Preparing For A Race Day – Guest Blog By Helen Russell

The triathlon season is just starting and your first race may be fast approaching. In a previous Rivers blog, I shared my ideas as to what training and preparation you could do in the final few days before your triathlon. In this blog, I will give you some suggestions as to what to do in the final few minutes before your race to help keep you calm and focused and get your best result.

Setting up transition

The first thing to do upon arriving at the event is register. You will be given your race number and usually some number stickers for your bike and helmet. Once you have done this you will be allowed into the transition area to set up your transition area.

The first thing to find out is where the entrances and exits are, usually marked bike in/bike out and run in/run out. There is usually a rack on which to hang your bike. Sometimes you can decide where to hang your bike, other times it will be numbered racking, where your place on the rack is dictated by your race number. If you get the choice there are a few things to consider. It is quicker to run without pushing the bike, so place your bike as close to the transition bike exit as possible, which means you won’t have as far to push the bike. This also gives you time to get your wet suit off whilst running out of the swim. Of course you will have to push the bike further at the end of the bike leg but the transition area is usually less crowded by this stage so it should be easier.

Once you have racked your bike and laid out your equipment (helmet, trainers, sunglasses etc.) it is worth walking through both transitions. There is nothing worse than not being able to find your spot and having to run up and down the rows until you find your kit! Try and notice some non-movable things such as trees or signs that are in-line with your spot.

These are much easier to see from a distance when running into the transition area than your bike which will be one amongst many. You are sometimes allowed to have a colourful towel to make your spot more noticeable on the approach but you aren’t allowed to have balloons or flags to designate your place!

Warm up

It is vital to get your muscles warm before putting them under effort. If you fail to do this you risk not being able to sustain a reasonable pace or even worse pulling a muscle. A good warm up will help your muscles, joints and bones loosen up and increase your heart rate so that you are ready to race. There are various warm up routines and it is best to find one that suits you. I usually do an easy run for about 15 minutes and then some run drills followed by about four 60 meters strides at a faster pace.

At open water races you will sometimes be allowed to warm up in the water but in the UK the water is not usually warm enough to get any benefit and you will just end up shivering! You won’t normally be allowed to warm up in the water at a pool based triathlon but you could still do some last minute land based arm exercises with a stretch band or simply doing arm swings.

Make sure you keep hydrated during your warm up. I usually take regular sips of a sports drink with caffeine to give me a kick.

Keep focused

It is very easy to get distracted at a race and lose your cool. There is a lot happening and it is easy to panic. There might be many people there that you know and the temptation is to spend time talking to them rather than getting ready for your event. Obviously it is fine to have a quick chat but remember that you are there to race, so try and keep focused on your preparation. There will be plenty of time after the race to catch up with friends. One way of keeping focused is to do some pre-race visualisation exercises- find a quiet spot on your own and imagine your race going smoothly and getting the result you want. I usually do some visualisation during my warm up and listen to some motivating music on my MP3 player to get me in the mood to race. My favourite pre-race tunes are Edge of Glory by Lady Gaga and Roar by Katy Perry, which are energetic and have positive, motivational lyrics. Start!

Once you have warmed up the only thing left is to get ready for the start. Get to either the pool side or open water start about 10-15 minutes before your start time. Probably the last thing you will do is go to the toilet! It is no secret that in an open water race most people will have their final wee in their wet suit at the start! I dread to think what the pH count of the water at a race start line is! In a pool race you will get into the water about 1 minute before your start time. Dip your head under the water to check your cap and goggles are on securely. In an open water race you will usually be given a few minutes to get accustomed to the water. Make sure you keep moving to keep warm, do a few strokes back and forth to check your cap and goggles are on securely and then find an appropriate starting place depending on your speed. If you are a confident swimmer then position yourself close to the font but if you are slower then stay closer to the back of the pack to avoid faster competitors swimming over the top of you (yes it does happen)!

With so much to do before a race it can often be difficult to stay calm and maintain your focus. To deal with this I always take a checklist of tasks that I run through, which means that I won’t forget to do anything and shouldn’t have any last minute panics. Here is my list which you are welcome to use:

Race set up checklist


  • Register
  • Put race number on number-belt
  • Put on timing chip
  • Put stickers on helmet/bike
    Transition area:

  • Check gears
  • Put shoes on bike using elastic bands
  • Put Garmin on bike-check it’s on
  • Put bike tri-bag on bike to hold energy gels or stick gels on bike
  • Put drinks bottles on bike
  • Mount bike by saddle (handle bars facing you)
  • Put helmet and sunglasses on bike handles and if pool water triathlon also your number belt.
  • Put down towel with run items on it e.g. trainers
    Warm up (about one hour before race start):

  • Run warm up
  • Drills / strides/ limbering up
  • Hydrate
    Swim prep:

  • Put on tri-suit
  • Put on number belt (you will wear this under your wetsuit)
  • Put on lube & baby oil
  • Put on wetsuit
  • Check timing-chip secure
  • Put on swim cap/goggle/nose clip

Helen is the current overall British Quadrathlon Champion and British Quadrathlon Trophy Series winner and the World Quadrathlon Champion and World Cup Series winner in her age group. She is also a former age group World and European Duathlon champion and European Triathlon champion. In 2015 Helen was part of the One Day Ahead team, which raised £1m for Cure Leukemia by riding the entire route of the Tour de France one day ahead of the pros. You can follow her on Twitter via @helengoth