A Race Week Preparation Guide by Team Oxygenaddict
We asked our friend Coach Rob Wilby to share the advice he gives his clients on how best to prepare for a big race in that final week before you toe the line. If you’re new to the sport it contains pretty much everything you need to know. And if you’re a hardened old-timer, there still might be some tips and ideas you’ve not come across before, so worth a look...
Having trained long and hard all year for your A race triathlon, the week leading up to race day is crucial to having a great performance. Here’s some expert advice from the triathlon coach Rob Wilby at Team Oxygenaddict to ensure that you reach race day ready for your best ever performance.
Prepare your kit
Get your kit list out and check it well in advance. Give yourself enough time to replace anything you find is missing. The day before the race will be stressful enough without trying to find a bike shop that sells valve extenders!
There’s usually a mind-boggling amount of kit to prepare and pack - way more than we can list here. Instead, download and print the Team Oxygenaddict “Ultimate Triathlon Race Day Check List”. We’re pretty sure everything you could ever possibly need (and probably plenty you won’t) is included!.
Prepare your body by resting
The biggest mistake we see made during race week is not trusting your fitness, and doing ‘one last’ hard / big workout. The week before the race is your chance to taper and let your body get fresh - and it does this by shedding fatigue. It can’t do that if you’re training long and hard right up to race day. You won’t lose significant fitness during this period (despite your head telling you that you feel fat and out of shape!) - so don’t stress, rest up, and know that you’re giving yourself the best chance of a great race by arriving at race day rested and fresh.
As a rule of thumb for tapering, in the seven days leading up to your race, cut your usual training session duration in half, while still keeping in some short intervals at your expected race intensity. This will help you arrive at race day feeling rested and fresh to race!
Prepare your nutrition (and hydration).
It stands to reason that as you adjust the amount of training downwards during your taper week, you also need to reduce the amount of calories you take in to prevent weight gain. A lot has been written about carb loading, but we advise keeping things simple by eating slightly more pasta or potatoes in the 2 days before your race. Reduce the amount of fibrous food during this time to help prevent the risk of an upset stomach on race day. Remember - do what has worked for you in the past - the day before the race isn’t the day to try sushi for the first time!
Ensure that you stay hydrated during race week, especially if your race week is taking place in hot conditions. Remember that you ideally want to be drinking electrolyte drinks in the few days before the race, rather than just plain water, in order to help maintain electrolyte balance in hot conditions. If you are hot and sweaty all day in the lead up to the race, just drinking plain water can mean that you are actually diluting your body’s precious electrolyte balance. Adding an appropriate Precision Hydration tablet to your drinks can really help prevent this.
Prepare your mind
Getting your head into the right place for the perfect race takes time and practice. You can’t expect to just show up on race day and for everything to go right. Spend five minutes each evening during race week visualising your race - everything from how the water will feel, what the road surface will feel like on the bike course, or how your legs will feel leaving T2 for the run.
Mental preparation can be even more important as the physical preparation. It’s worth considering that, while positive visualisation is important, it’s very likely that you’re going to experience some dark moments during your race, and having prepared for these in advance can really help you deal with them. Mentally rehearsing what you’re going to say to yourself when you’re really suffering can be the difference between stopping, and pushing on to a great performance.
Prepare your logistics
Make sure you have a plan in place for things like where you’re going to park, and how you’ll handle a split transition if there is one (like, for example, at Ironman UK in Bolton.) Plan well in advance what you’re going to put in your special needs bags if your race allows them. It’s a good idea to put a spare inner tube and a couple of your favourite snacks into the bag so you have the option to quickly stop and get them if you need to during the race. Finally, ensure that everything electric has new batteries, or is fully charged. That priceless powermeter is useless without a charged Garmin, and a Di2 with a flat battery is just a very expensive single speed!
