HomeGeneral TriPre Race Triathlon Routine - A Step by Step Guide

Pre Race Triathlon Routine – A Step by Step Guide

Rise and Shine.

It’s 4:30 a.m.

Time to get up.


You are excited. Your sleep was restless. The butterflies are swirling about your stomach.

You think to yourself,  should I eat?

Don’t forget to go to the bathroom, and stretch and make sure everything is packed – Bike, transition items, energy bars, energy drink already mixed – Check!

And you haven’t even begun to deal with the long lines once at the race.

Be Prepared to Wait in Line

Well, for one, you will have to wait in line to be numbered (the act of someone scribing a number on your arm, thigh and calf with a fat permanent marker). And at bigger races you have to wait in line to be checked into the transition area.  And inevitably you will have to go to the bathroom again, and there will be a line for that as well!

Dealing with the Crowds

Then the crowd starts to grow like a fog rolling in off the ocean. Everywhere you turn, there is a tri-head going through his or her morning ritual. You glance around like a scared puppy observing others as they set up their transition area. You think to yourself,

Am I doing the right thing? Wow, look at that person, why does she have that particular item. Boy, he sure is organized. I hope I am prepared…”

And as you approach the swim start, it gets worse. Masses of people are standing around, striking up nervous and meaningless conversations, guys hyperventilating as if standing on the swim blocks before the 100 meter freestyle at the Olympics. The testosterone among the guys is so thick you can cut it with a knife as most try to overcompensate for the fact that they are scared to death!

Nervous, frantic energy is being verbally thrown about that does nothing more than distort one’s whole pre-race psyche.

If you are seriously looking into the possibilities of experiencing a mild anxiety attack, then go get in the thick of it. You’ll do it once and that will be the last time!

Ugghhhhh!  I HATE IT!

I am often reminded of final exams during high school or college and the ten minutes prior to the doors opening. People are frantically trying to absorb a semester’s worth of information in ten minutes.

Folks, I am no psychologist, psychiatrist, visionary expert or self-hypnosis guru but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that peace of mind and relaxation prior to race means…

Get Away from the Crowd

Now, there are some individuals who feed on the crowds or think they do, but in all honesty, even the most socially oriented individual who thrives on being one with the crowd, could not repeat what he or she discussed during the pre-race experience and the closer you get to the race start, the more generic and cliché your words and phrases become…

“Boy, you said it…”  “Whew, isn’t that the truth…”  “Hey, me too…”  “Yea, I know what you mean…”  “Boy, I’ll say…”

Total gibberish!

And in all honesty, the pre-race situation can really be detrimental to your entire race performance.

The best example I can give was my wife’s first 5K road race. Like any athlete (runner, triathlete, swimmer, etc) standing at the starting line, nervousness is all consuming and there is nothing that anyone can say at that point that will ease the stress. As my wife stood on the starting line of the 5K, I walked up to her to give her one last “Good Luck” and show of confidence that she was going to great! As I took her hand, I glanced down at her heart rate monitor, locked in on the reading and thought to myself. “Oh God, she is in trouble.”

Her heart rate was 175 beats per minute – higher than it had ever been on a training run – and she hadn’t even begun the race!  The race wasn’t pretty, but she quickly learned the importance of relaxation and later went on to finish two 15K’s and a half marathon over the next year or so.

Now, there is no magic formula, blink of the eyes or twinkle of the nose that will help one get over the nervousness that usually accompanies a  “first time” experience. The outcome is in the hands of the individual racer. And learning to relax is something that only comes with experience.

But there are some basic steps one can take as well as some ways I have found that have helped me relax and take the edge off.

Let’s begin with the night before the race, where mentally, the preparation begins and certainly, the butterflies in your stomach start flying about!

5 Steps The Night Before

I like to go through a basic run through of everything I will need at the race. This includes those items that will be attached to the bike in transition such as waterbottles and spare parts as well as the necessary clothing, hats, triathlon sunglasses, energy bars, energy fuel, dry towels, goggles, etc. I also take the time to make a written list of these items. That way I have something on paper in the event I become hurried and forget something( not at all uncommon). And you might want to make this list well in advance, say a day or two prior to the race when you are not panicked about the next day’s events. Also, if you plan on shaving your legs, do it the night before, not the morning of the race..

Dinner Time! Use this time to relax. If there is a pre-race meal hosted by the race director, than go and enjoy.  This is a good time to meet other triathletes and enjoy in the camaraderie this sport yields. If you do not want to fool with the crowds, than go out and eat a meal with your buddies, your family, your wife, etc. And don’t overdo it.  Nervous energy tends to make some folks hungrier than normal. Just eat a nice balanced meal. And try not to eat to late. Inevitably, I always seem to eat late the night before the race for one reason or another. So plan on dining about 5:30 –6:00 that evening. You are already nervous and it is no secret that stress can affect the digestive process. So give yourself a little buffer and eat a little earlier than normal.

You may want to consider going to a movie after dinner if there is a theatre in the area. It will be cool and relaxing. And check out a light hearted movie, nothing deep, dark or emotional.

Once back at the hotel, go sit by the pool with some friends and have a chat. Again, this will be a good time to talk and release some nervous energy.

Try to get to bed at a reasonable hour. It might be hard to fall asleep, but at least you are in bed and attempting to relax!

6 Steps on Race Morning

I hate being rushed and running late. Certainly not enough to say it has never happened. But when it comes to a triathlon, I am never late, never rushing around, and never unusually uptight.  And the earlier I get to the race the better. The crowds aren’t there yet, you can get checked into the transition area with ease and you if they haven’t begun numbering racers at that time, you get everything else done so as to be one of the first in line for the numbering. I have never gotten to a race and said to myself, “Geez I’m bored, I wish I hadn’t gotten here so early.” If you go early, you will be one step ahead of the masses and avoid the being stuck in any situation or line.

