stations are on both the bike and run as well as what they will have on hand. If the nutrition and hydration are different than what you trained with, have enough of your own to carry you through the race.
NUTRITION – Don’t let your last meal do you in. Your last large meal should be finished at least 12 hours before your scheduled start. This means that if you have a scheduled start of 8 a.m., try to finish your last meal by 8 p.m. the night before the race. This will ensure everything is fully digested before the race kicks off.
Keep in mind the distance of your race. For a Sprint or Olympic race you don’t have to carb load or have 20 GU’s on your race belt. You have (about) a 2-hour “gas tank”. Your body burns primarily fat to fuel itself during endurance training and racing. However, this fat is burned in the fire of carbohydrates; that is your body needs to burn carbs in order to burn this fat. Your body’s primary sources of carbs are 1.) Glycogen stored in the muscles and liver and 2.) Food or sugars eaten during exercise.
For your Pre-race meal you want to eat about 3 hours before your race. Try to consume 250-350 calories that are light, high in carbs and easy to digest. If you have trained practicing nutrition and have a few races under your belt, you should know what your body likes and can tolerate. Don’t try anything new and typically the more basic the meal, the better. The ultimate goal it to top off your “gas tank”. Key is to give your body enough time to process your food so you can start the race with a relatively empty stomach and clean digestive tract.
Breakfast ideas: Toast w/ peanut butter and a banana; oatmeal + banana and cinnamon; applesauce and a bagel with peanut butter; Eggo waffle with applesauce or banana. Note: nothing too high in fat or fiber
- *30-15 Minutes before your Race – consume a gel or sports drink. You want it to be around 100 calories. If you consume a gel, make sure to drink 8oz of water because it needs to be diluted in order for it to work in your body. GU’s are highly concentrated so if you do not consume water with them your stomach will rely and “pull” water from your muscles often leading to gut-rot or cramps. Be sure to talk with your coach about your race-day nutrition, keeping in mind to make any adjustments due to high temps.
TRANSITION – Study the Swim-In, Bike-Out, Bike-in and Run-Out exits. Minimize your thinking and make sure you know where your “spot” is. Some people tie a balloon to the bike rack or use chalk on the pavement marking a big “X” on their row. Do a pre-race mental checklist and review the order of the gear you will put on during transitions (i.e. Helmet, shoes, race belt – GO!) Set-up your bike and run equipment neatly in transition so you can put it on very quickly. Lastly, don’t get caught up in how your fellow competitors set up their area. Everyone has preferences so do what works best for you.
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ALL YOUR GEAR!
• Swim – Swim Cap, goggles, wetsuit, Garmin/wrist watch etc.
• Bike – water bottles, air in tires, computer (fully charged), helmet, shoes, sunglasses, nutrition, socks
• Run – race belt w/ bib, shoes, visor, nutrition
RACE DAY: Get body marked, put on timing chip, check over bike, make sure all equipment is set-up in transition area and don’t forget sunscreen!
HOW TO RACE – Remember this is YOUR Race! Many athletes get caught up in what others are doing and stray off their game plan. Your mind can play tricks on you, therefore your goal is to stay focused throughout the race, maintain positive self-talk and have fun!! Talk with your coach about race day goals as well as paces for swim, bike and run. Inevitably things will happen in races that are out of your control but it is how you respond to the unexpected that will determine your success.
Below are some tips on how to approach each discipline.
TRANSITIONS: pretty simple – move as fast as you can from swim-to-bike and bike-to-run! If they have wetsuit strippers, USE them.
HOW TO APPROACH THE SWIM: Avoid the middle and get on the outside. If you’re a faster swimmer, get in the front. If you’re a little slower, you can start towards the back, but ALWAYS start on the side. When the gun goes off, go out fast for the first 100-200 meters; this will help separate yourself from others, then settle into your stroke and get into a rhythm.
If you can “follow the bubbles” and draft behind someone – who is swimming faster than you – do it! However you still need to sight every 6-9 strokes because this swimmer could swim off course. The voice inside your head should be saying something like “swim fast, stay relaxed, this is my race …”
HOW TO APPROACH THE BIKE: Athletes have a tendency to go really hard at the beginning of a bike in part to adrenaline. Don’t worry if riders are flying past you. Hold back a little, get settled and ride your pace. You want to avoid burning up your legs, but this does not mean you should coast. Maintain a consistent effort and stay focused!
HOW TO APPROACH THE RUN: It’s your last leg of the race and you come off the bike raring to go! Again many athletes make the mistake and go out waaay too fast the first mile, only to suffer in the second half of the race. The best and most successful racers run very similar mile splits, stay within their pace and finish faster than they started.
That being said, hold back a little at the beginning of the run, find your legs, get into a rhythm and stay within your pace. Race distance plays a big factor for pacing and race tactics. Therefore talk with your coach, determine your pacing and where to pick it up. For any distance during the last mile dig deep, kick-it up to high gear and go for it! This is your time to push your hardest so that you avoid thinking post-race, I could have gone faster.
Most Important … Enjoy the Race! Have FUN and do what YOU do best!