If you’re just getting into triathlon and this is your first race season, then you’re in for a lot of fun. No wonder this is one of the world’s fastest-growing sports – it’s addictive stuff.
There’s no doubt the sport is triple the fun, but it’s also triple the organisation as well. You can’t just rock up with a bike and sneakers and expect to be prepared.
Even the most seasoned triathletes have had forgetful moments when it comes to preparing for race day. Some – like leaving the wetsuit at home – probably don't spell the end of the world. Others – like forgetting to charge your di2 battery, or forgetting nutrition – can mean the end of the race before you really even start.
It’s a great idea to begin the season brainstorming all the possible items you might need for your race. After the first event you might re-work the list, but at least you’ll have the foundations. We’ve attempted to get you off on the best foot with this starter.
Have a ball and soak it up!
We’re going to assume that given you’re new to the sport, your first triathlon is not an endurance level (that said we know a few who have started by just jumping straight in that deep end!). Endurance level can mean your check list would have a few more items, but for now we’ll just plan around a sprint or Olympic distance.
Race organisers will usually ask you to head to race village the day before the event to collect your race kit.
In most instances, you can also do this on race morning before a certain cut-off. This bag usually contains freebies from sponsors as well as race information and various stickers and a timing chip. Instructions advising you to put which sticker where will be in the kit. Usually you need one on the right of your helmet, one on the tail of your bike, one for your kit (usually your waist) and one on your wrist. The timing chip is normally required to go on the ankle. In some cases, you might also have decals of your race number to place on your arms and legs, but in most non-endurance cases you will just need to have this texta’d on by race organisers the morning of the event. There will also be a swim cap in this bag, the colour of which represents your age group category and informs what time your race wave departs (some races can mean mass starts).
I like to collect my race bag the day before, as that helps me feel like I am organised. I also usually use this time to check out the race route, which is normally on a billboard somewhere in the race village. In addition, I normally go to the bike compound to understand where the T1 and T2 entry and exit points are. Once that compound is full of bikes and people are buzzing around, doing those checks can skip my mind, and then I pay for it by getting disoriented during the race.
Back at home I like to lay out everything I need. The easiest way to do this is to literally go through the race in your head.
- Swim cap (from race organisers – you can’t wear your own no matter how much more comfortable it might be)
- Goggle spray if you like to use this rather than spitting in them
- Wetsuit. The International Triathlon Union has rules about when you can wear a wetsuit. This depends on water temperature, swim distance as well as the age of the competitor. A general rule of thumb is no wetty when water is warmer than 22 degrees. Check with your race organiser
- Lube/body glide for around the neck/arms of your wetsuit. This is a personal choice. You might not suffer chaffing and therefore need nothing, or you might chafe but prefer to use a specific product that won’t harm your suit
- Plastic bag – to get into the wetty a little more easily
- Tri suit. For a sprint to Olympic distance you’re unlikely to change outfits at any point. What you wear in the swim will be what you wear on the bike and in the run. This is a personal choice – you might want to do the whole thing in swimmers, in knicks and a jersey, in a tri one-piece, etc. Your choice!
- Race sticker on your outfit. You might want to affix the sticker to a race belt, in which case make sure you pack the belt
- Spare pins for the sticker for your outfit – just in case!
- Heart rate monitor and/or timer watch if you prefer to race with either
- Ear and/or nose plugs if you have a preference for either/ or
- Bike. This should have been taken to your local bike mechanic for a once-over to ensure everything’s running smoothly. Put the bike into an easy gear so you’re not going to be grinding the moment you get on. Your bike won’t be allowed in the bike compound without its race sticker (nor will you without yours – all stickers’ numbers have to match so security can be sure your bike clearly belongs to you. This is fair enough when you see how much money is spent on bikes and beautiful bling in this sport!)
