Your first race of the season isn't just something you should brush off as unimportant. In fact, what you do early in the year has a big impact on the outcome of your more important races later on in the season.
Scheduling some early season events in the spring allows you time to experiment with pacing and nutrition with plenty of time left to adjust before your goal race. By making mistakes and learning from them now, you will be fully prepared for your main event later in the season. Not only will you have the logistics of your racing strategy and equipment dialed in, you'll have built up confidence in your ability to push yourself to new heights.
As you gear up for races this spring and summer, keep these tips from USAT certified coach Anthony Bagnetto in mind.
Most triathletes only taper for a goal race at the end of the season. But it's actually just as important to do it to some degree for each of your events prior—even if it's your first event of the season. "No matter where a race falls in your schedule, you've paid money to be there, gotten up early to train, and are going to be excited, nervous, and ready to push hard," says Bagnetto. "You will always want to do your best on that day, and how your race day ends up has a lot to do with the days prior."
While your taper may be less aggressive than when you taper for your goal race, backing off of training the week leading up to your first race will prime your body to perform. Even if your maximal race effort isn't what it will be at the end of the season, it's worth giving yourself the opportunity to reach its current potential.
Set Reasonable Goals
"Your instinct may be to take your last season's PR for that distance and try to beat it right off the bat," says Bagnetto. "But that may be unrealistic depending on your off-season activities and your workouts to this point."
Assuming you've been training for at least 4 to 8 weeks, Bagnetto suggests using the numbers you've garnered from workouts as guidance. They are likely slower than what you were able to do at the end of last season, but more indicative of your current fitness levels. "Remember, your first race of the season should generally be considered a test of your current fitness, strengths and limiters, rather than the final word on how fast you will be that season," Bagnetto says.
Plan Your Nutrition
While you may have established the perfect nutrition plan last season, it probably needs some adjusting. You can expect your body to potentially react in unexpected ways to hard efforts and endurance nutritionals early in the season. That's why it's important to begin practicing your nutrition plan in the very first event you sign up for. "Try to use the nutrition you use in training and make sure to have a solid breakfast two to three hours before the race," says Bagnetto. "Have a plan—just winging it because it's your first race won't do."
Dust Off Your Racing Gear
If you have separate training and racing apparel or equipment, your racing gear may need a bit of TLC. Whether it's a race bike that requires a tune-up or a tri kit that needs washing, be sure you don't wait to do a gear check until the night before the race.
"In the day or two before the race, take some time to test all of it out," Bagnetto says. "Get in full gear for each discipline at least once for a quick workout in the days leading up to the race. Setting up and executing a mock T1 and T2 is also a good idea to refresh the steps in your mind."
Arrive Early on Race Day
Bagnetto generally recommends arriving to that first race 1.5 hours before the start. By erring on the side of caution, you eliminate one of the biggest causes of stress on race morning: Rushing. "Scrambling around for parking, waiting for body marking, looking for a pump to borrow, or standing in line at the chip tent can cause unnecessary stress and set you up for a bad start," he says.
When you get to transition early, you have plenty of time to set up your gear, have a bite to eat, and warm up. You want to be calm, cool and collected in order to start out your season on the right foot.
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