earing up for your first triathlon? Here are some thoughts and tips learned through my personal experience of racing. Hopefully you'll have a chance to learn from my mistakes and have a great start to your racing season!
Race Day Don'ts!
1. Wear new kit on the day
Whether it's a new tri suit, socks, or especially shoes, don't go wearing any brand new kit for the first time on race day. Chances are it will feel slightly odd, could chafe in nasty places (don't forget your lube!), or in the case of shoes, cause you real pain (especially if you race sock-less). So always give yourself a chance to try out your race kit in advance, over the course of a couple of training sessions. If you plan to ride and/or run sock-less, try it in advance (a handy hint is to try putting a small amount of talc in shoes - it will both help you get them on with wet feet and limit any chaffing).
2. Try new race nutrition on race day
I've already covered the subject of race nutrition for sprint and standard distance triathlons - but one thing you should never do is try a new carb drink, gel or solid food on race day. Whatever you plan to use in the race, make sure you've used it in training and are happy that it doesn't have an adverse effect on you. I made this exact mistake in the Wokingham half marathon and ended up with crippling stomach cramps at 8.5 miles in.
3. Draft on the bike
In the vast majority of amateur triathlons, gaining an advantage by riding close to the bike in front is a major no-no. Getting caught could land with you with a two-minute time penalty or, worse still, disqualification. Generally the drafting zone is an imaginary 'box' behind the rider in front which is seven metres long and three metres wide (I'm referring here to British rules, other countries may vary). Obviously there will be times when you need to enter this 'box' in order to overtake a slower rider - in this case, you will need to carry out the overtaking move in a set amount of time, usually 15-30 seconds (doesn't sound very long, but when you're racing it's not so bad).
One further note - you can also be guilty of drafting when being overtaken! Once a rider has been overtaken (i.e. the other rider's rear wheel is in front of your front wheel), you are obliged to drop back out of 'their' drafting box. Hopefully most of the time the overtaking rider will have sufficient speed for this not to be an issue, but beware that even if they slow down, it's still your responsibility to ensure you are not gaining any advantage by drafting (I know it doesn't seem fair, but them's the rules!).
Of course you're going to be nervous on race day, but don't panic! You're as prepared as you are going to be (you've noted the don'ts above as well as the dos below) so just relax and enjoy it! As much as it's tempting to eye up the other competitors and stare at their £6,000 bikes with envy - remember at the end of the day that really it's you against the clock. You can only determine the outcome of your own race, and panicking just wastes energy. As Kim Ingleby always reminds me - you can only perform when you're in the moment and fully self-aware. Panicking and worrying about other competitors stops you having this self-awareness.
Race Day Do's!
1. Write a checklist
OK, so really this is a night-before job (leaving till the morning of the race is a little late!). Get a pen and paper and write a checklist of everything you need to take to the race. I mentally run through the entire race, noting what I'll be wearing for each leg, when I'll be hydrating or eating, visualising what will happen in transition as I go from one discipline to another. Then take a moment to think about spares - goggles, inner tubes, CO2 canisters etc. Try to visualise any 'emergencies' and what you would need to deal with them. Don't be afraid to write a very long list at first then rationalise it - much better to do it that way than to rush ahead and miss something vital!
2. Get a race belt
An often over-looked yet handy piece of kit for triathlons, where you often require a rear-facing number on the bike and a front facing number on the run. With a belt, you simply attach your race number then twist the belt round to face the required direction. Also saves putting tons of safety pins into your favourite lycra! Some race belts also include loops - or even pockets - to attach gels and other forms of nutrition.
3. Take a moment to mentally prepare
Find a quiet place, take a moment to sit down, close your eyes and visualise how you would like your race to pan out. At least, run through the race in your head, visualising how you want to be in each discipline, including mentally rehearsing your transition process (how are you going to remove wetsuit, remember to put on bike helmet before unracking bike etc). Techniques like Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) can be really helpful here, and I make it part of my pre-race preparation to always draw out a mind-map of my race - both how I want to perform physically and how I want to feel.
4. Warm Up
Whether your first race is a triathlon (with either a pool or open water swim) or a duathlon (run, bike, run) it's important to take 5-10 minutes to warm up your muscles - much as you probably already do before any training session - although interestingly I doubt many of us really take time to warm up before we get into the swimming pool? There are plenty of websites offering tips on dry land warm ups for swimming and I'm sure you already know how to warm up for a run. If you do have an opportunity to get into the water before the swim, you definitely should. Even if the water looks cold and foreboding, it's much better to give your body a chance to acclimatise before asking 100% of it.
And finally.... SMILE!!!!
If you've seen any of my photos, you'll know I am crap at taking my own advice here! But seriously, don't forget to enjoy the race - smile for the photographers that will inevitably be dotted around the course and, most importantly of all, have a bloody great big grin on your face as you cross the finishing line - and if you want to throw your hands in the air, that's ok too! It's all about personal victories after all.