Prepare your triathlon race day strategy as throughly as you prepare your weekly training. You write out your weekly training schedule and the record the results in your triathlon training journal.
Likewise, your triathlon race day strategy should be thought about, and written out in advance.
Know exactly what pace you will swim, cycle and run at, exactly how much you will eat and drink thorough each discipline (not “whatever you feel like” on the day).
Think through and carefully practice both transitions multiple times until they become automatic.
I am often surprised by how meticulously triathletes plan every aspect of their training but do not give the actual race day much thought until the day before…. Then panic sets in!
Lack of planning will bring you unstuck and completely waste a hard 6 months work of getting out of bed to train at 5am….
Remember this is your day of glory! The day you get to shine, to feel amazing and gain a ton of respect!
Make sure you plan for success. Print out a race day checklist and make it your own. Add to it or change things that suit you better. Do not get to the race and forget something important (like your bicycle!) This did happen to a friend of ours :(
Triathlon has a lot of moving parts, a lot that can go wrong. Think about it before hand so you will not get caught out. You do not want to be the one last seen crying at the side of the road or vomiting in the neighbours rose bush!
Make Sure You HAVE A Triathlon Race Day Strategy
The first tip (and this is obvious) but often gets neglected is to actually have a race day strategy.
Write down your plan for each part of the day. This means knowing what you will eat the day before, what you will eat the night before and on race day morning. It means you know what time you will go to bed, what time you will wake up and what time you need to leave for the venue.
I am assuming you have already done all your preparation work of course, like:
- Checked that your bike is in the best form of its life,
- Checked your race day gear is all race ready (and still fits)
- Thoroughly tested and prepped all your nutrition and hydration for the day
- Practised transition until it is automatic
- Prepared your mantras for the race
- Prepared your dry clothes and food for afterwards
At The Venue
Get to the race early.
Do not cut it fine. You will already be on edge. You do not need a serious case of road rage on top of the stress that will already be there.
Attend any race briefings, rack your bike and make a mental note of where it is so you can find it easily later when 1000’s of other competitors are running around in transition. It is a great idea to have a brightly coloured towel or transition mat near your bike so you can spot it easily.
Rack your bike in the small gear- so you can set off easily when you exit T1. Prepare your gear in an organized fashion in the transition area.
Walk around the transition area. Know exactly where you will enter and where you will exit and plan your route out of there.
Allow plenty of time to do your warm up.
Yes -do a warm up. Swimming, cycling or running. Do some drills. If it is too cold to jump in the water- make sure you do some shoulder circles to get the blood flow in your arms.
Do not stretch. This will slow you down.
If you are a strong swimmer hoping to get out in front, make sure you position yourself on the start line at the shortest distance to the buoy. If you are a weak swimmer- position yourself on the side or at the back so you do not get trampled in the rush.
You already know in advance that it will be chaos at the beginning– so be prepared. And remember to focus on your form. Breathe deeply, and relaxed. Get in a rhythm. Remember to exhale fully and mentally relax. If you are uptight and the water is very cold you may start to hyperventilate. Slow your breath and tell yourself that you are fine.
Focus on long strokes and good technique like the drills you have practiced already
Start to say the mantra you have prepared.
“I am strong and feeling great”
“I am relaxed and in control”
“I will be coasting past most of these people later”
Find something that works for you.
As you come close to the end of the swim start to kick your legs harder to get blood flow into them.
At Transition 1
As you exit the water, and make your way to the bike, start taking your wetsuit off immediately down to your waist. Take some nice deep breaths and try to get your heart rate down. This video will show you how to get your wetsuit off fast. (Start at approx 25 seconds)
Put your helmet on first, then sunglasses (to avoid getting debris in your eyes).
If you can, aim to have your shoes already clipped on to the bike to save time. Any food or water should already be on the bike.
If it is a sprint triathlon or an Olympic distance, you should be fine with just water. Though some people take a few jelly babies or a gel just for a little sugar boost while they are on the bike. This is not a bad idea but there is no need to be guzzling too much fluid or food.
