In many ways, success in the sport of triathlon depends on good planning. Your approach to training needs to be methodical—nutrition planned and additional sleep scheduled. Even still, some triathletes forget that one of the most important things to plan for is the race itself. What does the swim course look like? Are there any big hills on the bike? What about tricky turns? Is the run a loop or out-and-back course?
Safety and mental preparation are the two most obvious reasons you should examine the ins and outs of a course well before race day.
"From a safety perspective it's very important," says Luis Vargas, a Boulder-based triathlon coach. "At many races the rules actually say athletes need to know the course."
To be sure, it doesn't matter if there are volunteers and adequate signage at every turn, you may get yourself into trouble when you swim, run and ride without any prior knowledge of the road ahead. For the swim, knowing whether you can expect a mass start on the beach or in the water versus a rolling start is one of the most basic aspects of a race you should consider. Less-skilled swimmers are better off starting off to the side rather than in the middle of a big wave of athletes.
"It's also good to know which way the swim course goes so you can prepare how to site the buoys," adds Vargas. Indeed, it's a lot easier to figure out the location of the buoys and the direction of the course on land than it is once you're in the water. Especially if you only breathe to one side, you'll want to know where you're going before you hit the starting line.
On the bike and the run, road conditions and course specifics become a vital consideration when it comes to safety. "Some roads have potholes and no shoulders and there might be steep downhill turns on the bike where you have to put on the breaks," says Vargas. "Railroad tracks can also be pretty gnarly in some races."
Aside from safety, performance is the other reason it pays to be acquainted with the course. When you are mentally prepared for what is to come, you can adjust your race strategy accordingly.