Don’t try anything new on race day. Everything - and we mean everything - should be tried and tested. The exciting new kit on sale at the race Expo may well be tempting, but leave everything you buy in the bag until after the race if you haven’t tried it out in training! This goes double for nutrition and hydration products, which can really make or break your race. If you haven’t tried the products that will be available at the aid stations in training, make a plan to carry or collect the products that you have used in training and know work for you.
Rushing around race registration and briefing can be mentally and physically tiring - and stress you can do without the day or hour before a race. Give yourself plenty of time so that you can relax. And don’t do anything more than is absolutely essential before the race - 8 hours of sightseeing the day before isn’t ideal physical preparation!
Race Morning Routine
Set multiple alarms
With lots of big races starting very early in the morning, getting to the event with plenty of time to spare is a great habit to get into. It can be very easy to hit the ‘off’ button on the alarm clock and oversleep, so setting more than one alarm is a great tip to ensure that you actually get out of bed in plenty of time!
Stick with a breakfast that is tried and tested, and you’re sure has caused you no problems in training. We advise eating about 500 calories, and aim to finish your breakfast at least 90 minutes before the race starts. If you’re staying in a hotel, be mindful that you will be at the mercy of hotel food, and don’t be afraid to take your own breakfast with you.
Setting up Transition
If you’re at a big event and have racked your bike the day before the race, there will be some of these points you can skip.
- Arrive at transition at least an hour before the race is due to start. Sorting everything out always takes much longer than you think it will!
- Make sure you remember to bring everything with you from the car first time. Having all your kit ready packed in one bag means you can just grab this, and your bike, and you’re away. Much easier than having to dig around in your car boot when you’re already nervous!
- Remember to have packed your timing chip if you were given it the day before - we recommend putting it on your ankle the moment you get it - that way, there’s nothing to forget!
- Bring toilet paper with you on race morning. It’s a rare commodity at a portaloo on race morning, and you’ll earn yourself some serious extra karma by having some extra to give to others!
- Leave your helmet next to your bike, or resting on your aerobars, with the strap undone so you can quickly and effectively put it on.
- Put your bike shoes next to your bike in a position that they are easy to slip on, with the straps undone. Some more experienced competitors prefer to clip their shoes to their pedals and run out of transition barefooted, and slip their feet into the bike shoes once they are riding. Make sure you have practiced this if you’re going to do it, as messing this up will cost you more time than you will save.
- Check your bike over. Check the tyre pressure and inflate them as necessary. If you’re racking the day before, and it’s hot, don’t pump them up fully. Do it on race morning instead or you may come back to an exploded tyre. Check that both wheels spin freely, and the brakes aren’t rubbing. Check that you’re in an appropriate gear so you can ride away easily. Finally, check your bike computer and power meter are working if you are using them.
- For races where you’ll be leaving your run kit in transition while you ride, putting it inside a simple plastic bag means they won’t get drenched if it rains while you’re out on your bike.
- When everything is set up, go back to the entrance of transition and plan your route to your bike. Look for any key landmarks, such as flags or advertising banners, that will help you identify which row you are racked on. At the very big races with up to two thousand competitors, it can be surprisingly difficult to find exactly where you are racked. Walk back to your bike as a ‘dry run’ to help it stick in your head.
- Carry a bottle of electrolyte drink with you into transition, and sip on it according to your thirst. Much better to have it and not need it than be thirsty in the run up to the race start. Take half a gel 45 minutes before the race is due to start.
- Put suncream on - ideally P20 or equivalent once-a-day. Put it on the night before too, to be on the safe side. Don’t be ‘that guy / girl’ with the perfectly burnt on tri-suit lines and race numbers!
These tips will get you through race week and up to the start of the swim ready for you to have a great race. The rest of it is up to you!
Rob Wilby is head coach and founder of Team Oxygenaddict triathlon coaching and race team. As one of the UK’s leading triathlon coaches, he has a degree in sport and exercise science, and is a certified coach and coach educator with British Triathlon. He is also host of the weekly triathlon podcast The Cup of Tri.