This past weekend, I led a clinic for the DC LUNA Chix group focused on triathlon logistics. While the clinic was tailored for this weekend's sprint in Frederick, most of the information is applicable to other races. Let me know what you think! (And thank you to my friends who contributed advice and questions!)
- Almost There: Training and Taper
- At this point, the “hay is in the barn,” so to speak. You won’t gain a lot of fitness over the next few weeks, nor will you lose a lot of fitness if life gets in the way. Just try to keep up with your regular training schedule as much as possible and include a few swim-bike or bike-run bricks to practice logistics.
- If you are tapering (i.e. reducing training volume to prep for the race) and your workouts feel terrible, that means you’re doing it right!
- Even if your training volume or pace isn’t what you had hoped for, do not despair! Unless you’re trying to do an Ironman, you’ll probably be just fine. Listen to your body and take it down a notch on race day, if needed, but you’ll be so proud of yourself for going for it. There is no need to panic train!
- Practice eating and especially drinking while you train. Can you grab a water bottle while biking in a straight line? For eating on the go, it’s easier to prepare your food ahead of time so it’s easy to eat. For example, partially tear open a gel wrapper so it won’t spill but also is super easy to open while you bike.
- Understand triathlon rules. There are a lot of them! But some basic things to remember are not to interfere with anyone’s stuff, wear your helmet, stay at least three bike lengths away from others, and don’t litter. Here are the most commonly violated rules.
- Getting comfortable with the course
- Read the athlete guide and race website! There’s a lot of logistical information in there. Read it multiple times if necessary. Pay special attention to things like when packet pickup opens/closes, when transition (the place where you put your bike and gear) opens/closes, any road closures or detours, shuttle buses, where to park, restrictions on when you can leave after the race, what you need to bring to the race, etc.
- If time allows, try to drive (or better yet, bike) the bike course and bike (or run) the run course. Look for things like sharp turns, loose gravel, potholes, and landmarks. Pick a spot and give it a fun association, e.g. a street name that reminds you of a friend; it will give you a smile mid-race.
- If possible, try to preview the swim. What is the water temp? Will you start in the water or dive/jump off the side? How do you get from the pool to the transition area?
- What to wear
- Wetsuit: Not necessary for this race! We are swimming in a pool. If you try to use a wetsuit, you will cook. Avoid.
- Cap and goggles: You’ll probably be given a cap at check in, color coded to indicate which starting wave you’re in. However, unless the water is super warm, I recommend wearing a cap sandwich: put on your swim cap from home, then your goggles, then the race-issued cap. This way, your goggles are less likely to come off but you also won’t tear your hair out when removing everything after the swim.
|Overdressed for a pool swim, but sticking cap and goggles under your shoulder straps ensures you don't forget to take them to swim start.|
- Flippie floppies: Once you have set your running and biking shoes in the transition area, you’ll still need to wear something as you make your way down to the swim area. Sometimes, this route is rocky or long, so you’ll be thankful for the sandals.
- Tri kit: One or two pieces. The LUNA team kit this year is two pieces with (alas) no pockets. But no pockets = more aerodynamic! Practice in the kit before you race in it; does it chafe? What is a good bra to pair with it? While it might be tempting to wear cycling shorts + shirt, remember that larger chamois pad = more drag on the swim, big wet diaper, and hard to run in. Ditto for cycling jerseys. (Also, since the race is not wetsuit legal, you can’t have any fabric beyond your shoulders or your knees on the swim = no sleeved jerseys or compression socks.)
- Helmet: This is key! Do not forget your helmet! On race day, wear it whenever you are touching your bike. Even riding your bike in the parking lot beforehand can get you disqualified! Make sure the buckle is easy to use, since you’ll be buckling/unbuckling quickly during the race.
|Protect your noggin.|
- Sunglasses: If you are used to wearing these on the bike and/or run, bring them. They are handy for blocking the sun, wind, dust, etc. (If you have sensitive eyes, bring an extra pair for the time between setting up your equipment in transition, and the actual race start. Give the extra pair to a friend or stash them with your extra shoes.)
