50 Things I've Learned in Triathlon Races

author : juxin
comments : 3

A compilation of things I learned while participating in triathlon races.

I've compiled a list of everything I learned from racing in triathlon events. While not exhaustive or novel, each item here comes from first-hand experience. I've made these mistakes myself or seen others do it. Had I known about them beforehand, it may have saved me not only valuable time in races, but also from embarrassment. It is hoped that the reader, whether he or she is new to triathlon, will at least take note if not heed these advice and ultimately have a better race experience as a result.
  1. Familiarize yourself with the course, preferably by doing a few test runs the week before. Take note of bumps or obstacles to avoid, elevation changes, and how to take the turns. If a reconnaissance ride is not possible, memorize the map given by the race organizer and visualize the course and ask other people.
  2. Hydrate well the day before the race. Don't drink alcohol; stick with plain old water.
  3. Don't overeat they day before. Stick to foods that you are familiar with. It is not the time to experiment with extra spicy burritos.
  4. Arrive at the venue early so that you've had time to register, prepare transition, and warm-up a little. Nothing is worse than rushing pre-race, that's when you are liable to forget something just when the race is about to start (like your tri-top in the car).
  5. Before and after the race, be mindful that there are others on the race course. Be alert when crossing streets. This also applies to your companions; do tell them.
  6. Wear a tri-suit or helmet that will stand out. Standing out from the mass of black tri-suits will make it easy for your companions to spot you even from a hundred meters away. You'll give them ample time to prepare to take your photo or cheer you on as you pass by.
  7. Don't apply sunblock immediately after getting your body-marked. It will smear the ink and make a huge mess. You'll be panicking just minutes before the start trying to get cleaned up.
  8. Apply anti-chaffing cream or lubricant in sensitive areas especially if the ride is more than 40km.
  9. Get a bike tune-up before a week before the race. 
  10. Check your bike over before the race especially the tires (make sure they are properly inflated and there are no cuts), wheels, brakes, and bike computer magnet/sensor - something might have moved while in transit.
  11. Bring two sets of goggles: one clear for cloudy and murky waters and one tinted for sunny days.
  12. If it's a big race, plan where you will meet your companions after the race, choose a very specific landmark like "under this tree."
  13. Start your stopwatch/GPS watch at the start.
  14. Position yourself properly for the swim start. If you are a strong swimmer, don't be shy and get in front. Conversely, if you are weaker swimmer stay away from the front, the 'sharks' will swim right over you.
  15. Practice mass swim starts. Nothing can be more unnerving than being thrown in the 'washing machine' without practice.
  16. Relax on the swim, keep strokes long and smooth, and control your breathing. Think of it as warm-up instead of going out too fast and being out of breath the entire swim.
  17. Practice dives for pool triathlons. You don't know it but the spectators and racers on-deck applaud and get a kick from seeing you do a belly flop. A nice dive followed by a couple dolphin kicks will also save time.
  18. In pool swims, position yourself for the upcoming turn around. This means getting close to the line nearest the lane you'll be swimming on the next lap.
  19. Also practice turn-arounds in pool swims. No need to do a flip turn but at least get used to going under the rope and swimming the other way.
  20. Practice getting out of the pool. It is so much the better if you can lift your body out of the water without using the ladder/rail because sometimes someone else has beaten you to it and they may be in no rush to get out of the pool.
  21. Sighting is key! You will add >10% of distance if you have poor water navigation skills. Practice, practice, practice.
  22. Practice running barefoot as you will inevitably have to from the swim to T1 which sometimes can be long.
  23. Undo the strap on your bike shoes when you set-up in transition. You can waste a lot of time trying to get your feet into your shoes.
  24. Don't put your helmet on backwards. I've done it and thankfully no one noticed before I did.
  25. Secure your flat kit. Road bumps will dislodge your kit and if you've done something to irritate lady luck, you'll get a flat.
  26. Start your bike computer once you've mounted especially if the course has numerous loops, i.e. more than five. It can be hard to keep track of the loops/distance without an odometer.
  27. Don't forget to put on your sunglasses for the bike; wind, rain, sun and bugs hitting you in the eye will make your ride quite uncomfortable.
  28. Don't take too much nutrition/hydration especially for a Sprint or Olympic. I've gotten GI problems and stomach cramps but have never bonked due to dehydration or lack of calories.
  29. If you experience a mechanical malfunction such as a dropped chain, pull over to the side and onto the shoulder (clear off the road).
  30. Practice changing out a flat. You never know when it'll happen, it could be in a race or on a training ride.
  31. Keep right. It doesn't matter how fast you are, someone will always be faster. Be considerate.
  32. Keep your line. Don't weave on the road.
  33. No drafting. When in doubt if it's allowed, don't draft; besides, it's safer if you are not used to riding in a pace-line.
  34. Bunny hop over speed bumps, i.e., lift the front end just before hitting the bump. Learn this useful skill and it can be used to avoid other road debris.
  35. Don't take unnecessary risks. If you're not going for a podium spot, be prudent and stay safe.
  36. Use laces that don't need tying. Laces tend to undo themselves at the most critical moments - during races. Save time by investing in something like Lock-Laces.
  37. By the way, don't wear swim briefs (more commonly known as "Speedos") for the entire race. Jammers are acceptable but Speedos?
  38. Look behind before you spit or launch a snot-rocket (that is, if you really must).
  39. Throw sponges off the course and plastic cups in garbage cans (where available) - not in the middle of road.
  40. Don't horde the water at the hydration stations. Some take three or four cups and splash it on themselves even when they don't need to. Probably watched too much of Ironman coverage on NBC. Remember, there may be others who'll need it more than you and aid stations can run out.
  41. Don't litter. The fact that a course may be closed is not a license to litter it with used nutrition packets. Treat the course and the local community with respect, if you don't the race may not be back there next year.
  42. Be appreciative of the volunteers who man the stations and the course. Remember they are doing that for free, for you. They will do their job better if you shower them with encouraging and appreciative words instead of demanding ones.
  43. Remember how good it feels when others cheer for you. Reciprocate it by cheering for others, they'll feel better and you will feel better.
  44. Refrain, however, from assisting others - outside assistance is normally not allowed. Check the rules to be sure. Also, tell your companions about this rule. You don't want to be disqualified because your significant other unwittingly gave you an icy sponge or an extra water bottle. (Note: I'm not here referring to emergency medical assistance which if anyone should happen to need and I were competent, I would without hesitation assist).
  45. Pace the run well to leave some gas near the end. And with let's say only 3kms left in a Olympic Distance race, give it all you've got. The pain is temporary and you'll feel much better knowing you've left it out on the course rather than having something left and regretting.
  46. Stop your stopwatch/GPS watch after crossing the finish line.
  47. Smile, straighten your back, pick up your step when you approach the cameras especially at the finish line. It doesn't matter if you feel like death, look good for that Kodak moment.
  48. Stick around for the awarding, there may be a raffle that you have won or you may have placed in your age-group, you just never know.
  49. Thank your supporters or companions afterwards; show them you're appreciation.
  50. Finally, as is mandatory with any list of this kind, remember to have fun.
There you have it. That is my list of things I've learned in triathlon races. Feel free to comment and add your own.

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date: June 15, 2012