My husband Mark just competed with me in the Chattanooga Ironman 70.3. His first triathlon ever. That meant I got to pretend to be the expert on race-day prep. Here are the five most important bits of advice I gave the newbie:

1. Give Yourself Three Hours to T3 (Think Things Through)

At least a couple days before the race, lay everything out that you’ll need for the entire race. Organize everything into swim, bike, run and transition. Give yourself three hours for this. Yes, three hours. You’ll want to think long and hard about exactly what you’ll need, exactly how many gels or blocks or bars, caffeinated or not, water with electrolytes or not, goggles and sunglasses with tint or not, etc.  Here’s my gear list:

Swim:  Tri shorts and top, goggles, backup goggles, wetsuit, throw-away clothes and flip-flops, toilet paper, disposable hydration bottles and nutrition

Bike:  Sunglasses, helmet, cycling shoes/socks, hydration bottles, nutrition, seat bag and tool kit (tube, CO2, levers), tire pump, and, of course, a newly tuned bike

Run:  Running shoes, hat/visor, and race belt loaded with nutrition

Transition:  Towel (to lay on the ground under your racked bike and set your gear on), body glide or lube, sunscreen, extra hydration and nutrition (to lie loose on the towel and consume while in transition), electrical tape (to add nutrition to your bike stem the old fashioned way), scissors (to trim race numbers into a more aerodynamic shape), identification, cell phone, car/hotel keys.

2. Get It All in One Bag

On the morning of the race, have all your gear in one bag. If you have more than will fit in one backpack, you’ve probably over-packed. If you’ve got bags, shoes, helmets, etc. hanging from various body parts on your way to the race, not only are you marked as a newbie, you’re more likely to lose something.

3. Stick to a Pre-Race Ritual

Count on the fact that you’ll feel scatterbrained. You’ll put your timing chip around your ankle and then search frantically for it in your gear bag for five minutes. To lesson this race-day phenomenon, follow as strict a ritual as you can that morning. Here’s my top ten race-day rituals:

  1. FUEL: Wake three to four hours before start time and start eating/drinking whether you feel like it or not (so you can successfully make use of the porta-potties before the race starts, not during).
  2. BASE LAYER: Lather up with body glide or lube and put on tri shorts/top.
  3. TOP LAYER: Pull on wetsuit to the waist (unzipped).
  4. SWIM ESSENTIALS: Secure timing chip around your ankle, goggles around your neck (timing chips and goggles are notorious for vanishing race morning), and swim cap deep into the waist of your wetsuit.
  5. TOILET: Tuck some toilet paper (for porta-potties) with the swim cap in the waist of your wetsuit.
  6. COMFORT: Pull on a throw-away button-down flannel and throw-away flip-flops.
  7. BAG: Put your race bag on your back and keep your hands free for a bottle and gel shot to sip on (and your bike if bike-check isn’t required the day before).
  8. TRANSITION PREP: On location, lay out your gear on your towel in the order you’ll want to access it. Don’t forget to lay out the nutrition you’ll stuff in the pockets of your tri top after the swim and extra nutrition/hydration to consume between each course leg.
  9. BIKE PREP: Use electrical tape to secure extra nutrition on your bike frame, load hydration onto your bike, and check tire pressure (especially since it’s best to under-inflate tires the day before – no fun showing up to a popped tire).
  10. RECAP: Do one long, last scan of everything while mentally seeing yourself come in from the swim, prep to cycle, come in from cycling, and prep to run before heading to the swim start.

4. Stretch It Out

In the days following the race, set your phone alarm to go off every thirty minutes to make sure you stand up and stretch. Maybe it’s just mental, but I think it helps with alleviating soreness and warding off stiffness.

5. Have Fun

In the end, just have fun trying to get across the finish line.  Who cares if you look like a pro or not!



Jenny Pruitt Cleveland is a Content Creator in Nashville, Tenn. She swims, bikes, and runs a lot. In former lives she’s been a middle school teacher, magazine reporter and editor, cycling tour guide, and underwater photographer.