We are right in the middle of peak triathlon season, and if you are preparing for your first race, it can be pretty daunting. No matter how much training you have done, the last couple of weeks can be pretty nerve-wracking, so we have put together our top five tips to get you through!
Athletes taper for a reason. If you feel like you have not trained enough, now is not the time to suddenly double your efforts. Current research suggests a period of 8-14 days is optimal, and should include a reduction in training volume of between 41% and 60%. You can, however, maintain your usual frequency and intensity to maximise the gains you have made over the proceeding months!
By now you should have practiced using whatever fuel you will need on race day but you should carry on practicing with it right up until your race. Make sure you know how much you will need and where you will keep it. Also plan and practice your race morning food, thinking about what you will eat and at what times before you race begins.
In terms of carb loading, you only really need to think about this for longer events. Generally, you should eat normally (perhaps avoiding curries!), getting a good balance of vegetables, fruits, fats, protein and carbohydrate. Some research suggests distance athletes should add around 8g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight, which is almost impossible to get right. But increasing your carbohydrate intake by about 50% over three days will suffice.
3. Course Recces
If at all possible, have a good look at the course in advance of your race. I often do the cycle one day and the run the following day, but you can also drive the route if time does not permit a proper recce. Pay attention to hills, hazards, and turns. I once swam past the finish line of a Thames swim race because I hadn’t checked out the route first! This is also the time to read your race manual – organisers have prepared it for a reason so make sure you read it!
4. Race Packing
Never be tempted to pack the morning of your race! Make sure you have everything planned and packed in the right order for T1 and T2 (especially if they are in different locations). Make a list of everything you need and check it off as you go. Have you seen those lovely pictures people post on social media of their race gear neatly laid out on a bed? That is actually a really helpful thing to do as you can refer back to the picture to make sure you have everything, especially if you wake up in the middle of the night wondering if you’ve packed your race belt! You can also send it to a triathlon friend who can double check it for you!
5. Race Nerves
This is where it gets trickier! Nerves are normal – even the top athletes get the jitters in the run up to the event so try to remember everyone is in the same boat. Do what you can to take your mind off the race in the lead up to it – cleaning, dog walks, cinema, meditation, whatever it takes!
The best thing about being a beginner is you are setting yourself a base level to improve from, and you will learn a tonne on your first race. Ask questions – people will be more than happy to help if you find yourself confused about something on race day. And if you find yourself at the start surrounded by super-serious-looking athletes, befriend them! They are probably just as nervous as you.
You could also read The Brave Athlete by Simon Marshall and Lesley Paterson, which deals with race day nerves and more (and is not solely for seasoned athletes – it’s a very helpful, practical tool kit for anyone at any level!).
Finally, SMILE! Some research suggests running economy is improved by up to 2% when smiling, compared to frowning (gains that would ordinarily take weeks of training to achieve)! But try to remember that most of us are not paid to be here. We are doing this to challenge ourselves and ultimately to have fun, so we may as well embrace those nerves and try to enjoy the race as much as we can!