Ready, Set, Race! Part 3 - Essentials For Race Day

RACE – 2 - 3 HOURS

Wake Up - Wake up with more time than you think you need to get ready. You don’t want to add any extra stress to your morning. If you’re not a morning person, taking a shower can help to wake you up.

Eat Breakfast - Be sure you eat your breakfast at least 2 – 3 hours before the race start so your body has enough time to digest. The breakfast should consist of simple carbohydrates, a small bit of protein and lots of fluids. Be sure you have tried your pre-race breakfast before race day so you know what works for you.

Get Dressed – Put on your race clothes, watch and race bib or chip before you leave the house. It’s also a good time to apply sunscreen and body glide so you don’t forget later.

RACE – 1 – 1.5 HOURS

Arrive at Start – Allow yourself at least one hour before race start to ensure that you are not rushing to get warmed up and ready for your race. Triathletes need even more time than runners to properly set up their transition area. Some triathlon races even allow athletes to choose their transition spot so arriving early will get you where you want!

Visit the Port-O-Potty – It is wise to use the toilets as soon as you arrive to the start area so that you can be sure you have enough time. The closer to the race start, the longer the lines become so get in/get out and get ready to race!

Do a Warmup – Warming up for a race ensures that you are loose, snappy and ready to work! For triathletes, a quick spin on your bike allows you to make sure your tires have good pressure and your gears are working properly. For all warmups, it is good to incorporate some short sprints (strides) to wake your body up and get you ready for the intensity of the race.

Take a Gel – Take a gel 15 min prior to race with water or sport drink. Your breakfast was at least two hours ago, so taking a gel before the race will give you the extra energy boost you need.

Toe the Line – Depending on the race, you may have a mass start or a corral start. Some races even provide pace groups to help you run your goal time. Be sure you get to the start line with at least five minutes to spare to ensure that you don’t miss the start. If you are a fast, competitive racer line up as close to the start line as you can. If you are not, be respectful of the speedier runners and line up according to your goal pace. This will help the race start be smoother for everyone.


Pace Wisely – Through your training, you should have a good idea of a goal time and how to pace the race. If using a watch, I recommend hitting your mile splits and not relying on GPS as it can sometimes differ from the race mile markers and can give you false information on your pacing. Frequent racers will tell you that their total distance on GPS is often shorter or longer than the actual race distance. Hitting your lap split every mile also helps keep you focused on the race. After the first mile, reassess your effort and the pace and determine how to adjust if needed. The fastest races are the ones where you start of slower and finish faster (also known as negative splitting). There is no such thing as putting “time in the bank” by starting off faster than goal pace. It just doesn’t work!!

Navigate the Water Stops – Be sure you know which side of the course the water stops will be and plan to get over before you reach the water stop. When you come to the water stop, make eye contact with the volunteer and point at them so they know you are going to take fluid from them. Yell “Water” or “Sport Drink” so you can be sure you are getting what you want. When you have the cup, pinch the top so it’s easier to drink. Aim to take in about four ounces every two miles. If it’s a hot day, take an extra cup of water and pour it over your head, down your back or on your arms. It’s important to keep your body temp cool in hot weather!

If taking gels or sport drink that they hand out, make sure it’s something you have tried before so you don’t have an upset tummy while racing.

Know the Rules – Different races have different rules. Make sure you know and follow the rules so you don’t get a time penalty or disqualification. In triathlon, it’s smart to get on a faster swimmers’ feet and follow their bubbles to help you swim faster. For the bike, however, most races do not allow drafting and have very specific time allotments in which you can pass another biker. Running usually allows drafting and it is wise to do so especially on a windy day. Some races do not allow you to wear head phones or drop trash (gel wrappers) on the course. Just be sure you follow the rules.

Keep Your Head in the Game – All of your mental preparation will pay off during the race. Use your mantras and the cheering spectators to energize you. Know where your friends and family will be so you can try to spot them and get that extra mental boost. Break your race into smaller goals (number of water stops, certain landmarks, smaller distance goals, segments between taking fuel, etc.). Smaller goals will help keep you focused and on target.


Keep Moving – After an intense race effort, it’s important to keep moving and do a short cool down (nice easy jog or spin) if possible. Stretch your tired muscles!

Drink and Eat – Drink fluid immediately and eat when your stomach is settled. Food that has a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio will help you recover much quicker.

Return Chip – If the race is chip timed and you were given a timing chip before the race, be sure that you return it so you don’t get penalized.

Bask in the Glory – You did it! Enjoy this moment knowing that you did what many people can’t even imagine doing. You are a true athlete who set a goal and raced to the best of your ability! Celebrate with friends and family!

This post was written by Coach, Courtney Kutler. 

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