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Know what to do by the time race day arrives

by Mark Steckel of

Here is a logical progression that you may want to go through when you get to the race site:

  • Arrive Early!  A half hour won't be enough time to get everything done.  Give yourself an hour, even more if you can, so that you won't be rushed.  If the race is in or near your home town, you may even want to consider picking up your race kit the day before the race.  That will save you a few line-ups on race day.  If you are considering registering for the race on Race Day, prepare to stand in line even longer.  We cater to those athletes who register early.
  • After parking, take your bike and gear with you to the transition area (the big fenced in area with the bike racks) and claim a spot of real estate for yourself. There's nothing worse than arriving with plenty of time to spare, but forgetting to rack your bike FIRST, and then ending up with little or no room to lay out your gear. If you are doing the Try-A-Tri make sure you rack your bike in the right areaThe Try-A-Tri will have it's own area which is often smaller than the regular transition area.  All too often people rack their bikes in the wrong transition area and then they can't find their way in there once the race starts.  When in doubt, ask someone who looks like they know where they are.
  • You can 'rack' your bike by either hooking the seat over the top rail of the bike rack or by hooking the handlebars/brake levers over the top rail.  The choice is yours - whichever works better for you.  Take a look around to see what others are doing, and then follow suit.  Once your bike is racked, you can drop your gear next to it - there should be time to lay it out neatly later.  You can pump your tires up beforehand, or in the transition area - the choice is up to you. 
  • Now you should consider heading to the registration area - unless you did that the night before.  Registration flows like this:
    • Follow the steps to put together your Race Kit.  Be sure to look-up your race number on the big list so that you can tell the volunteers your number when the time comes. You should leave registration with:
      • Race Number and pins
      • Swim Cap if you are doing the triathlon
      • Sponsors goodies
      • Along with your all-important T-shirt which you can wear proudly the next day.
    • Next you will need to get Body Marked and pick up your Timing Chip.  Full details on the ChampionChip timing system can be found here. Look for the big blue ChampionChip tent and that's where volunteers will mark your race number on your one arm and age group category on your one calf.  They will also give you a timing chip and Velcro strap that gets worn around the ankle.  Your time is electronically monitored when you step on the big orange mats at the finish line, so be sure to step on these mats or your time won't be recorded.
  • Now that your bike is racked and you have your race kit, if you arrived early enough you should have plenty of time to get Ready to Race:
    • First off, you need to do something with that race number.  You have to finish the race with the number on the front of your body, so you can either use the pins you were given to pin it to the shirt you'll wear during the race, or you can use a number belt if you have one.
    • Next, lets organize your gear next to your bike.  It's a good idea to have a towel on the ground to lay out your stuff.   Make sure you have your bike shoes and running shoes laid out in the open with the laces open so they are easy to get into.  Have your helmet either on the ground near your shoes or on your handlebars, with the strap undone so it's easy to put on.  A good idea is to have your helmet sitting upside-down with your sunglasses in the helmet.  That way, you put on your sunglasses and then follow that with the helmet and it's hard to forget either.  Next to or underneath your running shoes you may want to place a hat for the run because the sun can get pretty hot by the end of the race.  Make sure you have your water bottle(s) filled before the race as well.
    • You should be pretty organized by now so you can use any spare time to familiarize yourself with the flow of traffic once the race starts.  Figure out where the swim finishes and where you'll have to run to get your bike.  Locate a fixed landmark (garbage cans may get moved) or count the number of bike racks to your bike, so that you don't get lost looking for your bike.  It's like looking for a needle in a haystack if you don't have some idea where to start. 
    • After the swim, you will most likely enter the transition at one end and leave at the other.  When you return you reverse things.  That is, the bike starts and finishes at the same side of the transition area, and the run goes out where the swim came in.  Got it?
    • It's also a good idea to do a walk or warm-up run of the start of the run course and finish.  That way you won't get lost starting the run and you'll have some good landmarks as you near the finish line.  It's always nice to know when you are nearing the finish line, so if you have some visual cues you'll be more comfortable.
    • The best advice I can give any Newbie triathletes is to get to the swim start early and do a good warm-up in the water.  The swim is often the most daunting part of a triathlon and I don't care if you come from a swimming background, open water swimming is different than pool swimming.  When you can't see the bottom and there are no lane ropes people often freak out a bit and then they have trouble swimming.   Factor in any trouble navigating and you've got a long swim on your hands.  Take some time to get comfortable in the water and with the fact that you can't see as well.  Practice sighting the orange buoys so you won't get lost.  The more time you spend getting comfortable, the less time you'll spend panicking.  If you are a weak swimmer or a beginner, please stay to the back of the pack. This not only keeps you from getting clobbered, but it also helps those stronger swimmers get out of your way faster.
    • One more point about the swim.  You will see people at the race with wetsuits.  You don't have to have a wetsuit to race, so don't worry.  They do help you float a bit better in the water which can improve your swimming and that's why people wear them.  But, first time wetsuit wearers often find them constrictive and it causes even more panic.  It's not that they are too tight, but coupled with open water anxiety they start to feel like they are too tight on your chest.  If you are wearing a wetsuit for your first race, especially if it's borrowed, spend even more time playing in the water before the race so that you get VERY comfortable in it.  See below, as well.

