Even if you’re a seasoned triathlete, the first triathlon of the season can feel like it’s a bit of a ‘rust buster’ rather than a chance to show off all those off-season gains you’ve made. All those finer details which become second nature by the end of the season can feel a little foggy after a long winter of training. Whether it’s the “where the bleat did I put my race belt!?” panic the night before your race, or heading out on the bike after the swim and discovering your flying mount is wildly out of practice. While the first race of the season is often where we give ourselves permission to make these little mistakes, with a little bit of preparation you can keep the ‘muppet moments’ to a minimum. Check out our essential pre-race checklist so you can start the season as you mean to go on and smash your first triathlon of the year.
Taking on your first ever triathlon this season? Our top tips for triathlon first timers are here to help you keep the nerves at bay.
Pre-race triathlon checklist: get race day ready
Check your nutrition and puncture repair supplies
First things first, let’s get the essentials covered. After a winter of glorious café rides, your stash of energy gels might have been sitting in the cupboard for months on end. Don’t leave it until the night before your race to get your race day nutrition sorted. Check the use-by dates and make sure you’ve got enough left to cover what you’ll need during the race. We talked about the importance of doing a test run of your race day nutrition in our Five Ways to Up Your Tri Game blog… the last thing you want to do is leave yourself having to use whatever nutrition you can get your hooves on last minute and risk a code brown situation! Plan ahead so you can fuel your way to success.
The same goes for your puncture repair supplies – do a quick stock take and make sure you’ve got what you need (and the means to carry it on your race bike) so that should a dreaded mid-race puncture happen, it’s just an inconvenience rather than a race-ender.
Dig out all your race kit and accessories with time to replace anything that’s gone missing or is a little worse for wear
We’ve all been there. It’s the night before your first race and you’re tearing the house apart searching for your race belt and that extra set of elastic laces which past you has stored “somewhere safe”. Save yourself the last minute stress and give all of your race kit a once over at least a week before your first triathlon of the season so you can replace anything that’s missing or on its last legs. That should include all the obvious things like your bike shoes, tri suit, wetsuit etc., but also the not-so-obvious things such as anti-chafe balm and elastic bands if you like to have your bike shoes already attached to your pedals before you hop aboard.
Particularly in short-course racing, being out of practice and fumbling your way through transition can cost valuable seconds. It’s one of those things that, once you’ve got a few races under your belt, it can be tempting to neglect. But you’ll be amazed what a difference just a few quick dress rehearsals will make to your ability to speed through T1 and T2. If possible, this should include practicing getting out of your wetsuit at pace. Peeling it off while having a chat with your tri mates lakeside is very different to trying to undo it while you’re running out of the swim into T1 and swiftly trying to free your legs from their neoprene prison without accidentally ending up rolling around on your hindquarters.
Set up a mini transition zone in your garden or living room so you can practice how you’re going to lay out your kit and what order you’re going to put everything on. Sure, you’ll feel a little bit silly but it means come race day when the adrenaline is high it’ll all be firmly in your muscle memory so you’re less likely to make any costly mistakes.
Practice your bike mounts and dismounts
Okay, we hear you: you manage to get on and off your bike all the time without any incidents so why do you need to practice this before your race? Well, spectate at any triathlon and you’ll see plenty of people losing valuable time because they’re not used to having to run with their bike and get on at a specific mount line surrounded by other people all aiming for the same bit of tarmac. You don’t have to do a flying mount like the pros (running with your bike and leaping onto the saddle without breaking stride) but practicing running with your bike in your bike shoes and getting on as efficiently as possible without wobbling all over the place or falling off will help to save you time (and potential bruises) on race day. The same goes for the dismount – it’s important to practice getting off before the dismount line to avoid any mishaps. Taking the time to practice your bike mounts and dismounts can be an ‘easy win’ when it comes to saving a few seconds, helping you on your way to that new personal best.
Check the race briefing and look over the course maps
Once you’ve completed a few triathlon races, it can be tempting to become a bit blasé about taking in all the pre-race information or tuning into the race briefing. But even if you’re returning to a race that you’ve done several times before, it’s important to take the time to look over all the pre-race information. With three sporting disciplines and a whole bunch of logistics to take care of, things can change year to year so race organisers can continue to safely put on an event. There might have been changes to the swim course to account for water temperature, tides or other weather conditions. The bike course might have changed due to road works. A mandatory ‘foot down’ point or ‘no aero bars’ zone might have been implemented. The transition layout might have changed… you get our point. Plenty of things can be dynamic in triathlon, so it’s important to be as informed as possible and stay abreast of any last minute updates from the organisers to avoid any nasty surprises on race day.
Read the race briefing (or attend it virtually/in person if the organiser is hosting one), check the course maps and you’ll be armed with all the information you need to stay safe, have fun and get the most out of your performance.
Get your head in the game
We train hard physically, but often our mindset can be the difference between a great day out on the course and a terrible one. Mentally rehearse/visualise the race. Instead of fearing ‘what might go wrong’ and not thinking about it, ditch the ostrich approach and instead work through what you’ll do if it happens. Hopefully everything will go according to plan, but mentally preparing for different scenarios will help you to cope with any curveballs on the day.
Set yourself a ‘mantra’ or a thought cue for when things get tough. Instead of fixating on how hard the effort feels or allowing thoughts of self-doubt to creep in, repeat your mantra to yourself. This doesn’t have to be anything deeply philosophical, it can be as simple as “yes I can”. Can I overtake that person up ahead? “Yes I can.” Can I keep running until I hit the finish line? “Yes I can.” Can I treat myself to an epic slice of cake once this is all over? “Yes. I. Can.” Having an affirmation to repeat to yourself when the going gets tough will help you to stay strong, keep confident and ultimately get the most out of yourself on the day.
It’s also always worth remembering that as amateurs, we choose to do this sport for fun. When you’ve trained hard, it can be hard not to spiral into negative thoughts if it’s not going as well as you’d hoped on the day. Everyone has an off day, so try to take the pressure off and just enjoy the atmosphere of the race. You’re still getting to swim, bike and run alongside a whole group of likeminded people. We’re lucky that we get to do this sport that we love. And even if it’s not the race result you were after, you’ll still get a great training effect and probably a few lessons learned that will help you to come back stronger next time.
If the mental performance side of sport is something you’d like to know more about, we’d highly recommend checking out Performing Under Pressure: Psychological Strategies for Sporting Success by sports psychologist, Dr Josephine Perry. As well as being a really interesting read, there are plenty of practical takeaways that will help you to get the most out of your training and racing.
Good luck with those early season races, Herd! Make sure you tag us in your race photos over on Instagram so we can give you a virtual high five for being awesome.
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