Training TipsFeaturesTime To Tri

Familiarizing Yourself With The Sequence Of The Race

by Linda Cleveland & Kris Swarthout

Now that your bag is dropped, it’s time to discuss the race as it will unfold. We will start with the swim start and work our way through T1, the bike, T2, the run and then the finish line. We cover what to expect, how to navigate through each aspect of the race course. 

Some race venues offer a small roped-off area that allows racers to warm up with a short swim before the race start, an activity that permits you to get used to the water temperature. If you can’t get in the water, try doing some jumping jacks or use swim cords to warm up and get your muscles awake for the start of the race. Position yourself based on your confidence with the swim and the format of the start. 

Before the gun goes off, take a moment to look around. See the sun rising, hear the crowd cheering, and smell the weird smells that come from athletes. These little things are what make the experience so special. If you do not take a moment to breathe it in, you will regret it later when all you have as memories are split times. In addition, take a few moments to make sure that your equipment is all set. If you’re wearing a wetsuit, make sure that the zipper is in the back. Put your goggles on first and then your swim cap over them so that they don’t come off during the swim. If the water is cold, splash a little on your face to alleviate the initial shock that can come from your face hitting the cold water first. 

Also, before the start, look at where the buoys are, what shape and color the corner ones are, and how many there are. While in the water, you should sight for the buoys every three or four strokes so that you stay on course. When going around the buoys, we suggest you stay a bit wider if you are a bronze- or silver-level swimmer. If you are a gold-level swimmer and don’t mind body contact, you can go in closer to the buoys if you’d like. 

During the swim, keep calm and breathe, because the swim can be a bit rough with other athletes swimming into you or over you. If for some reason you get tossed around, lose your goggles or panic a bit, slow down, do the breaststroke or float on your back for a few moments to catch your breath. Then continue with your swim. Kayaks, boats and lifeguards will be in the water if you get distressed and need assistance; just yell and wave them down. Note that if you do receive assistance out of the water, you will not be allowed to continue the race on the bike or run. Safety comes first; use your best judgment. 

As you approach the shore, swim in as far as you can until your fingers hit the bottom. Then get up and run through the water to T1. On your run up, you can remove your goggles and swim cap and pull your wetsuit down to your waist to speed up the T1 process. This occasion is another perfect time to breathe in the atmosphere. Look for your family and friends, high-five a kid or simply yell, “I did it!” Either way, it’s one down and two to go. 

Transition 1 (T1)

The swim is done! Check it off the list and get out of your wetsuit if you wore one. Hang it on the bike rack and put on the shirt or jersey you are going to wear, grab your helmet, strap it on, and then grab your sunglasses and bike shoes. If you are going to wear socks, put them on before you unrack your bike. Next, take your bike and run it out of transition to the mount line, moving over to the right before you get on your bike. You want to be safe and allow other athletes to get on their bikes, too. After you are on the bike, pedal a few times and clip in. Now get riding! 

Bike Course

Most of the sprint races that beginners participate in will be non-drafting races. In these events, you are required to keep three bike lengths back from any other athlete. Remember that not all bike courses are closed to vehicles, so always stay alert. If for some reason you happen to have a flat or mechanical issue, you will have to fix it yourself, but the good news is that you can continue the race. If you have a mechanical issue that you just can’t fix, find the nearest race official or volunteer and let her or him know you need help. If it rains during the race, be sure to slow down on any descents, avoid any paint on the road, and go through corners with caution, because they can get slippery. 

Again, while you are on the bike, take some time to look around. Encourage athletes who are passing you, as well as those you are passing. As you come near the end of the bike course, you should start to think about getting ready for the run. Be sure to slow down when you get within 100 yards (m) of the finish. Dynamiting the brakes at the dismount line is never a good idea and can lead to a nasty crash. Play it safe and dismount before the dismount line. After you are off your bike, run with it back into the transition area to your transition spot.

Transition (T2)

You have completed the bike portion of the race — way to go! Rack your back and take off your helmet and cycling shoes. Put on your running shoes, hat or visor, and your race belt and head out on the final part of the race. Be sure to look for the run out signs. As you head out, look around for your fans; they will surely be screaming for you. Give them some love and attention. Don’t dilly-dally — you still have the run left — but it’s now two down and only one to go. 

Run Course

The run can feel strange after riding. Your legs may feel slow, so start conservatively and then slowly pick up the pace. The run can be the hottest part of the race, so be sure to stay hydrated. Don’t be afraid to splash some water on your face and head to stay cool. The run can also upset your stomach, especially if you accidentally swallowed a bit of water during the swim. If you do suffer from GI distress while you’re running, slow down a bit, don’t eat anything (you don’t need to eat anything on the run during a sprint-distance race anyway), and try to work through it if you can. If things get too uncomfortable, use the port-a-potties that are located on the run course for most races. 

Remember, in triathlon it is against the rules to run with headphones. Let the music of the day propel you forward and use the crowd as motivation. Before you know it, you will hear the music from the finish line and the cheers of the crowds at the end. Put on your best smile and zip up your jersey so that you look good for finish-line photos. This photo will inevitably become your favorite one, at least until you finish your next race. Remember that you will finish your first race only once. You will never get this moment back, so drink it in and make it special. Some races allow you to cross hand in hand with a family member or child. If that is the case, grab the child’s little paw and tell him or her to run like the wind. Neither of you will ever forget the experience. 

Finishing The Race

Congratulations! You’ve crossed the finish line for your first sprint- or standard-distance race. All your training, dedication, motivation and hard work have paid off. Wear your finisher medal with pride and celebrate with your family and friends. Take lots of photos and be sure to look around at the spectacle that is a triathlon finish. To help with recovery, get hydration and postrace nutrition into your body within 30 to 60 minutes of finishing. You can normally do this at a tent near the finish that supplies races with postrace food. Some races go all out — heck, we have even seen full Hawaiian-style luaus at the end of some races. Either way, delicious food is just one more way of making this day special for you. Be sure to consume a drink with electrolytes such as Gatorade. Some people like to refuel with chocolate milk, but try that only if your stomach can handle it.

You’ll want to eat a snack with some carbohydrate and protein, so depending on the postrace food, you may want to bring some of your own. An energy bar, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, apple and almonds are all easy to digest and pack in your car for after the race. If you have finished the race and are really hungry, go out and get a burger with your family — you’ve earned it. As for helping your muscles recover, you can get off your feet and enjoy a few days off. If you’re lucky, your race may offer free postrace massages, which are heavenly. The bottom line is to take care of yourself. If you wake up sore the next few days after the race, you can try an easy swim or a short spin on the bike. Take it easy and give your body the rest it needs. 

Linda Cleveland and Kris Swarthout are the authors of “Train to Tri,” a book that provides training plans, strategies, and preparation advice for first-time triathlon competitors.