You can have all the right gear, make all the smart training decisions, test all of your methods and put together a superior race-day plan, but months of preparation can fall apart in the last few hours before a triathlon event. It's not a matter of nutrition, science nor race mechanics. It's all about the fuzziest element of racing: psychology.
Even top professionals will tell you they get nervous before the start of a race. The mind starts racing on its own, often way ahead of where you are in the water: Did you put enough air pressure in your tires? Will those old laces on your shoes last the whole day? Was today really the best time to get that new brand of anti-chafe stick? Did you remember to put the electrolyte mix in your drink bottles before leaving the hotel?
Then the official tells you it's time to take your marks, and you realize that you left your swim goggles in your bike helmet back in transition.
This sort of thing happens to triathletes--both experts and first-timers--every weekend all over the world. How can you avoid it? The answer is that you actually need two plans for your race weekend: your race plan and your pre-race plan.
Thankfully, the latter of the two is much easier than the former. And while everyone has to run his or her own race, everyone runs through the same processing before the gun goes off. Make it easier by following these simple guidelines.
Know the schedule
Just about every event will publish the schedule for athlete preparation. Sometimes you get it in your registration confirmation email, other times you'll see it on the race's website. Find it early. Check it again the week before the race to make sure it hasn't changed. Know what you have to get done and when. Plan your final meals, grocery runs and gear checks around this schedule.
Don't turn your family into baggage
If you have a spouse or a family coming with you to your race, make life easier for yourself by not trying to drag them around with you. It never ends well when an athlete tries to keep the whole family together through pre-race procedures in the interest of having "quality time." No one gets any sense of quality out of watching you answer questions, fill out waiver forms and show your bike off to someone. Let them do their own thing, set up a rendezvous time and get on with business. It will make things faster and less stressful for you and more entertaining for them.