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How To Make Your Triathlon Races Successful

Being prepared can make a real difference to the outcome of your triathlon races. That doesn’t just mean training – all the training in the world won’t help if you turn up on race day without having thought about what you’re actually going to be doing.

If you follow our guide to triathlon racing you should feel confident going into the big day.

triathlon race start pontoon

Things To Plan And Practice In Advance Of A Triathlon

You should not go into triathlon races with new kit, new nutrition plans or unprepared for an early start.

Make sure you have trained in the kit you will race in and that it is all comfortable.

Plan and practice your race nutrition, and also think about your nutrition in the few days leading up to the race. Have a look at our nutrition pages for more information.

Find out your race start time and what time you have to rack your bike. A lot of triathlon races, particularly the longer distances start early in the morning. If this is new for you and you don’t do any early morning training sessions then you should practice this.

For an early start to triathlon races you will need to think about what time you will have to get up and have breakfast – as well as what you are going to eat. Don’t go into an important race without having practiced this – you could use a low-key event as practice.

You should also practice certain things to make your transitions in triathlon races quicker. This would include getting out of your wetsuit as well as mounting and dismounting your bike.

Prepare your kit the day before your race – with enough time to get to a bike shop if you need to! Get all your food/hydration things together, as well as what you will be wearing on the day. Check everything is in order and working properly, especially your bike.

Write a race day timetable and checklist. This can be very useful to stop you panicking on race day that you’ve forgotten something vital. Include everything you will be doing such as:

  • What time you will have breakfast
  • What time you can check into transition
  • What time you’re allowed to warm up on the course (if you’re not allowed, where will you warm up?)
  • What your warm up will be (not a lot, as usually you have to wait around before the start anyway, so it’s more a case of loosening off, getting a feel for the water and getting rid of the pre-race nerves. If it is cold you might not go in the water – in which case you can jog, do arm exercises and some stretching).
  • What equipment you will be taking (see our race day checklist )
  • Race start time

Check Out The Race Course

1) Swim

The swim section of triathlon races could be in a river, a lake, the sea or a pool. If you can, have a swim in the venue beforehand so you know what to expect. If the swim is in a river or the sea then find out about tides and currents, so that nothing is a surprise on the day.

triathlon race start

In an open water swim there are often a lot of buoys which can be confusing when you’re in the water, so have a look at the course and find out which ones are relevant. You might want to find bigger, more visible markers you can use to sight during the race. For example if a tree lines up with a buoy you will be able to see the tree better than the buoy during the race.

If your race is in open water, find out what sort of start it will be. It could be a deep water start (very common), a run in (common in Ironman races) or a pontoon start.

Also find out what the exit is like. Most courses have a unique exit – the organisers will use whatever way they can to get you out of the water onto dry land. Check out the route to transition, and walk through it so you know how to get to your bike easily during the race.

2) Bike

Check out the course before race day. You could ride round it, or if it is a longer course it might be better to drive. See if it is hilly or flat, if there are any sharp corners. Especially for longer events you should check where feed stations are and how far apart they are. Also check the wind direction on race day, so that you can build a picture of where to push on and ride hard and when to take it easier.

Check what the run in to transition is like and where the dismount line is.

3) Run

Again check the course out before race day so you know where it goes, where any hills are, and any reference points that will help you pace your race on the day. Particularly for longer races check where the feed stations will be.

Race Day

Pre-Race

At most triathlon races there will usually be a race briefing, giving you information about the race and the course. This can take place the evening before or the morning of the race, so make sure you know when this is and go along.

The first thing to do

on arriving at the race is to register and get your timing chip. Some races provide a race belt (for your number) but you are best being self-sufficient and bringing your own in case they aren’t provided.

triathlon bike

Then go to transition and prepare your things. Lay your running shoes out. Put talcum powder in them if you use it and leave the pot in the box for your kit for later. If you wear socks then lay these out ready as well.

Lay out any other things you have brought with you (eg sun visor, energy bars etc). Make sure everything is laid out tidily so you can access it quickly when you need it.

