A picture of my brother Nathan smiling during a 15% climb in the Gerardmer triathlon.
I personally love the last hours before a triathlon. As soon as I arrive in a triathlon location, I turn off my training mode and go into racing mode.
It is really easy to freak out before a race as there are just so many things to think about. Like every triathlete, I made mistakes, which brought my heart rate way too high before a race. I have learned from those over the years, and now I stick to the following 7 rules before each race.
It makes me more relaxed, and I am sure it will work for you as well.
1. STUDY THE COURSE AND THE TRANSITIONS
Each event has its own setup, and it can even change from one year to another. Ideally, you checked online a couple of weeks before the event and got familiar with it. Most important is to know where the registration is and if there are one or two transition areas.
Once you arrive at the location, go physically to those areas. It always looks different than on a map. It is worth checking as well where the toilets closest to the start are 😉
What really works for me is to play once the entire race in my head:
- swim course: I would go physically to the swim start to know exactly where are the buoys and the swim exit, then walk to the transition and memorize where I will enter, the exact way to get to my bike (anything unique and easy to remember: big tree, toilet, or the number of bike rows before my bike) and then walk to the bike exit and find the mounting line.
- bike course: if I have time, I would recognize the bike course by car, know approximately where the aid stations are and where I will dismount my bike and enter the transition
- run course: I am only checking where is the run exit in the transition area and where are the aid stations
That’s enough for me. If you are a podium contestant, I will spend more time recognizing the bike and running courses.
2. PACK YOUR GEAR THE DAY BEFORE THE RACE
The last thing you want to be worried about on race day is your gear. Except for food and drinks, I’d pack everything in my transition bag at the latest the night before the race. My race number would be already on my belt, and the race stickers on the helmet and bike (as recommended by the race organizer).
3. DON’T TRY ANYTHING NEW THE DAYS BEFORE THE RACE
Every single race I have been to had an expo. It is great to see new tech, but the last hours before a race are absolutely the wrong time for you to try new equipment or energy gels. Have a look at those after the race.
4. START AT THE BACK OF THE SWIM PACK (FOR NEOPHYTE SWIMMERS)
If you have never done an open water race, be aware that it is really different than your standard pool training. Most triathlons have a mass start, which means that all triathletes will start at the same time.
The first five minutes are really messy. The chances of having someone giving you a kick in your stomach or touching your head are really high. You should not panic when that happens. Swim breaststroke for a couple of seconds, take a deep breath and start swimming normally again.
You will be happy to read that it is authorized to rest by holding to an inanimate object (ex: buoys, stationary boats, floating objects) as long as you don’t make forward progress. Check my article about the most important swimming rules in triathlon.
Starting at the back of the swim pack will give you a much calmer start. You can directly focus on your strokes and get into your rhythm. I generally start from the back as it is where I would end up anyway with my current swim skills :). That way I can enjoy swimming much more.
5. IN LAST RESORT, SWIM IN THE DIRECTION OF THE MIDDLE OF THE PACK
When you study the swim course, it is always a good idea to look for a big house or a big tree in line with a buoy. It is much easier to sight something that big compared to the buoy.
However, it might happen that you don’t find such an element and can’t see the buoy either. In this case, check where the swimmers in front of you are and target the middle of the pack.
6. REMEMBER TO SMILE AND TO THANK THE SPECTATORS
There is no way you won’t suffer during a triathlon. It is, after all, a tough endurance sport! Just remember that you are not alone in the course. There are other triathletes but also spectators and volunteers. Smiling will not only energize you, but it will keep those persons coming back to triathlon races.
And who knows, there might be a photographer somewhere on the course taking a picture of you. And this picture might end up on a wall somewhere for the years to come, like the ones below at my parents’ place, for example 🙂
7. STOP READING ANY LAST-MINUTE ARTICLE AFTER THIS ONE
Being so close to a race, you need to trust all the training and the preparation you put in in the last months. In case you feel weak in one specific area, simply write it down and work on it before your next race.
You can read dozens of other last-minute tips. It will only make you more confused. On that last note, enjoy your triathlon race!
You shouldn’t even be reading anymore – go back to tip #7 and apply it! 😀