Common Rule Violations

Here are just a few of the things that you could get disqualified for in a triathlon.  These are simple things that most people wouldn't do if they knew in advance that it was against the rules.

  • Unracking your bike before you do up the chin strap on your helmet, or undoing the chin strap before you rack bike.
  • Mounting your bike before you reach the mount line on the road, or dismounting after the same line on the road.
  • Not wearing a race number while on the bike and run
  • Altering a race number - you can't fold or cut it to make it smaller, for example.
  • Men not wearing a shirt/top while biking and running (you need to wear a top during BOTH)
  • Competing while listening to a walkman.   This is a safety hazard so DO NOT race with headphones of any kind.
  • Drafting, blocking or crossing the centerline on the road during the bike portion of a race.
  • Not obeying an official or being abusive to officials.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • I can't tread water very well.  Do any of your swims start on land?
    • Most triathlons will start with a land based swim start.  What that means is you will either start entirely on land and run/walk into the water or you will be in shallow water where you can touch the ground.  All the Try-A-Tri races offer either a land start or the opportunity to wait on land until the race starts. NOTE - if you will be wearing a wetsuit, you will find that you float very easily in the water and therefore won't have to work hard to tread water.
  • How do I get the sand off my feet after the swim?
    • Most swims will have a bit of a run to get to the bikes.  Often the run is through grass which will naturally clean your feet.  If you get to your bike and you have sand between your toes, you may want to use a towel to wipe it off, or some people bring a container like a Tupperware which they fill with water to rinse their feet.   I have done lots of races and never really had any problems with sand remaining on my feet after the swim.
  • What should I wear during the race?
    • There are lots of options here.  Many people just bike in their bathing suit, which isn't as uncomfortable as one might first imagine.  Men need to finish the race wearing a shirt of some sort, but women can race in just a bathing suit if they like.  If you are a little more modest than that, you can take time to put on a pair of shorts after the swim (either cycling or running) and a top but be aware that there are no changing tents so anything you put on will go over what you are already wearing.   If you are wearing a wetsuit, you should wear whatever you will biking in under the wetsuit to save time and make transition easier.
  • Where do I place my bike in the transition area?
    • The transition area is the fenced in lot where the bike racks sit.  The racks are organized into age groups (Men 20-24, Men 25-29, etc.) and the duathlon racks are separate from the triathlon racks.  You need to find the rack that corresponds with your age group and the race that you're doing (tri or du) and from there it's first come first serve.
  • What kind of equipment do I need to do a race?
    • There are a few bare essentials that you need to do a race.   You will need a bike (anything that is road worthy will do.  No need to have a high tech racing bike for your first triathlon), you must have an ANSI/Snell/CSA certified bike helmet (all bike helmets sold today are certified), you probably want goggles for the swim, you need a swim suit, running shoes of some kind, cycling shoes if you have clipless pedals on your bike, and men need a shirt of some sort to wear.  That's the bare minimum, really.  You may want a hat for the run, sunglasses for the bike and run, a water bottle or two on the bike is a good idea as well.  After that, things like wetsuits, fancy wheels for your bike, racing flats to run in, etc. are all extras.


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