After coming off a great weekend at the 29th annual 5150 St. Anthony’s event in St. Petersburg, Florida, I wanted to share a little bit of what a pro does leading up to a race. It might be similar to your race-day prep!
Training the week of: My coach and I had decided going into this race that we would treat it as a fitness test. It was not an A-race for me. An A-race is a race where you taper starting a couple weeks out with the goal to have a peak performance. With that in mind, I trained hard through Wednesday and then dialed it down the final days leading into Sunday's event.
Travel: When possible I like to travel to a race two days prior. So I arrived on Friday, picked up my packet and drove the bike course. If possible, I recommend picking up your packet early to avoid long lines and standing on your feet.
In addition, taking the time to drive the bike course will pay off on race day. You become familiar with the course and potential road hazards (railroad crossings, speed bumps...). If you can have a buddy drive it with you, that helps. One person drives while the other reads the course map, watches the odometer, and takes notes to reference later.
Nutrition and sleep: On Friday I ate a great meal with my family. This is one of my favorite race memories — spending time with those you love. You've done the work. The training is in the bank. Now is the time to sit back, relax and take your mind off the race. Eat a good meal and get to bed early!
Day before the race: I woke up about 7:30 a.m. — you don't want to sleep in too late the day before. I ate a light breakfast and then biked about 20k of the 40k course. Most of it was cruising with some sustained efforts (2-3 minutes) and fast pick-ups (30-45 seconds). This helps rev the engine, get the blood flowing and wake up the heart and lungs. Be careful not to over-do it. Listen to your body.
After the bike, I headed out to swim. At this race the swim is in Tampa Bay and it's an idyllic location. When I got down to where other racers were warming up, there was a crowd of people watching dolphins play around in the water. It's moments like that you smile and remember how cool your life is. Who else gets to go swim with dolphins on a Saturday morning?
I swam for about 30 minutes; threw in some pick-ups (1-2 minutes at race pace), surges (20 strokes fast) and practiced the swim exit. At St. Anthony's the racers finish the swim by swimming toward the sea wall where there are stairs going down into the water. It's important to practice this part to see how the current flows, what to sight and how to exit carefully and quickly.
Hint: not all races will have the swim course open the day before. If this is the case, go and at least take a look around at the swim entry and exit points. Bring your course map so you can see where the start/exit points are and you can visualize the buoy set-up (if they aren't already up).
Expo, Meeting and Chilax-ing: I like to finish all pre-race warm ups by 11 a.m. Get up, “git ‘r done,” get some good nutrition and your feet up! However, many times there are things to attend to the day before — pro meeting, packet pick up, sponsor appearance(s) at the expo, last minute gear malfunction... I try and limit these “to-do’s” as much as possible.
After attending the mandatory pro meeting, I headed back to the hotel for an afternoon nap. I didn’t want to nap too long as I wanted to be able to sleep that night. I recommend a 90-minute snooze. If you're not accustomed to taking naps, try going to a movie or watching one in your room. Whatever you do, don't lie out in the sun or stay on your feet all afternoon; that is an energy-zapper!
Hint: if you go to the expo, set a time limit for yourself. Don’t get caught up in all the cool gadgets and promos. Before you know it, the afternoon will have flown by. Be cautious before eating the free samples; if your system is not used to a certain product, don’t try it the day before. Save it for after the race. Your body will thank you!
“T minus 12 hours”: the evening before a race can be an anxious time for any triathlete — age-grouper or professional. It’s important to limit distractions, keep your nerves in check and take care of any last minute details. I like to look over my gear one last time, tape my nutrition on my bike (I tape a gel on the top tube) and set out everything I will need the next morning.
After doing this, I wrote out my race morning timeline. I include as many details as possible from wake up, eat, warm up, walk over to race site, set up transition area, walk transition flow (bike in/out, run in/out), walk to swim start, swim warm up...go time! This helps me plan my morning and stay on task.
Race morning: The alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. — rise and shine! It’s race day! I got up and referred to my timeline. On race morning you may not be thinking clearly with the nerves and adrenaline pumping, so refer to your timeline.
Always err on the side of being early and allowing too much time than not enough. Plan for the unexpected (long lines at body marking, traffic...) and remember, have fun out there! It's not about the finish line, but the journey in getting there! Carpe diem!
Train smart, stay healthy and race fast!