Nervous about race day? If you've never completed a triathlon before, it's a good idea to watch a race before your first time. In most major metro areas, there is a race almost every weekend within an hour's drive. Do a quick search on our Race Finder and head out. Watch the start of each event, and hang out outside of the transition area to see what the athletes are doing.Here are some of our favorite tips:
Repeat it: Nothing new on race day. Do not wear new clothing you haven't trained in. Do not ride a new bike you borrowed from a friend for your race, having never trained on it. Do not wear new goggles. Do not try new swimwear. Do not pull on a wetsuit you've never worn before. These are all recipes for disaster. Race the way you train. It's fun to have new gear, and it's tempting to "save it" for the big day, but it's a mistake. I once borrowed a nicer bike than mine for my first triathlon. I didn't understand the seat adjustment, and I adjusted the seat to the correct height, but didn't properly lock the quick release mechanism. I had to keep getting off the bike during the race to raise the seat back up, because it wouldn't stay and I felt like I was riding a very slow down elevator the whole time.
Everyone is vulnerable in the transition area. Even the elite racer will be screwed if he can't find his sunglasses coming out of the swim and flying onto his bike. When you're nervous and the space is tight on the racks, it's easy to bump someone's stuff or have your carefully placed stuff jostled. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and be extra careful. If you bump another bike and the helmet goes flying, look around carefully. Likely there were sunglasses and maybe more items inside the helmet. Try to put everything back, and if you can, wait around until you see the owner again, and tell them what happened. They might be irritated, but they will be thankful that they can get all their things placed carefully back where they were. Although a beginner might not be worried about how long his transition time is, a more experienced racer could lose a podium (first, second or third place) spot because of time spent looking around for glasses or gear that was bumped or moved.
There are some obscure rules you should learn about racing, particularly when it comes to passing, but the most important and easiest rule to get right is DO NOT even swing a leg over your bike until your helmet is on and fastened. For most racers, the first thing they do before they touch their bike is to put their glasses and helmet on. That's why you see helmets balanced on top of aero bars in transition. (See: Be Nice in Transition, above.)
It's a good idea to practice jogging into transition from the swim exit and spotting your stuff. All of those bikes start to look like a sea of gear once they are all racked. Some new athletes put crazy balloons on the bike rack to help, but this can backfire if they annoy nearby athletes or interfere with reaching your gear. An easy way to set yourself apart is to go through your linen closet and pick out your craziest beach towel to put down under your bike. You'll recognize it as yours without trying (which is why I don't recommend buying a new one) and it will give you something to lock your eyes on as you are running into transition.
You will feel like a complete fool, but lean your bike against your garage or a tree and practice running to it in bare feet, getting your gear on and getting on your bike. Actually ride away. Then come back in and practice switching to the run, taking off your bike shoes (if you use separate bike shoes), taking off your helmet, switching activities on your watch if necessary, etc. Your neighbors will laugh at you. Your spouse or partner will think you are crazy. Your kids will stop playing and stare. But you will almost certainly identify some weak spot with your planned gear layout, or the socks you chose that won't go on wet feet, or something else. And you'll thank us.