Hard to believe it’s been just over a year since my first triathlon, SheROX San Diego 2011. I learned a tremendous amount in that race and since, not the least of which is that each race will teach you something about the sport or about yourself. Here are the ten things I learned when I first tackled a sprint triathlon.
The night before the race I dutifully laid out everything I would need on race day. I set my alarm on my phone and drifted off to sleep at 9:30 p.m. with surprisingly little trouble. I woke at 3:30 a.m. and could not get back to sleep, even though I had until 4:30 a.m. before I needed to get up. I rested in bed until I finally checked the time again and realized that my phone was not working and the alarm would not have gone off had I needed it!
Lesson #1: Set a back-up alarm. Use a watch, use your phone, use an alarm clock, or arrange for a wake-up call, but whatever you do, have a back-up!
I had practiced my pre-race nutrition and knew a bowl of oatmeal would sit well with me on race day. Unfortunately I had not planned ahead to bring oatmeal with me, and the hotel cafe would not open in time for me to eat three hours before the race start. My husband had to run to the store the night before to buy some instant oatmeal that could be made with hot water from the hotel coffee maker.
Lesson #2: If you’re traveling overnight to the race, pack your own pre-race nutrition and make sure there will be a way to prepare your food.
I made it to transition to set up in plenty of time to snag a prime spot at the end of the bike rack, but then had to remove my bike to get the tires pumped up by the bike support staff. Fortunately that did not take long, but I could have been in trouble had I been running late or there had been more of a line.
Lesson #3: Bring a bike pump (and anything else you might need “just in case” — if you don’t use it, someone will thank you for that extra gel or spare tampon).
Once I got my gear set up in transition, I drove back to the hotel to pick up my husband and girls. I had to make a concerted effort to ensure I had all of the swim gear I would need if I didn’t make it back to transition in time before it closed to the athletes before the race.
Lesson #4: Pack your swim gear — tri kit or swimsuit, goggles, spare goggles, anti-fog spray, swim cap, wetsuit and timing chip — separately from the gear that will remain in T1. Of course, if T2 is separate from T1, pack your run gear separately too.
During the time between when transition set-up closed and my race wave started, I realized I desperately needed some more nutrition. It had been nearly three hours since I’d had any solid food, and I could have used a re-fuel with either a gel or a cup of electrolyte drink.
Lesson #5: Keep an extra gel (and water to consume with it) or electrolyte drink to fuel yourself as you wait for the race to start.
After a strong swim, I rushed into transition and floundered a bit. I took a sip of Gatorade and later realized I should have saved that for when I was already moving on the bike. I slapped on some sunscreen (a must for me for sunny races) but realized later it was still so overcast I could have skipped that step.
Lesson #6: Practice transitions and streamline them. Go through step by step what you will do. As you exit the water, review your game plan.
On the bike, I hydrated well. By the time I got to the run, I did not really need any water. When I slowed to grab a cup and tried to drink it, I hardly got anything and regretted that wasted time.
Lesson #7: Practice your fueling strategy for the run. Do you really need anything to drink if it’s “just” a 5K? Will you wear a fuel belt? Will you walk through the aid stations while you drink, or have you mastered drinking from a cup?
After the race I wandered in a daze as I tried to find where my husband and children had parked the car after they dropped me off. Things looked a lot different in the dark of the early morning before the race!
Lesson #8: Coordinate where to meet up with your cheering squad or racing buddies if any. Designate a spot by the finish line, in the post-race expo, or out in the parking lot.
After the race, once I met up with my family, I realized there was nothing more I wanted than a smoothie and a change of clothes. The post-race food offered by the organizers was great but not enough, and I needed to get out of my sweaty clothes, get my gear from transition, and get some more food. I wasn’t hungry for solid food right away, but in half an hour I was ravenous!
Lesson #9: Plan your post-race strategy. Keep in mind that only athletes are allowed back into transition to pack up their gear. You might want to meet your family or friends, get a snack or drink and a change of clothes, then work out how to get from transition to your car with all your gear.
My first race, a sprint, took place on a Sunday. That’s unusual for shorter distance races (usually the half ironman and ironman distances are on Sunday and sprint or Olympic distances are on Saturday). If I’d had the luxury of staying at the hotel an extra night, I would have. Instead I had to drive home 2.5 hours (while my husband and kids slept in the car no less!)
Lesson #10: After an initial-post race high, you’ll likely have the urge to rest up for remainder of the day. Limit any napping or prolonged resting or sitting in the car. You’ll want to keep moving to lessen the soreness and stiffness from the race. It’s fine to sit on the couch to watch a movie, but get up every hour or so to move around. Your legs will thank you!
What are your best tips for race planning and race day? I learn something new with each race. The best lesson I’ve found is to smile through the nervousness, look around and enjoy the day!