First Race? Check Your List

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Planning, Packing, Setup, Race Site and Schedule

Every year, there are a lot of triathletes trying the sport for the first time. Some of them are even starting their triathlon career with a long-course race, like an Ironman or half-iron-distance race. Others are starting with a sprint or Olympic race.

No matter the distance, a race has many aspects that aren’t covered in training. To have a smooth, low-stress event, be ready in your head and with your gear.

One Month Before the Race

Make sure your accommodations are set, if you need to travel for the race. Do you have transportation to the race site? Are you sure that transportation will be available at 4:30 am or 5 am? Do you have supporters with you, and do they have a place to stay?

If you want to see the course in person, make plans to travel to the race site when you can swim in the swim venue, bike some of the course, and run the biggest hill.

Double check that you are actually registered and you have your confirmation email. Enter the packet pickup information in your calendar.

Find out when the athlete meeting or course talk is planned. Even if you think you have it memorized, be sure you attend. There are often last-minute announcements such as wetsuit regulations at these meetings.

Be absolutely certain you have done a swim in open water prior to your race. Race day is the WORST time for your first open water swim. No matter what. No excuses. If you haven’t been in open water yet this year, schedule an open water practice swim now.

One Week Before the Race

Make sure you have your nutrition plan (if you need one, for longer course racing) and you have plenty of your chosen sports drink, energy gels, etc. on hand.

Do your laundry and put aside your race gear. Make a list of items you’ll still be using during your taper (rest) week, so you can pack them up without forgetting anything. Heart rate monitor, goggles and bike helmet are common items you can’t pack up a week ahead.

Review the race website. Look at the course maps and commit them to memory.

Practice your transitions. Even if it makes you feel foolish and your neighbors are staring at you.

Tune up your bike if needed, or at least clean it. Make sure to ride one more time and shift the gears after a tuneup or cleaning.

One Day Before the Race

Pick up your race packet. This will contain a variety of items, most importantly your timing chip and stickers or other items you will need to attach to your gear. Often there is a sticker for your bike, a sticker for your bike helmet, and a bib number to wear during the run. Place these on your gear.

If you are supposed to leave your bike in transition the night before, make sure to take everything you need before transition closes. Follow the instructions for racking your bike according to USAT rules.

If you aren’t leaving your bike overnight, still head to the race site and walk the transition area. Look for the Swim In, Swim Out, Bike In, Bike Out and Run Out and Finish Line. Walk them, or at least visualize yourself getting from each of the legs of the race back to your spot in transition, and then across the finish line.

Don’t eat anything out of the ordinary.

Make a specific schedule for the morning. Begin with the time the transition area closes, and work backwards from there to be sure you will arrive on time. Don’t forget at large races, there can be huge traffic jams as the participants and spectators descend on the course at the same time.

Go to bed early and set two alarms.

Race Morning

Double check your list to make sure you have your swim cap, goggles, etc. Check your transition area to make sure your bike shoes, helmet, running shoes, sunglasses, etc. are ready. Make sure your timing chip is on your ankle. Have a plan for getting your wetsuit off with your chip on.

Only eat what you have already practiced eating in training, keeping in mind you’ll be killing time for a while, waiting for the race to begin.

Be sure you know the order of the waves for the swim start. Will your age group be near the beginning or near the end? Do you know the water temperature and have a plan for wetsuit and no-wetsuit?

You are ready. You have prepared. Now trust yourself, jump in, and keep going!

Sample Packing List

Here’s an example of a packing list for a triathlon. Everyone’s list is different, but this might help you remember something.

  • Bike
  • Bike Shoes
  • Helmet
  • Wetsuit
  • Gloves
  • Sandals or quick shoes
  • Towel
  • Running shoes
  • Socks for Bike
  • Hat
  • Windbreaker
  • Tri Shorts
  • Long Sleeved Shirt Warm
  • Long Sleeved Shirt Regular
  • Tri bra
  • Anti-Chafe ointment
  • Goggles
  • Tire Pump
  • Sunglasses
  • Food
  • Sweats for later
  • ID/wallet for check in
  • Computer charger
  • Rolling cooler double ice
  • Bike Shifter charger
  • Garmin charger
  • Phone charger

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