It can be overwhelming thinking about the looming race day and whether or not you’re ready, physically, mentally or logistically. I remember my first ever race and the sheer number of questions I had felt like they could fill the pages of a book, so you’re not alone in having all this swirling around your head before you toe the line.
Whether it's your first super sprint distance triathlon or you are a seasoned pro at Ironman, the principals and check-lists for race day are the same. I like to try and “control the controllables” so that when the start gun goes, I know everything is organised and nothing is left to chance so that all I have to do is just swim, bike then run. I personally recommend getting to the race 1.5 hours before your race brief time. This gives you plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere, queue for the toilet (inevitable) and get sorted. It massively reduces how stressful and frantic this part of the day can get. It also means you can arrive at the swim start focused and in the zone.
A Guide to Race Day Logistics
First of all, make a kit list. Obviously, this will vary in length depending on the distance you are racing. For example, nutrition might comprise of 1 gel or it might be an entire picnic (for those long-distance athletes).
I like to break my list into the following categories: pre-race, swim, t1, bike, t2, run and post race.
More often than not, T1 and T2 are in the same location (but in Ironman there are different bags you need to pack for each) so needing 2 lists may seem a little overboard, but the requirements for each transition are different and it helps organise your kit when you go to rack, making each transition as seamless as possible.
Base race clothes*
Sports bra (optional depending on requirements)
Tri-suit (or shorts and vest if preferred)
Gilet (if it's early – weather dependent)
Suncream (weather dependent)
Wetsuit (zone3 Vanquish)
Goggles (spare if desired)
Glide (if required)
Spare swim hat (in case you want to double up but at every event, I have been to, its been given to me)
Race belt (with a number attached)
Socks (optional – I sprinkle talc inside mine to help dry my feet when riding)
Nutrition for the bike leg
Bag (carrier/back sac or similar) to throw wetsuit into)
Puncture repair kit
CO2 canister (if you use these)
2x 750 ml water bottles on my bike
(same as pre-race:
clothes to change in to
Money (for expo / food)
Post-race food or recovery drink
^ this will carry most of your gear on race day. I ensure this has a pair of blunt nose scissor in, just in case I need to trim race numbers, cut tape, or something
* i.e. the items of clothing I can put on when I wake up, that I will wear for the race
** this only applies if you have received them in advance, otherwise, they are collected on arrival
*** this is optional, but I like having it regardless of the race distance. For sprint tri, I lay it on the floor and put my kit on top, its usually bright and helps me spot my bike and for Ironman I use it to dry off my shorts padding and wipe my face, especially if it’s a sea swim
**** This is an extra bottle, mostly to wipe my face after a sea swim, or “just in case”
It seems like a lot of “stuff” but realistically it isn’t because you are wearing most of it.
The main things are the wetsuit, goggles, helmet, bike, trainers. Without these, you can’t race .. and yes I have forgotten my wetsuit before, twice (!) – it happens.
If you forget other bits, you can get away with making do… more so in shorter distances.
For those who are worried about needing a suitcase to transport everything, its totally fine. I fit everything into my zone3 transition backpack with room to spare and the 3 sections make it really easy to organise and plan.
Run gear in the top (trainers) plus nutrition, cycle gear in the middle, swim gear in the bottom. The bottom section is also ideal for post-race, putting your wet wetsuit back in as it stops your other items getting soggy. The rules around bags in transition change from race to race so check this first, but there is always somewhere safe to put your bag, either next to your bike or in the bag drop.
When I rack, I lay everything out, on top of my towel, in order of when it's being used and place my bag behind it. I have tri bars on my bike, which makes for a very useful “shelf” where I place my helmet with my sunglasses in and my race belt laid across the top.
At this stage I change, pre-race clothes off and place in the bag, zip up my tri suit, wriggle into my wetsuit, grab my goggles and head to the swim start area – the rest should flow if you’ve done the prep right.
When we get down to the nitty gritty of the race it should follow something like this:
- Register (collect number, swim hat, timing chip)
- Layout kit
- Timing chip on (left ankle)
- Wet-suit on
- Grab goggles and hat (sometimes hat is given at swim start area)
- Head to swim start area
- Swim brief
T1: as soon as you exit the water, start unzipping the wetsuit, pull your arms out and roll it down to your hips. Take your goggles and hat off. A little tip: when you take your arms out of the wetsuit (peeling it off so its inside out), let go of your goggles and hat there so they get “lodged” in the arm of the wetsuit and are safe.
When you locate your bike, strip the wetsuit off completely (I always have a carrier bag or waterproof bag of sorts around so that I can place my wetsuit inside – this stops people mistaking it for theirs at the end of the race and it means everything is safe in one place and no other kit gets wet but this is totally optional).
I grab my race belt, click it on (number facing the back for the bike), sunnies on, helmet on and chin strap fastened. Remember DO NOT TOUCH the bike until the helmet is on and secure.
Ordinarily, I ride with my sunnies over my helmet straps but for a tri, I ride with them under, hence putting them on first, it makes for a smoother T2 if you intend to run in them.
Socks, bike shoes, grab gel (or other nutrition) place in tri suit pocket, grab bike and go to the bike exit.
Bike (ensure the bike is already loaded with 2 full water bottles)
T2: rack the bike back in your location (this is where the bright towel comes in handy), only once you have racked the bike can you unfasten your helmet and remove it, place on towel. Shoes off, swap to trainers (elastic laces make this a very quick process), swig some water, grab nutrition (I take a gel on the run without fail), visor on, and go to run exit. As you are running to the exit I swivel my race belt around (number at the front for the run).
Finish/ post race: head back to transition (medal firmly around your neck having enjoyed crossing the finish line), locate bike, pack transition bag, change (if desired), remove bike and head to transition exit – here the organisers will check your race number with helmet, bike and bib number to ensure no one walks off with the wrong bike.
Race day logistics can be made really complicated, but that takes more time and subsequently can make you a lot slower.
Like anything, the more you practice the better you get at it and the faster you get at it – so make sure you get the prep nailed so that race day is as enjoyable and stress-free as possible.
Written by Grace Gilbert