Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Triathlon Checklist

I've only been doing this sport for two seasons, but I feel like it's all old hat for me. I forgot how confusing and intimidating a newbie's first race can be. So I figured I'd write something for the less experienced, or someone preparing for their first triathlon.
The most useful thing I've ever done to prepare for my races has been to create a checklist. Triathlon is a simple sport on paper - swim, bike, run, visit the beer garden. In reality, there's lots of equipment and "stuff" to prepare. The night before a race I lay out everything I am going to need on the floor, and then pack it into my bag in a way that will be useful once I make it to the venue. But what goes in?
I know elite athletes in many sports practice visualization as a means to improve performance. I've never really believed in that - then again I've never been an elite athlete! But I do think that visualizing your race, walking through it in your mind, will help you identify what to pack into your bag. So what I do is mentally walk through race day. Below is the narrative that might go through my head:
I need to wake up (usually at some ungodly hour) on race day. So I set my alarm clock, and sometimes a backup. Once I'm up I'll need to fuel for my race. So I set up breakfast. I usually eat oatmeal and fruit so my prep really just means making sure I have the food I want and that there are some clean dishes. Little stresses like having to wash a dish can turn race morning into a more hectic experience than it needs to be. Next, I need to get dressed. I normally wear my swim shorts under street clothes, my running shoes, and something to keep warm. Sometimes on race day breakfast and your starting gun are many hours apart - if so make sure you bring a snack. When I get to the race venue, I head to transition. I go to body marking and have my number written on arm, then set up my transition area. I put on my wetsuit, making sure to avoid chaffing by applying body glide first, and head to the start line. I'm standing on the start line with 20 to 2000 close friends. I'm wearing my swim cap (from your checkin packet) and goggles. I am in my wetsuit, with my timing chip attached to my ankle. The cannon goes off - I hit GO on my wristwatch, good thing I remembered to wear it. Alright, I'm out of the water and I strip the wetsuit off on my way into T1. There I wash the sand off my feet with a water bottle and dry them a little on my towel. It's on with the socks, bike shoes, jersey (I don't swim in mine), race belt, sunglasses and helmet. Grab the bike, run out of transition and start pedaling. It's freaking hot out here, glad I put on my sunscreen this morning (or maybe in T1). And I'm thirsty, good thing I've got my water bottles in the bike cages and filled with drinks. I also might need salt tabs or gu or some other nutrition, luckily that's already in my jersey pockets. Still pedaling. Man this is taking forever, how far till the turnaround? I was smart enough to reset my bike computers mileage before the race, so I know exactly where I am at. Finally done cycling, dash into T2. Rack the bike, off with the helmet, sunglasses and bike shoes. On with the running shoes and running hat. I head out onto the run course - nutrition and salt tabs still in my pockets - and haul ass. Cross the finish, collect a medal, enjoy the post-race festivities. Head back to transition to collect my equipment - and maybe change into a clean dry outfit.

Did you catch all the crap I need to bring? It's a lot. Luckily forgetting something isn't usually the end of the world - but forget just the wrong item and you could be screwed. Here's the full list, which is pretty much what I use for local sprint distance races:
  • swim/tri shorts
  • pre-race street clothes
  • running shoes
  • timing chip and strap
  • jacket
  • pre-race snack and/or waterbottle
  • swim cap
  • goggles
  • body glide
  • wetsuit
  • wristwatch
  • T1 water bottle
  • Transition towel
  • socks
  • bike shoes
  • bike/tri jersey
  • race belt with race number attached
  • sunglasses
  • helmet
  • bicycle
  • sunscreen
  • drinks for bike
  • salt tabs - maybe not for a sprint race
  • Gu or other food
  • running hat
  • clean clothes for after race
  • Drivers license / ID
  • cell phone
  • cash
Of course this doesn't cover everything - just the gear I take with me on race day. I always have equipment in the saddle bag on my bike which I didn't list - including spare innertubes, CO2 cartridges, tire levers and a multi-tool. I also create a race morning "todo" list - with tasks like pump up bike tires and lube the chain before I load it into the car, reset the bike computer, apply sunscreen, or chamois butter. I also have different checklists with more items which are for out of town races, or races of different lengths. But having these lists, and updating them as I make changes to my routine or discover missing items, has made my race mornings much less stressful. I hope this helps someone in preparing for their next race, and if I missed anything you think is important then let me know!

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