The day before a race, go down to the swim start and check out the setup. The race check-in is usually close by, in which case you can kill two birds with one stone. If the race allows it, it’s a good idea to jump into the water for a short swim to familiarize yourself with the water temperature, buoy placement, and entry and exit areas.
At check-in, you will give your name and pick up your race packet. This will typically consist of the following items:
- Race bib
- Two bike stickers (one for the bike’s crossbar and one for your helmet)
- Two transition bags, one for T1 and one for T2
- Two special needs bags (Ironman-distance only)
- Race shirt
- Timing chip and ankle strap
I don’t need to stress that you should take great care not to lose anything from this packet. There are countless stories of athletes who misplaced their timing chips or left their race bib back at their hotel, and this is a position you don’t want to find yourself in after all those long months of training.
Some triathlons have T1 and T2 in the same general area, which indicates a looped bike course, while others have a “point-to-point” bike course, in which case T1 and T2 could be in two totally different cities. In this event the race may require you to set up your T2 area the night before the race, as you will not be around T2 to do the setup on race day morning. If you participate in this type of race, be sure to wrap your T2 gear in a trash bag when you drop it off the night before so your running shoes do not get rained on or soaked with dew overnight.
If it’s convenient, I like to drop my bike off at T1 on the evening before race day, as it makes one less big item to hassle with the next morning. Don’t be afraid of theft; races will hire security to watch the bikes overnight and I’ve never heard of a bike being lost that way. If you do drop your bike off, make sure to take the big bike sticker from the race packet and wrap it around your bike’s crossbar and stick the two ends together. Note that some smaller races may not offer this option and will require you to drop your bike off on the morning of race day.
During check-in, take the time to study the course and transition area(s). Where will you enter and exit the water? Is the swim course clockwise or counter-clockwise? Where are the swim turns? What path will you take to run from the water to T1? Where are the entry and exit areas for T1? Where are the bike mount and dismount lines? You don’t want to try to figure out all of these variables during the heat of the race.
It is very common for races to have a pre-race meeting the afternoon or evening before the race. I always try to attend these and highly recommend you do so as well. The race directors will usually verbally go over the course, including important information such as swim wave start instructions, turn-around points and confusing sections of the route, and the location of aid stations and bathrooms. Sometimes there will be particularly dangerous or narrow sections of the bike route, and the director will point this out and note if there are any do-not-pass areas on the ride. At the end they will have an athlete Q&A section, and this is your opportunity to being up anything which you are still unclear about. Every race director I’ve ever interacted with has been kind, considerate, patient, and, above all, concerned that each triathlete has the knowledge and resources they need in order to race their best race. They are always more than happy to address any questions or concerns that you might have.