Race day jitters. We all have them. If you don’t, you’re either not human or don’t care at all about the race. You might not be able to knock them out completely, but you can manage them so they don’t overwhelm you.
One of the best ways to squash the jitters is to have confidence, which means you feel fully prepared for the race and have done all you can to ensure you will be successful. Gaining this confidence comes from planning and execution. With a good plan in place, execution should be the easy part.
Proper planning will greatly reduce race day stress and worries. You may even want to have backup plans for certain situations. Try as you might, you can’t plan for everything. For the things that are within your control, here is some advice:
As soon as you’ve made a race a goal of yours, you should begin to plan your training. One of the biggest questions stirring up the race day nerves is “Have I trained enough?” Knowing that you’ve followed and completed a training plan can be a huge boost of confidence prior to entering a race.
If your race includes travel, be sure to get your travel plans in order early. Figure out where you are going to stay, where you can eat, and how you are going to get around. The best hotels can sell out quickly. If there aren’t good lodging alternatives, be sure you book early. If you do book early, be sure to confirm your reservation a few weeks prior to your stay. I once had a reservation for Ironman Louisville get cancelled by the hotel without any notification. I discovered it on my own two weeks prior to the race and was able to get everything straightened out. If I hadn’t checked, that would have added a huge amount of stress prior to the race.
Sleeping well the night before a race can be difficult. Ensure that you get good sleep the week leading up to the race. I’ve had nights before a race where I wasn’t sure I got any sleep at all, waking up every hour it seemed and I performed just fine because I made sure to get plenty of rest the days before.
Triathlons require a lot of stuff. Don’t wait until the last minute to make sure you have everything you need and that it is proper working condition. If your bike needs a tune-up or you need new goggles, get it done early. You don’t want to be trying out new equipment for the first time on race day.
Use a checklist to help ensure you get everything packed. I’m obsessed with making sure I have everything and usually pack and re-pack just to make sure I don’t forget something.
It’s a good idea to have backups for things like goggles, swim caps, and even bike helmets if you can. You’ll feel comfortable knowing you have equipment to fall back on should something happen and you could potentially be a hero to someone who wasn’t as diligent with their packing.
Familiarize yourself with the race site. Make sure you know how to get there and how long it will take you on race morning. If the transition area is in a different location, be sure to know where that is and how to get from transition to the start.
Know the course. It’s hard to memorize every turn of the bike course and even if you do, it’s hard to recall it while racing. However, try to have a good idea of what the bike course is like and if there are turnaround spots what mile they are at. I knew of a triathlon where racers were turning around at an arrow on the road which was used to mark the route of a cycling club’s weekend group ride. The real turn around point was another half mile down the road. All it took was one rider to make the wrong move and the rest followed. Side note, turn around points are usually well marked with a volunteer manning them. If it doesn’t look official, it probably isn’t. Race directors should explain the course prior to the race including what to look for at these points. If they don’t, be sure to ask. That’s what the pre-race meeting is all about.
Be aware of what time the transition area opens and closes and when body marking begins. Give yourself plenty of time to get marked and setup. The last thing you want is to show up to a race to find out that transition closes in 10 minutes. Trust me, I’ve been there.
There are different starting formats for triathlon. Be sure you know how the start is going to work for your race. Just because the race has a certain start time doesn’t mean you’ll be entering the water at that time. If the race starts in waves, you could be starting 30 to 60 minutes after the official start. This can affect your nutrition plan if you are basing it off of the start time.
Certain legs of the race may contain multiple laps. Make sure you’re aware of this and how many laps you’ll be doing. You don’t want to be that person who crosses the finish line first because you only did half the run.
You should figure out your nutrition needs during your training. Knowing what your needs are, you should plan exactly what you’ll need and where. Races often provide nutrition, but I wouldn’t rely on it completely. I did a triathlon once where the water they gave out on the bike were in bottles that didn’t fit in bike water bottle cages. People putting them in their cage were losing them. I was depending on having this water, so I had to find alternate methods for carrying it, like sticking it in my jersey pockets.
Having family and friends cheer you on is huge. Missing them on the course can be a bit of a letdown. Be sure to give them time estimates and talk about where they’ll be on the course. For larger races be sure to have an agreed upon meeting spot for after the race. It can be hard to find each other in a crowd and if you’re worn out you won’t want to be wondering around a long time looking for them.
While having a good plan in place can keep you stress free on race day, try not to freak out too much if things don’t go exactly as you planned them. Things will happen that are out of your control. You just need to keep your cool and adapt.