Rack your bike, and make sure it is in the right gear for when you start riding. If you are going to fix your shoes to the pedals then use thin elastic bands to hold your shoes in the right position. These will break off when you start riding.

The last thing to do is put your wetsuit on. Do this when you are ready to warm up or go to the start so you’re not hanging around in it for too long. If you put Vaseline and/or baby oil around your ankles and wrists and those of your wetsuit it will help you get it off quickly. Put the clothes you arrived in in your box in transition, unless the organisers have somewhere for you to leave this, or you want to leave it in your car or with friends.

The Race Itself

The Swim

triathlon swimming

At the start, try to start on the front row or as far forward as you can, unless you are a particularly unconfident swimmer. Don’t think, “I’m not fast, I should start at the back’. If you start at the back you’ll just lose more time.

If you are not at all confident then start at the back or along the edges.

Decide how you want to race the swim and stick to this plan. Set yourself small goals throughout the course of the race. Break the race down into sections:

First 100m: This is where everyone gets into their swimming and an order starts to be established.

First Buoy: There will be a funnelling effect as everyone tries to get round the buoy.

Rest of race: Get into a decent rhythm, maximising your speed whilst minimising your energy expenditure.

Last 100m: Start thinking about the exit. You can either try to push on to gain a few seconds or get into a gap, or you can ease off a little to recover so you can make the most of the run out of the water.

There will be contact during the swim. Just stay calm and keep swimming. Don’t get upset if people bash you, it is usually unintentional! If you are a strong swimmer then start at the front and try to get clear, then settle into your pace. If there is someone else swimming at the same pace as you, you can try to draft behind them.

If you are an average swimmer, expect contact because you will be in the middle of the pack. Ignore this and just get on with your swimming.


If you are a weaker or not confident swimmer keep close to the pack to go faster, but stay just outside of it. You will have to learn to swim in a pack but this takes practice.

Exiting The Water Into T1

triathlon transition

The exit in some triathlon races can be long, in which case you need to pace yourself. Don’t feel if it is long that you need to start getting your wetsuit off straight away. Find yourself some space if there are lots of people around you.

Take your swim hat and goggles off first. Hold these in your non-dominant hand. As you are running towards transition unzip your wetsuit and pull it down to your waist. Leave your hat and goggles in the arm.

Get to your bike and then finish getting your wetsuit off.

Put your crash hat on, do anything else you need to do, then grab your bike and run out of transition.

Bike

Get up to speed and into your rhythm as quickly as possible. Don’t be tempted to ride too hard too quickly.

Take on board some fluids. Especially if you are doing sprint or Olympic distance triathlon races, get your fluids/energy gels in early so that they are through your digestive system by the time you start running. As a rough guide you should aim in an Olympic distance race to get 50% of your nutrition in during the first 30% of the bike.

Exit T1 triathlon

Generally the fastest way to ride the bike course in triathlon races is to push a little harder than average on the up-hills and go a little less than average on the downhills.

Stay alert to what other people are doing around you and the course so you don’t have any accidents.

Get your feet out of your shoes before you get to the dismount line. Dismount and run into transition holding the saddle of your bike. Have a look at our triathlon transition page and video for top tips on how to speed up your transition. Rack your bike, put your running shoes on, unclip your helmet and put it in the box. Take anything else you want with you on the run – such as sunglasses, cap, nutrition.

Run

triathlon run

As with the bike, settle into your pace as quickly as possible. Aim to maintain a steady pace.


Take on board fluids if you need to. In shorter triathlon races aim to keep cool, and pour water from water stations over your head rather than drinking.

Any nutrition taken during the last 20 minutes is going to have little effect.

Try to pick up your pace towards the end. It is amazing how many places you can pick up in the last kilometre if you can raise your pace a touch.

Summary Of Successful
Triathlon Races

  • Prepare well for all your triathlon races
  • Check out the course in advance
  • Plan your nutrition and racing strategy or pacing, and stick to this on the day
  • Enjoy!


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