Advice to make your triathlon go smoothly

Whether you're participating in the world's largest triathlon, Mrs. T's, or a local race with a few hundred triathletes, you'll want to be as well prepared as possible for the big day.

With some help from six-time Hawaii Ironman champion Dave Scott, we've outlined race-week and race-day tips that should help make the most of your training and ensure a successful tri experience.

Race week

Training: This isn't the time to do long, hard runs and rides. If you've been training regularly, reduce your volume about 30 percent, Scott says. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before the race, warm up, then do some steady, short efforts (on the swim, 4 x 200; on the bike, 4 x 5 minutes; on the run, 4 x 3 minutes with easy rests in between) that bring you up to race speed -- but not for long.

Take Thursday off altogether, Scott says, though if you must train, just do 20 to 30 easy minutes. Repeat that easy effort on Friday. Saturday, the day before your race, exercise enough to break a sweat, Scott advises -- just 15 to 20 or so of easy minutes biking and running should do it.

Sleeping: You're not the only one who won't get a good night's sleep the night before the race due to nerves. Concentrate on getting some good rest the entire week, especially Friday night. You'll feel better on race day.

Eating/drinking: Try not to skip meals race week, and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate throughout the week, especially one and two days before the race. Don't eat a late-night meal the night before the race, Scott says, or you'll feel too heavy and possibly have an upset stomach race day.

Equipment: At least one to two days before the race, check out your gear. Are you using race wheels? Pump them up and make sure they stay pumped. Are your tires worn? Replace them. Inspect your bike: Is everything tightly fastened and safe? Any cracks in your frame or handlebars? Are your goggles leaking? Replace them. Do you have comfortable clothes to race in? Avoid cotton if you can, and try synthetic tops and bike shorts that wick away sweat and keep you cool.

The expo: Walk around and get into the spirit of the race. You'll most likely make a few new friends as well as see some old ones.

The night before: Pack your stuff. Make a list, and check it twice (see page 52 for help). Feeling nervous? You're not alone. Scott suggests making a list of your strengths or writing down phrases and words that trigger positive thoughts, such as "When I swim I have a long, powerful stroke" or "When I run, I'm relaxed and calm." Use whatever images you can to relax and feel good about the race and avoid dwelling on your doubts.

There's no perfect plan: In other words, Scott says, you're going to be bumped on the swim, or your goggles might come off or your transition might go slowly because you're fumbling with a shirt or shoes. Think about how you'd deal with each situation so you don't panic if and when it happens.

Just as important, don't dwell on those things if they do happen, because your race isn't over. "It's not a national crisis," Scott says. "Some people think things like that will ruin their whole race, but really, those things (lost goggles, for example) are small."

One example: Scott overtrained for his last Hawaii Ironman, in 1996. After the 112-mile bike, he was back in 20th place and felt bad enough to consider quitting. Instead, he decided to keep going and make this race work. He ran his way into an astounding fifth place -- despite the overtraining mistake.

Race day

Know where you're going, and give yourself time to get there. True story: A German triathlete, who'd qualified for Hawaii Ironman the year before, entered Mrs. T's in order to qualify again. (He'd been injured, and it was his last chance.) The morning of the race, he called a cab and the cabbie wasn't sure how to get to the race site. Neither the athlete nor the cabbie spoke particularly good English, and neither knew Chicago very well. The athlete arrived just as the transition area was closing. He was allowed to set up his bike, but he didn't have time to get a pump and inflate his tires properly. He was stressed out, and his equipment wasn't ready to go; he missed qualifying by about a minute.

Transition area: The pros do this and so should you: Walk from the swim finish to the transition entrance to your bike. Walk from your bike to the bike transition exit. Walk from your bike to the run exit. Do it again. Transition areas are confusing during a race, so you'll want to know where you are and where you need to go. Mark your bike spot with a balloon or other tall and non-obtrusive object if you think you need the extra help.

Other pre-race preparation: Warm up and stretch. Whether you're starting at 8 a.m. or 11 a.m., once you've got the bike checked in, go for a short jogenough to break a sweat and get the blood moving to your muscles. If you can, jump in the water and swim a few laps so you're not jumping in cold when your wave goes off. Stay warm in-between the time you warm up and the time you go to the swim start. Throw on a sweatshirt or warm fleece jacket that you can hand off to a friend before you jump in.

Relax and wait: Whether you have one hour or several between check-in and your race start, you'll want to stay calm and relaxed. Use the time to warm up, then find a quiet place to read or listen to music. Warm up and stretch again before you start your race. Sip on water, but don't overfill yourself. Just before your race, Scott advises, take in about six to 10 ounces of water or fluid replacement drink. Experiment before race day with your nutrition needs to avoid under- or overeating.

Once you get going, it's time to have fun. Completing a triathlon can be one of the most exhilarating and rewarding things you've ever done, and with proper preparation, your race day will only be better.

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