It’s game time. I like to wake up several hours before the race in order to give my body time to wake up. I drink a few cups of coffee and eat my pre-race meal. The coffee also helps the other reason I wake up early. I’m not ashamed to say it – I definitely want to poop before my race. Preferably twice.
Next I will apply sunscreen and rub chamois cream on my delicate parts to prevent chafing on the bike, and then put on my tri kit. I will usually throw on a pair of shorts and sweatshirt on over this, along with an old pair of sandals. At this point, you can put on your timing chip. It is usually a small square device about the size of a poker chip, and has slots in it to thread your ankle strap through. Attach the strap around your left ankle – if it’s on your right ankle it may bang against your bicycle gears. This chip will track your split times for swim, T1, bike, T2, and run. Some races have a live athlete feed on their website which will display your progress as you pass certain checkpoints so your friends and family can see your progression through the race. While this is undeniably cool, they are also notorious for being delayed or broken, so don’t put too much confidence into this functionality being available.
Travel to the start line
Try to get to the race an hour to an hour and a half before the race starts. Parking can sometimes be an issue at large races, so make sure you have scoped out the area beforehand and know where you are going to park.
Body marking and T1 setup
When you arrive to the race, you will need to set up your T1 area as well as get your body markings. The body marking station is a usually a table of volunteers with markers who will write your race number on your right bicep and age group or category designation on your right calf. You must get this done by the race employees; do not do it yourself. Check the race website or documents the night before to see what time the transition zones and body marking station open and close. You do not want to cut this too close.
After getting yourself marked, head over to T1 to set up your swim-to-bike transition area like we went over in Chapter 7. Note that non-athletes are not allowed inside either of the transition areas, so you must do the setup yourself. There are potentially millions of dollars worth of bikes accumulated during a large triathlon and the race organizers understandably want to limit any opportunities for theft. Pump up your bike tires if you brought a pump, if not, the race will often have several available for use or you can borrow one from a neighboring athlete.
After getting your body marked and setting up your transition areas, you may want to warm up. It is a truism of racing that the longer the race is, the less warm-up you should do. For a sprint triathlon you may want to do up to 20 minutes each of swimming, biking, and running, while for an Olympic distance or longer you can get away just a short swim and run to raise your heart rate and get your blood moving. It is usually more logistically difficult to get in a bike ride on race morning, and I usually don’t. Professionals, however, usually do a little bit of all three disciplines before the race. I’ve heard it said that it’s best warm up in reverse order (run, bike, swim), but I’ve never seen a logical reason for that approach.
After you have been to the body marking station and set up your T1 area, go stand in line for the bathroom. It will be long. You will have to wait. Every triathlete seems to develop a hyperactive bladder just before a race and they will all seemingly be in your line in front of you. Use this time to do some squats and leg stretches or run in place with high knees. Swing your arms from side to side and in large circles to help warm up your shoulders for the swim ahead. Don’t hit the big guy behind you.
After the bathroom break, put on your wetsuit, taking care that the ankle chip and strap stays under your suit leg. Turn on your GPS watch and let it connect to the satellite. You don’t want to wait until right before you start your swim to do this as it sometimes takes several minutes. Now it’s time to put on your cap and goggles. If you are concerned about shaving seconds, you can put your cap over your goggles. I, however, like to put my goggles on over my cap. When you’re swimming in close proximity to hundreds of other athletes you will get jostled, and if I need to readjust my goggles I don’t want to have to worry about messing with my swim cap too.
The shorts and shirt or sweatshirt that you were wearing can be put into a bag you’ve brought for this purpose, along with your bike pump, keys, glasses, wallet, cell phone, and anything else you don’t need for the race. Your race Sherpa can take this bag for you and put it back in the car or carry it for you until you cross the finish line.
Next: It’s race time