- If you're racking your bike overnight and it's really hot, then release some pressure from your tyres and then pump them back up again race morning
- If you have di2 batteries, make sure they’re fully charged and on the bike
- Colourful scarf or ribbon or marker of some sort. Yes – this is completely random and something I personally do, but it’s not everyone’s thing. I take the scarf into the compound and wrap it around the sticker indicating my bike spot. This is because when I come off the bike and into T2, which can often look like madness with people flinging stuff left, right and centre, some bikes racked, others still out on the course etc, it can get a little disorienting. Entering T2 and looking for the bright scarf racked on the bar is a heck of a lot easier. Also try to look out for any landmarks – eg my bike is racked on the bar that’s directly in front of that tall palm tree
- Tyre repair kit. Again – a personal preference. When it comes to smaller distance tris, some athletes will just risk a puncture; if they get one then they’re out. You’d definitely pack it for an endurance race, though
- Bike shoes
- Bike socks
- Water bottle/ bidon – full (that sounds obvious but sometimes we can forget to fill it with everything else going on!)
- You might want to tape a sports gel to the bar of your bike should you think you will need it
- Sneakers – recommend using elastic laces so you’re not wasting time in transition tying them up
- Socks – if you prefer to run in clean socks versus bike socks
- Spare full water bottle (to sit in transition and potentially to come in handy in T2 as you literally gear up for the run)
- A sports gel or form of carbohydrate
- Thongs – I like to take these as the port-a-loos can be feral with hundreds of people getting nervous. You couldn’t pay me enough to walk into one of those with bare feet!
- Toilet paper – for the same reason, I usually pack some spare in case everyone’s gone through it all by the time I get there
- Money – I like to buy myself a coffee if I arrive with enough time to kill. It’s also good to have money for after the race just in case you and some mates want to go grab a bite to eat. The event organisers will have fluid and food in the race village once you’ve finished
- Something warm to wear for after the race
- Healthy snacks – always good to have on hand so you’re not hungry before a race
What goes where?
OK so you’ve got everything packed and you’ve checked it twice. You’re organised. But the catch is you don’t just leave everything in the one spot. Some stuff stays in the bike compound, some stuff stays on you. In the heat of the moment, this is when things can go pear-shaped.
So – you’ve got your bike and your bag full of everything and you’re entering the bike compound. At this point you should have affixed all stickers where they need to be, otherwise you won’t get into the compound. Most race organisers require athletes to enter the compound with their bike helmet on their head and the strap done up. Have the time chip on by this point, too, if only so you can forget about it.
Find your bike location and rack your bike. It’s a personal preference whether you want to rack it by the bars or the saddle.
Normally you will unpack to the right of your bike. I like to do the following:
1/ Helmet on the aerobars facing up, straps undone and sunnies sitting in them (with sunglass arms already opened so I just have to chuck them on).
2/ Bike shoes already clipped into pedals. This is personal and if you’re just beginning, you might prefer to have your shoes on the ground to the right of your bike so you can put them on, and run with the bike to the start line (you can’t get on the bike from your spot in transition, as obviously it would be dangerous. Bikes have to firstly exit the compound and get to a white start line before they can be mounted).
3/ Full bidon in the bike bottle cage and puncture repair kit on board if you want to race with it.
4/ Bike pump to the right of the bike and just sitting there handy… Just in case! You will have pumped your tyres but some people like to keep the pump there for absolute peace of mind.
5/ Towel folded (it’s just there in case the water is extra salty, you’re extra sweaty etc and you need a towel-down in T1 or T2).
6/ Sunscreen. Apply this now all over your face and body and then leave it on the towel for any top-ups required in T1 and T2.
7/ Spare gels/ carbohydrates.
8/ Running hat and sneakers. Undo socks and put one on each of the sneaker so you’re prepped for a fast turn-around.
9/ Wrap your coloured scarf / marker on the rack and have a look around you. Identify landmarks that will help you orientate yourself in the heat of racing. Make sure you can see where the T1 and T1 entry and exit points are located in relation to your spot in the compound.
OK – you’re pretty much organised as far as the bike compound goes. So on your person you should still be wearing/ carrying – your tri suit, your wetty, plastic bag, your HRM, your swim cap and goggles (and spray if you use it), thongs on your feet, bag with toilet paper, bottle of water/carbohydrates, something to snack on, keys to your car and spare change.
If you don’t have support crew, worry not. Your bag can go into a secure area and be collected after the race.
You’re ready to rock and roll! Get down to the swim start to cheer on the other waves (and see the direction they’re headed in/ what the water is doing) and get yourself pumped. Have a terrific race.