For a 7:30 race start:

1. 4:30am – Wake Up

I like to get up at about 4:30 a.m. I like to stick to my traditional morning rituals (as much as a hotel room will lend) and spend about 30 minutes waking up.  

If you’d like, make one cup of coffee (just make sure to drink some water afterwards). Go ahead and eat that energy bar or whatever you need to get you going. Turn on the light, the morning news (if that’s your thing) and relax and enjoy waking up. Don’t lay in bed until the last minute, hop up, jump in the shower and rock and roll. Set the tone for the morning by starting the day on a relaxed note.

There will be plenty of time for you to be hyped up. Now being relaxed may be hard on this particular morning, but treat it like an early morning swim workout. You never seem to have a problem relaxing in your chair with the coffee on those mornings before driving to the pool.  And don’t wait for the restaurant to open to eat breakfast. Hopefully a 24 hour place will be close by and you get have something light. Just leave enough time to do this and get to the race. You have to figure you won’t be the only triathlete there.

2. 5:15am – Take a Shower

Then about 5:15 a.m., get in the shower. Enjoy the shower.  Let it refresh you. Do some light stretching in the shower. The warm water may help loosen the muscles.

But don’t sit in a warm shower too long. Just enough to get you refreshed.  Get out, dry off, and put on your swim attire, a t-shirt, running shorts and your “extra” or old pair of running shoes. You’ve got your stuff packed so go ahead and take it to the car. And this may include your bicycle as well.

Now, bigger races will have you secure your bike in the transition area the day before the race. But most do not, so you will have to load your bike in or on your car the morning of the race as well! Use this time as a means of getting out in the morning air, walk around, get a feel for the temperature. Then go back to the room, make sure you have everything, close up shop and head for the race.

**Special Note**


3. 6:00 – Head Out

6:00 – 6:15 . Head out for/arrive at the race. I will assume you will be within about 15 minutes of the race, and that includes the time it takes to park the car. The earlier you get there, the better the parking spot. Keep in mind, there are things to do and although you may think you are early, the race will start in about an hour…Amazingly, people won’t even start arriving until about 30 minutes before, and still have all things to do you are about to embark on. So, believe, you will not be too early!

4. 6:15am – Set Up The Transition Area

Rack your bike and set up your transition. Refer to the Guide to Transitions for more on this pre-race ritual. Relax and don’t worry about anyone else. Just stick to your game plan.


Find some music, a CD or Cassette tape of your favorite tunes, purchase a Walkman or some type of system, strap it to your waste, put on your earphones, and go into…

…”check out” mode.

I am serious here. Up to this point you have not had to deal with anyone else’s stress. It has been quiet and relaxed. And you have taken this time to avoid the masses. Well, fear not. The masses are on their way. So why not prepare yourself so as to keep you in your own little world.  

And Walkman’s serve two purposes here. One, you are able to take your mind off of things while listening to your favorite music. And two, and the most important, it creates a zone or buffer from other people. No one will approach you if they know you are listening to something else.

Now this may seem cold or anti social, but c’mon folks, the social hour is over. Nothing anyone has to say at this point (other than warm words of confidence from your spouse, mate or children) is worth listening to, so tune them out…Now, if the weather is foul, you will want to listen out for instructions specific instructions. But remember, its still early, and any important info will reach you in plenty of time. If you have a mate with you, let them trouble shoot and listen out for any important pre-race information.

5. 6:30 am– 6:45 am – Clear Your Head

Now that you are set up in the transition area, take stroll and clear your head. Go to the water to feel the temperature. Perhaps you may want to go for a light jog. This will be the time to warm up or loosen up. I usually do about a 6-8 minute jog. Once you feel you are warmed up, go head back to the transition area, grab your wetsuit and head for the water. You may have to strip down to your swim suit at this point. If you have a mate, you can do all this beachside. Just make sure you towel dry before putting on the wetsuit. You will have worked up a sweat and the wet suit will be difficult to put on if you are sweaty.

6. 7:00ish –  Take a Dip in the Water

Put the wetsuit on and take a dip in the water. This may be the first time some of you have worn your wetsuit, so get in the water and do a light warm-up. Get used to the water, your stroke mobility, etc. Practice your breathing. Get a look at the coarse, where the buoys are, and where you want to be at the start of the race.

7. The Race Start

After you have completed this task, you will still have a few minutes before the start of the race. This will seem like the longest 10 minutes of your life…But that’s ok…

…just get away from the crowds. Listen for your age group but stay clear of the masses. Go find a place to stand and relax. Actually, you may find it amusing to sit and listen to some of the conversations. Its incredible. You will find it ridiculously generic and somewhat self centered in nature.  Everyone will be talking about themselves!!! Think about it, at this point, do you think your fellow competitors care about you and your problems? Hardly. And the funny thing is, no one will be listening to anyone, just a bunch of babble.

My point to all of this is, try to steer clear of the masses during the critical part of the race. Specifically, the morning of the race. Always stay within earshot of the announcer, but stay away from the babblers. Remember, you have spent weeks, even month’s training for this race. Don’t be a sponge for someone else’s energy. You will have plenty of energy of your own stored inside.

Good luck and Enjoy the Race!

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Hazen Kent
Hazen Kent
As a former All-American swimmer, Hazen has spent many years as a competitive triathlete and coach of both triathletes and swimmers.


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