The Week Before Your Big Race

By Don Larkin | June 24, 2014, 6 p.m. (ET)

bike courseWe’ve all been there. After months of working hard training for our big race, it’s now only a week or two away and panic is starting to set in. Did I train enough? Did I train too much? What will I wear? Should I race with or without socks? How should I taper my training? What should I eat the morning of my race? What should I eat during it? How much should I drink? The list goes on.

First, breathe.

Now, remember that there isn’t much you can do in the last week before your big day to make your race, but you can certainly mess it up by doing the wrong things. One or two training sessions more or less won’t make a significant difference in your fitness level. It’s the cumulative effect of training over weeks and months that is most important. This isn’t a test in high school or college where pulling an all-nighter cramming can get you a better grade. You’ve done the training you’ve done, so there’s no point in worrying about whether it’s adequate. Instead, your energies are best spent on how to maximize your performance with the training you have.

During the last week before the race, focus on the positive things that you can do to help ensure race day is a great experience.

  • If you’re not following a plan or working with a coach, you should reduce your training volume by doing shorter sessions, but maintain intensity in the days leading up to the race. This allows most people to feel their best on race day because they are well-rested, but by keeping training intensity the same as recent weeks helps avoid feeling flat on race day.

  • Get plenty of sleep multiple nights before the race. Two nights before is often more important than the last night, because most people don’t sleep well the night before due to pre-race nerves or worries that they will oversleep.

  • Eat your normal diet all week, and your normal pre-training breakfast the morning of the race. Carbo-loading is more of a tradition than a performance aid, so if you don’t normally eat pasta the night before big training days, it’s not necessary to start now.

  • Stay hydrated throughout the week and do what you can to stay off your feet.

  • Give your bike a thorough cleaning and mechanical checkup. If you’re uncertain what should be checked, take it to your local bike shop for a pre-race tune up. Most mechanical problems can be prevented by some simple preventative maintenance.

  • Spend some time reviewing the course maps and visualizing every detail of your event from the swim start, through transitions, the bike and run, all the way to the finish line where you will cross with your hands held high over your head in victory instead of looking at your watch for the finish line photo.

  • Prepare your gear using a checklist. Even after dozens of races, I still print out a checklist from BeginnerTriathlete.com before every one. Removing the stress of forgetting something can go a long ways toward a great race experience.

  • Lastly, don’t try anything new on race day. That’s what training is for. Now isn’t the time to decide you should execute that cool-looking flying mount or dismount from the bike that you saw the professional triathletes do on YouTube or ditch the socks to save seven seconds in transition. The same goes for race nutrition. Don’t deviate from what you’ve used for fuel during training sessions, especially if you have a sensitive stomach. Stick to the tried and true methods you’ve been using in training.

Athletes that develop a routine — not only for race day but for the week before — find that competing is a more enjoyable experience. Don’t get me wrong: unexpected issues can always factor into your success on race day. But if you’re well prepared, physically and mentally, you can take those challenges in stride and be at your best.

Enjoy your race!

Don Larkin is a National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT), USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach, the owner of Reach Multisport & Personal Training, and an associate coach at Steel City Endurance under USA Triathlon Level II Certified Coach Suzanne Atkinson.

Learn more about Don at reachmultisport.com and on the Steel City Endurance website.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.