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Triathlon Tips for Race Day | 4 pros share their must dos

Everyone has an opinion when it comes to fine-tuning your performance on race day. While you may have your own personal rituals, it’s likely your efforts can be honed ever-so-slightly to optimize future races.

Instead of asking a triathlon coach or age grouper for advice, we went directly to the top. From managing transitions to post-race celebrations, read these four professional triathletes’ personal tips and tricks for race day success.

What are some of your pre-race rituals?

Haley Chura: Eat! The day before the race can be kind of crazy with pre-race meetings, bike check-in and last minute workouts. With changes in routine I think it’s easy to skip meals, but I actually believe this is the most important day to make sure you’re eating plenty to put yourself in a good position for race day.

Kelsey Withrow: I do a few race simulation workouts a week which feel a lot like racing except without the adrenaline. When I get to the race, I have a good idea of what it’s going to feel like.

Jen Spieldenner: Don’t do anything new. Try to have a semi-routine to help keep your nerves at bay. It is hard sometimes to have to stick to a routine with travel and being in a new place, but there are certain things you can typically do anywhere. Also, make sure you eat enough, nothing is worse than feeling hungry the next day while racing.

Jocelyn McCauley: Keep everything low key. This is the last day of preparation and you can ruin your race if you stay out in the sun, on your feet or anything else that is stressful to you. Visualize your perfect race a couple times as well as what you would do if something went wrong — like a flat, dropped nutrition, or just not feeling well.

It’s the morning of the race. What are some of your “must dos”?

Haley Chura: Give yourself plenty of time. I like to wake up early with lots of time to wake up, eat breakfast and be sure there’s no stress getting to the race site (especially if I need to drive and find a parking spot). I also don’t want to be in a rush as I get my bike set up and make sure there’s time for a good warm-up and a stop in the port-a-potty.

Kelsey Withrow: Pack a set of flip flops so you can walk down to the start of the swim.  You don’t want to step on anything sharp.

Jen Spieldenner: Figure out and write down key events (i.e. when you need to drive/leave for the race) so that you stay relatively on schedule. This will help with the anxious and overwhelmed feelings.

Jocelyn McCauley: Some people like to wake up super early and not feel rushed but I like to get all the sleep I can and wake up at the last possible minute to get breakfast and out the door.

Do you have any go-to tips for the swim?

Haley Chura: Take a moment before the swim and look around. Be proud of yourself for getting yourself on the start line, enjoy being the company of a bunch of athletes similar to yourself and be grateful for everyone who has helped get you to this start line. The swim can be a place of anxiety, but if you take a moment to reflect on how cool it is to do what you’re doing (usually swimming in a really cool place!) you can manage the nerves and focus on the adventures ahead.

Kelsey Withrow: Start on the outside and not in the middle if you can. You won’t get ruffed up as much starting from the side.

Jen Spieldenner: Stay calm. It really isn’t necessary to sprint the first 100 to 200 meters only to completely fill with lactic acid and have a little blow up. A strong, even pace at the start will set you up for a great swim. If you get nervous being in open water, positive self-talk can really help pull you out of that negative head space.

Jocelyn McCauley: Just keep swimming! If you get hit in the face, just keep swimming. If you touch something gooey and gross, just keep swimming. The constant forward progress matters most.

You’re out of the water and into transition. Do you do anything specific?

Haley Chura: Run with short, efficient steps as you transition from being horizontal in the water to vertical on land. Being efficient in T1 is more important than being fast.

Kelsey Withrow: For a faster transition, I recommend rubber banding the shoes on your bike instead of putting them on and running with your bike in them. You can run with your bike without ruining your cleats and you can just slip your feet in at the mount line.

Jen Spieldenner: Deep breath right before the end of the swim and do a mental checklist of everything you need to do before leaving as you are running out of the water and making it to your bike.

Jocelyn McCauley: I always tell myself to race the person I come out of the swim with through transition. Keep it simple! The more you have to do, the more you will forget. Swim stuff off, helmet and glasses on, that’s it!

Do you have any advice for the bike leg?

Haley Chura: For the first 10 to 15 minutes of the ride, focus on settling in and getting hydrated — then move on to your nutrition plan. Usually athletes come out of the water a bit dehydrated, especially if it’s a wetsuit or warmer temperature swim, so I think it’s important to get on top of hydration right away.

Kelsey Withrow: Make sure to get in 100 calories every 20 to 30 minutes and drink plenty of water. Nutrition during a race is the fourth discipline of a triathlon.

Jen Spieldenner: Try to limit surges on the bike and make sure you are getting enough calories in. I 100 percent feel that how you ride sets you up for how you will run. Ride too hard and your run will suffer.

Jocelyn McCauley: People deal with the swim to bike differently but for me, my effort level is higher the first 30 minutes of the bike. It takes me that much time to settle into the race and the pace. Drink a lot and make sure you keep to your nutrition plan! Don’t let something that silly derail your race!

You’re back in transition, is there anything different from T1 to T2?

Haley Chura: Hopefully the bike-to-run transition is one that athletes are practicing fairly often in training, because the first couple steps off the bike usually feel terrible! Be prepared to feel pretty bad coming off the bike (it happens to everyone!) but know it will start to feel better once you get going on the run.

Kelsey Withrow: I put on socks for the run because I’m prone to getting blisters. Also, use elastic shoe laces so you can just slip your shoes on without tying them.

Jen Spieldenner: Make sure you grab all your nutrition you will need and put socks on!

Jocelyn McCauley: Race the person you come in with and keep it simple again. Helmet off, shoes, race number, and hat on.

What are your go-to tips for the run?

Haley Chura: Pay attention to pacing, especially in the early miles. In longer distance races it’s important to manage your pace in the early miles so you can finish feeling strong. I keep an eye on both the heart rate and pace features on my Polar M430 watch during the run, but especially in those early miles.

Kelsey Withrow: Take caffeine gels on the run. I don’t start taking caffeine in the race until I hit the run. This may give you some needed pep in your step, and it really helps in an Ironman.

Jen Spieldenner: Run in control hard for the first half and then empty the tank the second half.

Jocelyn McCauley: Start out steady and build from there. If you do that then you will be able to have a good consistent run and not run out of steam as bad. Keep yourself cool and fueled!

Any post-race advice?

Haley Chura: Celebrate! Whatever the outcome of your race, I think it’s important to acknowledge how brave it is to put yourself on the start line of a triathlon. Most races have great post-race food and beverages and you can meet some of your fellow athletes and trade stories about the day.

Kelsey Withrow: Make sure to eat right after even though you may not feel like it. Then enjoy your post-race beverage of choice.

Jen Spieldenner: Enjoy your accomplishment! Have fun, but make sure you walk a little to aid in the recovery process. Also, having some solid food/recovery drink within 30 minutes of finishing will also help with recovery.

Jocelyn McCauley: The best recovery is active recovery — I love hiking or easy swimming after a race.

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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

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