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Race Prep for Your First Triathlon (or First 100 of Them) – Part I

To Do’s 1 Week Before Your Race

By: Brittany Berry, 2019 event ambassador for Toronto Island Triathlon

Race goals and race day experiences are unique to each person. Just how every triathlete has their own training plan, each will have their own needs for race preparation too. I won’t attempt here to give a single race prep checklist that works for everyone, but I hope this article can help you make a preparation plan that’s just for you.

So, it’s the week (or fortnight or whatever short-term countdown period) before your event and at this point, preparation is no longer just training for the body. There are all sorts of practical and mental tasks you should start doing in the lead-up. You don’t want to leave everything until the night before the race. Some things are best to do the day ahead or morning of the race, but not most things. (Don’t worry, there’s a blog post coming up on what to do on the day before and morning of a race too). A good approach to preparing is to start thinking in broader terms farther ahead of your event, then get more and more detailed in the specifics as you get closer to the date. Of course, if you have some travel and overnight stays involved for your event, adjust your plans accordingly and distinguish between tasks to do before you travel and once you’ve arrived.

Here are my tips for figuring out exactly what logistical things you need to do and when in your race prep plan:


Start Visualizing the Race Experience
Simulate going through a triathlon in your head – or even better if you’ve had the chance to do a race simulation in real life. Even if you’re heading into your very first triathlon and feel like you don’t really know what to expect, doing this exercise is sure to bring you at least a few ideas of how you’ll want to be prepared on-course. If you’ve already done triathlons, what items did you use before? Were there any things you didn’t bring that you wish you had? Think about what equipment, clothing, nutrition items, and special preventative or reactive “Help me!” supplies (ex. Body Glide, Vaseline, sunscreen top-up) you will need for all parts of the event:

  • immediately before the start,
  • in each stage and transition of the race, and
  • right after you finish.

MultiSport Canada has a great resource library which includes some pages on things to be ready for in-race too.

Go through the race in your head or for real.

Start Gathering Race Day Items
You don’t need to pack up yet. However, it’s helpful to start setting aside items you have that you will need for race day but won’t be using for your everyday training for the rest of the time leading up to your event. You can even start setting aside some of your things for the night before and morning of the event, like ingredients for your race day breakfast.

Bike in working order? Check! Helmet fits? Check! Sunglasses I found on the ground? Check!

Inspect Your Gear and Get Replacement Pieces
This goes for all event stages but it especially goes for your bike. Take a look at the gear and supplies you have for all race segments, then make note of items you’re missing that you’ll have to get a hold of in your lead-up time. For your bike, give it a good look-over (or quick ride) to identify parts requiring a fix or tune-up, purchase any replacement or spare parts you need, make sure your transportation equipment is ready to go, and, ideally, put together a small repair kit.

Practice Technical Skills You’ve Been Missing
As much as you might practice swimming, cycling, and running in your training, there are always some skills you haven’t practiced that just might (or definitely will) come in handy, specifically in a race. With such short time before your event, the idea here is not to work on improving your fitness level, but to refresh on technical, practical skills so that you’re not held back by the small things. Don’t worry about looking silly in front of your neighbours!

Here are a few ideas of these sorts of skills to work on:

  • For the bike, practice maneuvering, shifting gears, and even handling your water bottles and nutrition while in motion (especially if your recent bike training has been confined to mostly indoor, stationary practice).
  • Mentally run through your transitions, thinking about what items you take or leave and in what order. Physically practice movements that are tricky, like removing your wetsuit, mounting/dismounting the bike, and changing footwear.
  • Review doing basic bike repairs, like replacing flats.
  • For the swim, get some open water practice if you haven’t had much recently. Get familiar with the feeling of your suit and the dynamic movement of non-pool water, practice some race skills like swimming close to other people and sighting, and if you have a phobia for this part of the race like I do, practice your mental strength while you’re in the water (check out Matt McGuckin’s post “Getting (Un)Comfortable” too).

Good suggestion, #RaceTipWednesday!

Review Your Race Info
You know all that stuff that you don’t really need to know right now, but will need to have it in your head on race day? Start downloading it into your brain! If you’ve already registered ahead for your race, you’ll receive an email from the organizer with detailed event info in the week leading up to the race, if not earlier. It’ll include information such as the schedule, directions to the venue, race kit pick-up procedure, course descriptions and maps, race regulations, and race tips.


So, get your pencil and papers out and get planning! Keep an eye out for Part II of this post for tips on what to do on the day before and the morning of your race.

Getting (Un)Comfortable

By Matt McGuckin

For me, the swim was always the most daunting part of triathlon. If you don’t come from a swimming background, it’s challenging to know how to train for an open water swim. So, for all of us aquatically-challenged triathletes what’s the key to a successful open water swim?

My first few triathlon race swims were a disaster. I read articles and found strategies about how to have a good swim on race day in preparation. Most articles will tell you to make sure you warm-up properly, start at the back of the race, pace yourself, etc. – These are great tips, but you’re at the 500m mark treading water and wanting to ask the guy in the kayak for a tow back to the shore, they aren’t much help.

I finally found swim success after adopting the concept of getting (un)comfortable during my training sessions. Like many, a lot of my swim sessions are either focused on technique or endurance/pacing – don’t get me wrong, these are very important. But, every once in a while, I will add in an uncomfortable training session. The key to these drills/sessions is to learn how to control your breathing, HR, and anxiety when things go awry. Here are a few methods that I’ve used to get myself feeling (un)comfortable:

  1. Eye’s closed sets – Swim lengths with your eyes closed while your head is in the water. You can open up your eyes when you breathe so that you can spot your lane rope and make sure you’re not running into other swimmers. In the open water, you can’t see the bottom of the lake so it’s harder to pace and swim straight. This is a great way to break up the monotony of lane swimming during an endurance session.
  2. Hypoxic sets – these are great for a number of reasons, but here the focus is to challenge your ability to control your breathing and anxiety. I typically breath every 3 strokes. When I swim hypoxic sets, it looks like this:

3 Sets

100m breathing every 3rd stroke (medium pace)

100m breathing every 5th stroke (a bit slower pace but should be challenging)

100m breathing every 3rd stroke (medium pace – reconnect with a normal rhythm)

50m breathing every 7th stroke (same pace as second set)

100m breathing every 3rd stroke (medium pace – reconnect with normal rhythm)

The key here is using every other set to allow yourself to reconnect with your normal breath and rhythm (breathing every 3rd stroke for me). Don’t allow yourself to take breaks and start with smaller distances if needed. This skill will come in handy if you start out too hard in a race or if you get nervous/anxious while you’re in the water.

  1. Swimming in busy pools – This isn’t ideal for getting a lot of mileage or working on technique, but it’s great at teaching you how to spot ahead of you and pass swimmers when you need to.
  2. Open Water Practice – obvious, I know. Ideally, you can swim in a small group for safety. If you do train in open water by yourself, it can be pretty nerve wracking. You have to be paying attention to boat traffic, spotting your course, and there’s no one there to bail you out if you get into trouble. I trained in open water by myself and found it invaluable to increasing my level of comfort in the open water. If you are going to do this, choose a lake with less boat traffic and use a Swim Buoy.