On The Bike
In training you will already know what speed you can sustain for your particular distance. So get into your rhythm as quickly as possible and maintain 80-100rpm. Be in a easy gear to start.
You will have studied the bike course well in advance. If possible, try to ride it beforehand and run the run section. I know so many triathletes who missed a turn or missed a sign in a race, became aware they were cycling all on their own and had to cycle back and lost time. Maybe it was not well marked, or maybe the sign fell down or blew away but it is still your responsibility to know the route.
Use the sign posts as confirmation of what you already know! Do not rely on them.
Focus on your breath and continue to say your mantras while on the bike. Do not allow any negative thoughts come into your head
Banish all thoughts of “feeling tired” or thoughts of “this is too hard”
NONE of those thoughts are allowed.
If you are too tired, just slow down 5% and relax and focus your mind on how lucky you are to be out there competing and that you are getting closer to the finish line.
The mental game is so important now… do not let it destroy your amazing day.
Focus on your technique, relax your arms and neck, and focus on strong circular movements in the legs. Keep breathing. Do not overcook it- you still have the run to go …
If you have aero bars use them and keep your core tight. They will also allow you to generate more force every pedal stroke.
Work out your drinking strategy well in advance. In the sprint distance, you won’t need much, just a sip here and there.
In the Olympic distance you will need some fluid and some simple carbs for a mid race boost. A couple of jelly babies or a gel will suffice for most people. Make sure you have tested this out in advance.
The longer distances require a serious testing, tweaking and a solid strategy. These races are often won and lost on nutrition planning and mistakes.
You may need to set your watch to beep every 30-40 minutes to remind to you take another sip. Know in advance exactly how much fluid you will consume and how many gels or bars you will need. You can get more detail on the specifics in my book Triathlon: Winning at 70.3.
This will be different for each person and depend on your fitness and body mass. Over eating and drinking in a race is one of the most common cause of athletes having a bad race day and getting stomach cramps.
Many athletes over-eat due to nerves and thinking they are “tired” so need an energy boost.
Set out how many bars you need, when you will consume them and how much fluid you will take on and do not have a drop more.
Do not leave it to “whatever you feel like on the day”. Your mind will play tricks on you.
Test it out well in advanced many times (not just once).
As you come to the end of the bike, get back in to lower gears, ease up on the power, stretch your legs and back. Stand up on the pedals if possible.
At Transition 2
Stay alert- do not crash….
Do NOT remove your helmet before you have racked your bike or you will be disqualified.
Change your shoes quickly and off you go.
Transition needs to be practiced every week in my opinion. Many triathletes just practice the day before. This is not good enough.
Under the stress of race day and the chaos of transition, simple things get forgotten like putting your helmet on before you touch the bike.
On The Run
It will take a little while for your legs to adjust. Focus firstly on getting your breath regular and rhythmic
Mentally focus on the job ahead and what you need to do.
You know what race pace that you wish to run at well in advance. Build up to it slowly. It is better to build your tempo slowly throughout the race than sprint off at the start and end up walking the last third of the race.
Do not over-stride. Use short steps and a high cadence. Run lightly, focus on relaxing your body, your face and your legs.
Start saying your mantras, tell yourself you are feeling good and feeling strong. Believe it. Forget what has already occurred in the race so far. Do not beat yourself up if something went badly. Just focus on what you can do now. Stay in the present. Breathe. Keep relaxing your shoulders and neck.
After The Race
When you plan all this out in advance, you have the best chance of making race day a great success.
A little planning here goes a long way. Develop your race routine.
When you get home (and you are polishing your medal), write down what went well and what you could have improved on.
Think about any thing you struggled with and what to do differently next time.
Do not be one of those people who repeat the same mistakes over and over. You will learn something new at each race so capture and it and add it to your triathlon race day strategy.
Email me with any strategies you find that work for you.
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