Whole Living Daily

Triathlon Race-Week Checklist: 12 Physical and Mental Preparation Tips

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Checking out the swim course -- and hydrating! -- the day before 2009's NYC Triathlon.

I have a race this Sunday. It's a big one -- my second Nautica New York City Olympic-distance triathlon. Because I've already done this race once, I have a record to beat.

Needless to say, I'm nervous. This summer's been crazy busy, the weather's been unbearable, and training has been rough: This is the first race I haven't done as part of a team, and I've really missed the group practices, detailed weekly email assignments, and the helpful advice from my coaches. Writing this blog and signing up for a Team Whole Living race in September has kept me somewhat accountable, but for this race I'm largely on my own.

I had a mini-freakout Monday morning when I realized the race was in less than a week, and that, aside from the actual running, biking, and swimming, I'd done very little to prepare myself thus far. I wasn't sure what I was wearing. I didn't know what I was doing the night before. I still didn't even have a schedule or know what time I started.

So I kicked it into high gear this week, and I've been spending a few minutes (or hours) each day focusing on what I need to be ready -- physically and mentally -- for Sunday morning. Here's my checklist.

Choose (and test out) a race-day outfit. One of the first rules of endurance sports is "Nothing New on Race Day" -- so if you're planning to wear a shiny new triathlon outfit, get at least one good workout (preferably more) in with the full ensemble. Yes, that means biking, running, and swimming with your gear on -- otherwise you might not notice the one seam or piece of fabric that rubs you the wrong way, literally, during one of the events. I finally got to the store to buy a new Brooklyn Tri Club top and shorts, but I'm going to make sure I swim, bike, and run in them today and tomorrow before I officially make a race-day decision. (Side note: Do laundry on Saturday morning!)

Try on wetsuit. If you have a new wetsuit -- or one that you haven't worn since your last race three years ago -- it's a good idea to try it on first and make sure it fits well. And if you've never worn a wetsuit, it's a very idea to swim in it a couple times before race day so that you get used to the feeling.

Make night-before plans. Some races have organized pasta parties you can attend the night before an event, or special events for out-of-town guests. I'm not signed up for any of those this year, so instead I invited five or six friends who are also racing over for pasta. Two of my training buddies are even going to spend the night -- we'll put on a cheesy movie, hopefully fall asleep in the first 20 minutes, and make sure we don't sleep through our alarms at 3 a.m.

Read athlete's guide. Most races have a document like this on their website, and you may receive it via email as well. This will give you all the information you need about the weekend's schedule, the course route, the swim start, and the official rules. It's important to know what's not allowed -- like drafting too closely behind someone on your bike, or accepting help from spectators on the run. It will also help you plan out the days before the race, when you need to pick up your packet, drop off your bike, and squeeze in any last-minute practices, if possible.

Visualize the course. If you've had the opportunity to practice on your actual course beforehand, that's great. If not, do the next best thing and think through your transitions in your head. Know what kind of swim start your race has, and spend a few quiet minutes in the days beforehand, with your eyes closed, silently picturing your race start. Picture yourself swimming with the other participants, climbing out of the water, putting on your bike gear, biking the course, coming back into transition, and getting back out on the run. You'll be surprised at what you suddenly think about -- a visor! an extra water bottle! -- when you're going through the motions, even mentally, that hadn't occured to you before.

Stock up on necessities. Yesterday I took inventory of everything I might need on race day, and made a shopping list to replenish anything I'm low on. It includes chocolate Gu (my sports nutrition of choice) , an extra CO2 cartridge (since I used one during my flat-tire repair practice), Nuun electrolyte tabs for in one of my water bottles (my alternative to a sugary sports drink), and a new can of SPF (I'm opting for Neutrogena Wet Skin Sunblock, that will work even if I'm fresh out of the river).

Attend all pre-race events. Depending on how big your race is and how it's organized, you might be required to go to a pre-race meeting a day or two beforehand. Here they'll go over the rules, give you your race packet, and answer any last-minute questions. You'll also need to know when and where to drop off your bike, because some events don't allow morning-of check-in.

Alert the troops. Do you have friends that want to come out and support you? Do you just want the opportunity to brag one more time about how you're doing a triathlon?? Send out an email to all interested (or not so interested) parties letting them know where you plan to be when, what you'll be wearing, and where you plan to meet your fan club afterward. Most race websites have spectator information on their site, including good vantage points on the course and family-and-friends meeting areas after the race.

Taper. The best part of race week! I'm only doing a few short workouts this week -- mostly to keep my legs loose and to try out my new race-day outfit. Nothing too exhausting, nothing new (even if it meant turning down an offer for a free power yoga class with a friend), and nothing that will leave me tired or sore on Sunday.

Shop for breakfast. Two years ago when my friends and I did the NYC triathlon, we thought we'd prepared for everything. But when 3:30 a.m. rolled around and we wanted coffee, no shops in my neighborhood had a fresh pot. We ended up with Starbucks Doubleshot espresso in a can -- a definitely infringement on the Nothing New on Race Day rule. This year we'll be sure to stock the kitchen with bagels, bananas, peanut butter, and iced coffee the night before.

Paint nails. Okay, this one's just a wacky ritual that I've started doing. In the past I've painted them bright blue, to match my race outfit. It gets me in the spirit, and it looks awesome in my race pictures! When I raced New York City previously, I wrote my name on my tank top in white-out pen. When I raced in Hawaii, I bought a little clip-on flower to wear on my running hat. These are all unnecessary, of course, but my point is this: Any little ritual that that helps get you in the mood is bound to be a good thing!

Set alarm -- and get some sleep! Yes, I'm that paranoid that I've already set my alarm for Sunday morning. 3 a.m. Because we're going to be a bundle of nerves the night before, I can't trust myself to get a good night's sleep or wake up easily in the dead of night. That's why it's important to sleep well earlier in the week, too. So I'm saying no to extra social events this week and going to bed early as much as possible. (Avoiding stressful situations and cutting out alcohol is also helping, too.)

The week before a triathlon, or any endurance event, can be super exciting and fun, in a butterflies-in-your-stomach kind of way, as long as you're ready for it. But I know from past experience that there's nothing worse than going into a race unprepared and not knowing what's coming -- and your performance will suffer because of it.

If you've got a race coming up, hopefully my checklist will be useful to you, as well. What else are you nervous about on race week? What else are you doing to prepare? Good luck to anyone else racing this weekend, in NYC or across the country!

Amanda MacMillan is a freelance writer, currently blogging about planning an budget- and eco-friendly wedding at LeanGreenBride.com. She has completed three Olympic-distance triathlons and several half marathons, and is looking forward to her first sprint tri this fall with Team Whole Living. Her triathlon training blog runs every Thursday on Whole Living Daily.

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