- Socks and Shoes: Some people wear running shoes on the bike and keep them on for the run. Some people wear bike shoes and then switch to running shoes. Some people hop on their bike barefoot and slip into their shoes while pedaling. These are all totally legit; just practice your plan ahead of time!
- Bungee laces: These are elastic shoe laces that allow you to easily slip on your running shoes. If you will be biking in running shoes, the bungee laces are also useful because there’s no chance of getting a lace caught in the crank!
- Race Belt: This is an elastic belt with quick buckle to which you attach your race number bib. Usually, you just wear it on the run, but some races require it on the bike (facing backward). Wearing a race bib means you don’t have to put pins in your shirt and can just grab it in transition and attach it as you run out.
- Lube: If you usually wear chamois cream while biking, be sure to put some on *before* getting into a wetsuit! Also, smear it on extra thick, since you’ll be in the water first. It’s also handy to use something like Tri Slide to lube up a bit on other places where you sometimes chafe, such as armpits and inner thighs.
- Sunscreen: Remember this!!! Make sure you are using something that is waterproof (nothing is perfect, but some are better than others) and doesn’t run into your eyes. I’m a big fan of Zealios, since it’s mineral-based.
- Hair Tie: Bring an extra tie if you have long hair. During your training, test out hair styles that stay put and don't need adjustments for multiple sports. A lot of women use double braids. I usually go for a low ponytail.
- What to do race morning
- Double check weather. Know that whatever the weather, everyone will be experiencing it together.
- Get excited. Nerves are good; they mean that you care about the event.
- Pre race: Start focusing on simple carbs and away from salads/high fiber foods in the 1-2 days before the race. Hydrate well. Eat a breakfast that you’ve had before your big training days in the past. Note the time; you’ll probably be getting up several hours before the race, so you’ll probably need a snack between breakfast and race start.
- During race
- Where to store the food? Lots of options. You can use a bento box, tape something to your frame (though this might rip off the paint and there’s nowhere to put the trash), or store the food on you. For example, grab a gel from your pile of stuff in the swim-bike transition and shove it down your bra or stash it in a pocket (alas, our LUNA kits don’t have any).
|Probably too much for a sprint.|
- Post race
- PROTEIN. Get some. It will help your muscles recover and repair themselves quickly. Chocolate milk or the Clif recovery mix are great here (if cold). Also, hydrate. You probably sweat more than you think. It’s perfectly normal to be ravenous...or not hungry at all. Or to switch between the two every 10 minutes. Be sure to eat something, though.
- This is important, even for a short race--doubly so if it’s hot or humid outside. Drink up before the race.
- In general, you’ll want to go through one bottle of liquid per hour. If you are a salty sweater (e.g. your skin is crusty white and sand papery after a hard workout), you’ll need to work extra hard to replace electrolytes. You can do this through ensuring your drink mix is full strength (though test this first!) or taking salt tabs. These are pills with sodium and magnesium. For a short race, take the recommended dosage before the race and you should be fine. Some even have caffeine--bonus!
- Transitions: Make these speedy! Practice at home. Time yourself.
- Setting up your transition area: Give yourself plenty of time to get set up. Put your bike on the rack so the front wheel is down, hanging the bike by the front of the seat or the handlebars. Adjacent bikes should alternate which direction they face. Then, place your stuff under the front wheel. (Yes, it would be more logical to put it under the back wheel, where this is more space, but those are the rules!) It’s helpful to have a small towel to place your gear on. Bright towel = easy to find spot. Set up everything so it’s easy to grab when you’re in a hurry. Roll up your socks like condoms so they are easy to put on your wet feet. Adding some lube to your shoes or socks will also help them slide on faster. Fill up your water bottles, place your food, make sure your tires are inflated (there are usually pumps, and often a mechanic or two), and your bike is in an easy gear. Practice finding your bike from both the “swim in” and “bike in” directions, as well as how to get to “bike out” and “run out.” They will be labeled but you’ll be tired later! Look for things like flags, banners, or trash cans to help you find your rack. If it’s a large transition area, feel free to write this info in sharpie on your forearm
- During the race: You want to get in and out as fast as possible. Practice the sequence of events so you don't have to make any decisions during the race. For example: spot bike, arrive, sunglasses, helmet, left sock, left shoe, right sock, right shoe, grab bike, run. Things you don't need to do in transition (if you practice): sit down, towel off, adjust your hair, eat, or drink. Try it!
