‘Tis the season to start thinking about your first race in 2015. And for some of you, it truly might be your very first triathlon. You have likely been reading triathlon books and magazines so you have plenty of advice on how to get to the start and finish line. But here are some tips learned from experience – not from a textbook. I implemented them for every race of my 20-year career. Some things you have to learn by making mistakes. Hopefully, these ideas will minimize mistakes and maximize the joy of crossing that finishing line!
· Prior to the event, test all of your gear – race uniform, race wheels, race shoes, pre-race breakfast, race-day nutrition. Then don’t change anything before the event.
· Get your bike tuned up a week prior to race day so that you can test it out in one of your last test rides.
· If possible, check out the course prior to race day. The ideal would be to swim, bike and run on the actual course but driving the bike course and riding the run course can be a huge asset. Pick landmarks on the course you can re-visit on race-day to make yourself feel ‘at home’ on the course. See yourself being successful on all parts of the course. See yourself being proficient through all of the “difficult” sections of the course and mentally turn those“difficult” sections into your “areas of expertise”. What you visualize is what you will actualize so see yourself making good decisions, executing perfectly and dealing with the curveballs like a master.
· Shorten your workouts the week prior to your goal event. And while you decrease the volume of your workouts, increase the speed of your sessions. For example, rather than riding 40 km, ride 20 km but after a warm-up, include 2 x 3-5 km faster to get a feel for race effort.
· If you are planning to take a day off before the race, choose the day 48-hours before the race rather than the day 24-hours before. Athletes find themselves lethargic and sluggish the day after a day-off. Consequently, it is important to get out for a short 30-40 min ride with a short 20 min run off the bike with a few accelerations.The purpose is to “wake up” the muscles, enhance the storage of glycogen, stimulate blood flow and simulate race effort.
· Prior to race day, walk through the race venue. How will you get to the swim start? What timing will allow you to get to the swim start with enough time to put on a wetsuit, do some positive visualization, do a swim warm up and line up for the race start? Walk through the swim to bike transition and the bike to run transition.
· A few days prior to race day, make a list of every item you need for the race. It is easier to pack your gear following a list rather than from memory when you are already filled with pre-race excitement and/or anxiety.
· Learn how to change a flat tire, practice it and visualize it. Having your gear in perfect working condition is step one but being able to calmly fix your gear is a skill, which can make an unfortunate situation bearable and empowering.
· Establish a theme for your race day. Maybe this event is your first step to fitness in your forties. Then, your theme might be a celebration of the next decade ofyour life.
· Set your race day goals. I recommend focusing on internal goals, which are the ones you can control. For example, my internal goals would be “I will swim, bike and run with proper technique. I will execute good rhythm and roll and rotation during the swim. I will always find the perfect gear on the bike; I will keep my cadence high and keep constant pressure on the pedals; I will dance up the hills. I will attack the run and love going fast. I will use my hip flexors and run tall with good turnover.” External goals are the ones we cannot control such as “I will break 2 hours in my first Olympic distance triathlon.” These goals just lead to disappointment since you end up fixating on time rather than on process. If a day is hot or windy, then even realistic time goals become impossible. It is such a shame to allow a watch, wattage meter or Garmin influence your opinion of your race. You are not a machine. Don’t let yourself be controlled by a machine.
· See yourself being in control all day. Your mental attitude is the one thing you can control on race day. You cannot control the weather but you can control how you will react to it. You cannot control the course, but you can swim/bike and run according to your skill set and fitness level. You cannot control the competition but you can control your execution of your race from start to finish.
· Absolutely do a swim warm up. Not only will you elevate your heart rate so that you can swim fast, but it will calm you down and help prevent hyperventilating when the race begins.
· Quick tips that you might not read in a book or magazine:
o Put baby powder in your wetsuit when dry – this acts like cornstarch helping the wetsuit to slip off easily.
o Put Vaseline around the seams of your race uniform so that you don’t get chaffed over the course of the race.
o Put Vaseline around your neck to protect against the wetsuit. It will not ruin your wetsuit.
o Put baby powder in your cycling shoes and running shoes so that your foot slides in easily.
o If you don’t wear socks on the run, then put Vaseline in your running shoes along the seams to prevent blisters.
o Don’t use your towel as just a placemat for your cycling and running gear. Keep part of it clear so you can actually stand on it and wipe the dirt off of your feet.
· Never stop smiling. Your first triathlon is a gift. Life will never be the same! Welcome to the sport!