Race Day Preparation: Embracing the Buzz and Managing Expectations

So, you’ve made it this far and are toeing the start line, now what?  So many questions yet to be asked and many more to come once you get through your deflowering event.  Preparation and managing expectations are words you will hear continuously from coaches and fellow triathletes. There are multiple reasons why these words are so often utilized and referred to. How does one prepare for race day exactly? As with anything in life, everyone approaches a task differently, but let’s discuss the laundry list of questions everyone has and the basic expectations and etiquette to get you through your first event. Managing expectations will be referenced multiple times throughout this edition and plan to continue to hear it regularly going forward. Examples:  What do I pack and in what do I pack it?  Will I have room for all my unnecessary gear?  What do I eat and drink before the race?  Do I need to warm up?  Will I need to eat during the race? The answer to your question “Do I make a check list?” is YES. Of course, given you’re about to call yourself a triathlete, you are likely another one of us type ‘A’ personalities and won’t need a reminder to check or re-check anything. All these questions will be discussed in this volume of VibeOn: Tri Edition. 

First thing to remember:  This is your first race and you have nothing to compare it to.   This is where managing expectations also comes in.  Don’t put all the unnecessary pressure on yourself when the most important thing to do on race day is HAVE FUN.  If you’re not having fun, why are you doing it?  When race weekend approaches, you want to embrace the energy and use it all to your advantage.  When you do, everything seems to come together all while having a blast one stroke, pedal and step at a time.  

Race weekend:  Athlete check-in and transition

Welcome to the start line!  Depending on your race selection, race weekend can have many different protocols.  Local races tend to have everything lumped into the evening prior and morning of the race.  You drive in at 5am, and follow the glow sticks the volunteers are waving around.  **I highly advise leaving all your gear in the car if you’ve yet to check-in.  You will not be allowed into the transition area without proper identification, typically a bracelet with race number**.  If this is a larger venue, Ironman branded event, athlete check-in is typically held 2 days in duration, a few days prior to race day (allowing for options for folks traveling to the race venue).  The days tend to be Thursday and Friday and then bike racking will be held the day prior to the race.   You will usually receive an emailed version of an athlete guide, especially for larger events, and you will see the itinerary and list of events and to-do’s during race weekend.  Be sure to refer to this as you don’t want to miss any requirements or cut-offs as they relate to check-in or race day.   The key to being relaxed on race-day is being prepared and removing any unnecessary stressors. What was it I mentioned about managing expectations?

 The check-in flow tends to be as follows:  Athlete check-in tent, which is where you sign your life away on the waiver form, obtain your bib numbers and stickers, race chip and ankle strap and swim cap.  Once you get through the sea of alphabetization, you move to athlete marking.  Yes, this is exactly what it sounds like – volunteers all standing around holding up giant permanent markers with which they’ll be branding your arms and legs, according to your assigned race number and age.  The age question is always fun because you can be made a year older in a split second, depending on what month your birthday falls.   The volunteers don’t seem to recognize the whole ‘Don’t you know asking a woman her age is rude’ Essentially, your age is whatever age you are within that year prior to December 31.  Wish yourself a happy birthday and look for cake after you cross the finish line. 

Once properly branded, this is when you go and retrieve your gear and head to Transition.  Again, you may have racked your bike already, depending on the venue (larger, Ironman events), or you will be dragging it along with all your other gear.  If you’re able, pump your tires prior to transition and make things easier on yourself.  There are usually pumps floating around, but if you can avoid one step, take advantage of it.  Refer to what I said earlier about removing any unnecessary stressors. Upon entering transition, you will have countless volunteers directing the way, and upon entering you will likely show your bracelet.  Transition is always an ‘Athlete Only’ area, so be sure to advise your Sherpa crew they won’t be able to help you or enter the area at any time, unless otherwise stated.  This is where you managing your own expectations helps those supporting you manage their expectations! Yes, Transition will be a sea of humanity and buzzing with energy and nerves.  No matter if you’re seasoned or novice, this feeling never goes away.  Refer to the intro paragraph and my mention of embracing it all and managing expectations.  Transition area is laid out differently at every race, so typically it is advised to find your rack prior to race morning, scope out the ‘Swim-In’ entrance and ‘Bike-In/Bike-Out’ entrances, so you’re aware of your surroundings as your coming and going during transitions.  Count the racks to and from your row, and visualize your game plan.  It provides a mental focus, keeping away the nerves which like to creep in on occasion during the race.  Once you find your rack, you’ll have a few options of how to layout your area, again, dependent on the race venue.  You’ll either have the small area surrounding your bike which you’ll be able to lay out your gear, or, you’ll be given transition bags and will be assigned volunteers to assist you in your transition efforts.   The latter is typically only in full Ironman distance events, and will have separate changing areas and volunteers galore, which will be covered in another VibeOn episode.  Regarding the layout of your transition space, be cognizant of those around and beside you and know that once the race begins and folks begin to go in and out of transition, anything is fair game.  Keeping gear to a minimum and as tight to your bike as possible is recommended and often patrolled.  The layout can be a mat/towel under your bike, allowing for cleaning off your feet prior to putting shoes/socks on.  Typically, I recommend laying out gear front to back as you would approach them.  Bike gear will be shoes and/or socks on the towel, helmet and glasses can be laid on your handle/aerobars and bottles and fuel will be on the bike ready to go (do this first thing entering transition on race morning); Run shoes/socks next, hat/visor, race belt with bib number and fuel as needed (gu packs, bars, etc.).  As you come through transition, while you don’t have to be neat and tidy because speedy is the name of the game, try and keep your gear in your space as much as possible.  Yes, after the race it tends to look a bit apocalyptic, but more often than not, everything tends to be accounted for and I’ve yet to have anything turn up missing. 

Prior to exiting the transition area, do a final gear check and make sure you have everything you need for each leg.  They do have cut-off times for the transition area prior to the start and you don’t want to be rushed out of there wondering if you forgot anything.  Once you do your last check, you grab your wetsuit (if using one), goggles, swim cap(s) and flip flops (*have throw- away shoes just in case, but again, I’ve always retrieved mine after races*) and head to swim warmup and start area!  Here, you can regroup with your support/Sherpa crew, shake out any last nerves and begin your warmup approach.  If you’re unable or they do not offer a swim warmup, do dynamic exercises such as push-ups, air squats, lunges and jog to get your heart rate up prior to the start.  Warming up helps tremendously, both mentally and physically, so take advantage of the time and do it.  Use this time to get in the right head space, remind yourself you’re not the only one new to this whole show, and review your race plan.  Visualization is highly recommended – and again, goes right along with managing expectations. See the swim, see the bike, see the run, SEE THE FINISH LINE.  Race Day is about executing on your plan and all your training.  It is also about knowing how to adjust the plan should events along the way cause you to to make changes. Plan A can easily turn into a plan B, C, and so on. Now time to enjoy it, smile and have fun. Embrace the suck if you must but always continue to move forward.  This isn’t meant to be easy but you will see, when you’re out there, everyone is in the same boat!  Once the canon goes off, remember, anything is possible! 

Until next time, good luck and keep tri’ing!

And always remember: Be true, be YOU and VibeOn –


3 thoughts on “Race Day Preparation: Embracing the Buzz and Managing Expectations

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