Advice from an Older Sprinter
By James Gray
If you guess instead of asking, you do so at your own peril. I will never forget the first time I used a wetsuit and in preparation read some articles on the subject. One ended with the admonition, “Don’t forget the Pam.” I had no idea what the author intended but suspected it might be to keep you from getting ‘pruny’ from being in the water. So I took the Pam from our kitchen and sprayed every inch of my body: my feet and hands, my pits, everything that might wrinkle. During the run everyone kept mentioning the popcorn smell and I realized I had taken the butter flavored Pam and was giving off the smell of freshly roasted popcorn. Only later did I find out the Pam was to make the suit easier to get off.
Here are some of the gems I have learned over the years. They are not gospel, just suggestions. If you have been in several races you probably are aware of most of them.
Ask for advice from those around you. “Have you ever done this course before? Are there any tricky parts?” You pick up some gems of wisdom. On the wonderful Black Bear course in Pennsylvania the challenging bike course includes a beautiful two-mile gradual downhill. As you are burning up the course in your highest chain ring there is a 90-degree right-hand turn and then a sharp uphill. The uninformed end up in a pile with the others who have dropped their chains through furious downshifting.
“What is your favorite piece of gear?” and “Why do you do that?” are also rewarding. I asked a seasoned ace why he biked in his running shoes and learned that he saved time in not changing his shoes, but he also saved a lot of time pushing his bike out and back through transition without running in his cleats. Neat! More than once I had mounted my bike only to discover that my cleats were full of mud.
Life is too short to go through it puzzled. How many beginners must think that the leading cause of death among triathletes comes from some complication of missing handlebar plugs? In fact, the plugs are a simple way to save yourself from a really nasty injury where you take out a chunk. How many do not realize that most people stretch before races from a combination of boredom and noticing that everyone else is doing it. I don’t do it in practice, so I don’t do it at races (see below). I have been tempted to start smacking myself in the forehead to see if it catches on.
Don’t do anything differently for races. Don’t trim your toenails, change your shoelaces, wear your new triathlon suit or try a new energy drink on race day. Don’t wear the nice shirt they just gave you, try new goggles, or put new tires on your bike. You will pay a price.
Do create a check list of all the stuff you should take with you. I use one list with several parts. Helmet, glasses, shoes, socks, shorts, tee shirt, pump, Gatorade, wetsuit, goggles, flip flops, plastic garbage bags, towels, jacket, water bottles, etc. My list has three parts, “leave in the car,” “take to transition” and “take to the swim start.” You will find that the list allows you to leave home much more relaxed.
Arrive early. When you park right next to the transition area and pick up your packet you are easily deceived about the rush and crush of race day. Many races have huge lines of cars making their way down back roads, and parking with quite a walk to transition. You don’t need the time crunch hassle.
Go over the transition area exits and entrances. The labyrinths can be quite complex and you really need to know where to go. This is especially true when you don’t have an assigned place on the racks. On those occasions you can usually get a spot that helps with your strengths and weaknesses. I have tender feet and like to be as close to the water as I can. Others don’t like to run in their cleats. While you are in the transition area setting up, figure out how to find your spot when you come running in from the swim, and back from the bike. All the racks do look alike and look totally different when earlier waves of people have gone through, dropped their wet suits and taken their bikes.
Get in the water before the swim and get used to the water, especially dunking your head and swimming a little in your wetsuit. When your face hits the water your body tends to go into a defensive mode and it takes a while to get breathing normally. If you don’t practice in your wetsuit you will also need to adjust to the different body position and the feel of the suit. There is no point starting out disconcerted when you don’t have to do so.
Lastly, don’t get rattled by those who delight in upsetting the other competitors by saying things like “Thank God we brought the rain tires.” “I just saw a bike with illegal gears.” Or, while standing in the murky water, “Did you see the size of that one?”