Six-time Ironman champion, Dave Scott, has had years to perfect his race-day strategy. He knows what to eat—and how much; how to warm up—both physically and mentally; and what little things can make a big difference in transition and during the race. Before you head to your first triathlon, take a look at his top race-day tips.
Rule #1: Start fueling for the race the day prior.
To set up for a good race, you have to start fueling properly 24 hours before the race actually starts. That doesn’t mean you should eat more than normal, it just means you need to pay extra attention to your diet.
You should actually reduce portion sizes, go light on the pasta dinner and be sure to include protein in all meals. Fish, chicken, beans, beef, turkey and tempeh are all good sources of protein, and they should outweigh refined grains, sweets and sugary drinks at your meal. Also, try to finish your pre-race dinner 10 hours before you plan to eat your pre-race breakfast. Drink water as you would on any normal day, when you’re thirsty.
Rule #2: Finish your morning meal two-and-a-half to 3 hours before the race starts.
Your pre-race breakfast should be comprised of 25 to 30 percent protein, 50 percent carbs and 20 percent fat.
If you have a sensitive GI system, should still take in a minimum of 60 to 120 calories. Your circulating blood sugar is low after sleeping, and the brain taps into your liver glycogen. Both of these are important for racing so, at the very least, you need to top off those two resources. Yogurt and kefir are great options for the GI challenged. Stay away from fat-laden breakfasts such as cold cuts and donuts.
Rule #3: Don’t drink just because you’re nervous.
Leading up to the start, sip water to quench your thirst as necessary. Wait until eight minutes before the start of the race to start sipping on your fuel replacement drink, or to eat a gel. Those are calories that will be useful at the onset of the race. If sweat a lot, you can take up to 12 ounces of your fuel replacement drink eight minutes before the start.
Rule #4: Map out the transition area.
Note where the entrance from the swim is located in relation to what isle you’re in; take note of where the bike out and bike in are; and finally, where the run out is. Find a light pole or structure to help recognize your placement. You can even walk through the motions so that you can get a view of what your surroundings will look like during the race.
Rule #5: Mentally rehearse the order of things after you lay everything out.
After you set up your transition area, mentally rehearse your transitions. Some people get tripped up when it comes to that part. Know the order you will put on your bike and run gear. Before you walk away, make sure your bike is in a low gear. This will help your breathing rate and heart rate rise naturally when you start the bike portion of the race. A high gear will force your heart beat up too high, too fast.
Rule# 6: Don’t Just Stand There—Warm Up
Get your heart rate up to aerobic zone for eight to 20 minutes before the race. If you are not comfortable doing this in the water, ride your bike a little ways (2 to 5 miles)—if you can take your bike out of transition. If you can’t do either of these, do a dynamic warm up. Elephant walk, torso twist and mock freestyle swim strokes to lubricate your shoulders are all good warm-up exercises. Stay warm; wear gloves and a hood if necessary.
Rule#7: Swim smart.
View the swim course, including key turns, before your wave. Take mental note of the key turns and match them with something on the shore if possible. Also note on which turns you will have the sun in your eyes. If you can, swim the course, or sections of the course, the day before. Once you start the swim, take slow methodical deep breaths. Avoid short, panicky breaths. Do this: Look up at the sky, which has a calming effect, on the inhale. Then watch and feel the bubbles come out when you exhale. You can also wiggle your fingers lightly on the recovery part of the stroke to help trigger relaxation on your upper half. Also, try dorsi-flexing your ankles while swimming. It’s an active stretch on your calves and something you can practice in the pool before the race. Finally, a lot of people get vertigo when coming out of the water onto solid ground. At the end of your swim, stand up slowly putting your hands on your knees for stability. Pause, keep your eyes down to begin with, then bring eyes up to the horizon and start walking.
Rule #8: Don’t eat anything in T1 (transition 1).
Wait eight to 15 minutes before taking in liquid or food. This is to avoid extra GI stress. Your heart rate should rise and your breathing should reach a steady state. Let your circulation reach that equilibrium again; then take in calories.
Hopefully you’ve trained with the food you plan to eat. If you haven’t trained with something, it’s best to take in smaller amounts more frequently—every eight to 12 minutes. One of the biggest problems triathletes have is that they consume too much, too soon. You should be on a steady drip system. Think smaller quantities, not big gulps. Sip your fluids every eight minutes.
#9: Be smart on the bike.
Per rule #5, your bike should be in an easy gear when you head out of T1. Start your ride slowly and ease up to your comfortable gear. For beginners, this should be 84 to 92 rpms. It should not feel like you are mashing down on your pedals. Every now and then, check yourself: Count how many times your right foot passes through the bottom of the pedal stroke. It should be between 22 and 24 times for every 15 seconds. If you’re comfortable standing up, and have a flat stretch of road about 30 minutes into the bike, take advantage of the opportunity to stretch your hip flexors by standing up and leaning slightly forward with your hips. Finally, don’t drink anything within the last 10 minutes of the bike. Don’t hurry coming into transition 2 (T2). If it’s wet, it can be slippery. Just take your time and walk through transition.
#10: Don’t eat anything in T2.
Similar to rule #8, you want to give your body time to adjust to the next activity before you take in food. You can carry for onto course, however. Wait six to 10 minutes before drinking; then drink according to your thirst. Sip 1 to 4 ounces every eight to 12 minutes. Humid weather or heavy sweat may require more fluid replacement drink and water.
#11: Ease into the run.
Similar to the bike, you want to ramp up for the run. Get your arms moving at the beginning to help bring up your leg speed. Also, stand tall and avoid the slouch. In other words, tuck your pelvis, draw up your ribs, and run proud. You are, after all, about to finish your first triathlon.