- Swim: Know your comfort level on the swim. Try to get in a good warmup, if it’s allowed. If not, do lots of arm swings, jog in place, etc. to get your heart rate up. Also, try to get used to the water temp by wading in or splashing yourself. During the swim, you can take a break if you get tired (e.g. rest on the walls or touch the bottom). Just don’t use something else to move you forward, such as pulling on a lane line or your lane neighbor! Once you get out of the pool, you might feel dizzy, but that will pass. (Earplugs will help.) You’ll be excited and there will be crowds, but it’s probably an uphill run to transition so pace yourself!
- Bike: As you run out of transition, look for a line across the road. You must cross this line on foot before hopping on your bike; likewise, you must get off your bike before the line on the way back. There will be volunteers pointing at it; you can’t miss it. Once on your bike, let yourself settle in for at least 10 minutes before trying to eat, drink, or pay much attention to your heart rate. Now is the time to go steady and not worry if people pass you; either they are faster athletes or you’ll pass them on the run because they wore themselves out on the bike. Stay to the right unless you’re passing someone, and call “passing left” or similar when you pass someone. As you finish the bike, be sure to slow down with plenty of time to dismount safely before the line.
- Run: Hooray, the run! Just you and your feet, carrying you to the finish line! Your legs will feel like poo when you first get off the bike. This is normal! Don’t worry about it. Spend the first mile getting your legs under you. Then execute your race plan. If you have heart rate or pace goals, great. If not, just go by feel and try to make the second half faster than the first. If you are tired, it’s perfectly fine to walk-run. For example, walk the aid stations, or run for 4 minutes, walk 1 minute, repeat.
- Finish: Enjoy the finish chute! There will likely be photos, so if you want to wait until you have it to yourself, that’s totally acceptable. Make sure your race bib is facing forward, so they can announce your name. Finish with a smile! Afterward, the volunteers will remove your race chip, hand you a finisher medal, and send you on your way. If you need medical assistance, there is usually a med tent nearby. A volunteer will escort you.
|Enjoy the fruits (chocolates) of your labors.|
- What Next?
- A first triathlon often generates one of two reactions: 1) This is amazing! I want to do this again! Maybe an Ironman? 2) This is horrible! Can I go throw my bike into the lake now? Do not act on either of these thoughts right away. (Or for the sake of the lake, find an alternative to thought #2.) Give yourself at least a week to gain some distance from the event before making any future plans.
- Training groups: if you decide to pursue the sport, you'll need to continue training. Finding a fun group of fellow triathletes is a great way to learn some skills and benefit from camaraderie. If you're in DC, check out DC Triathlon Club, especially the masters swim program (I'm one of the coaches, so clearly not biased!). If you're in the Maryland or Virginia suburbs, or in another major city (and female), look into LUNA Chix.
- Injury prevention: It's a running joke that you aren't officially a triathlete until you've had your first injury. This doesn't have to be true! I plan on dedicating a full post to this topic, but two things you can do right now to stay injury free: 1) schedule an injury screening to understand if you are a ticking time bomb for injuries due to weaknesses or imbalances in your muscles. (If you are near DC, Rose Physical Therapy has hour-long 1:1 sessions with physical therapists who focus on athletes.) 2) start doing some preventative exercises, such as these.
|We may race as individuals, but it's really a team sport. Photo credit: Sarah Wassner Flynn|