The night before the first triathlon I ever did, I spent at least three hours laying out my stuff.  It was All New then, the idea that I was going to be swimming, biking, and running, without a time-out in between those events.  At the time, I operated on a somewhat simpler approach: I swam in a bathingsuit with a bra underneath. I threw on bike shorts in transition, and a tee shirt. I put on socks and gym shoes and sunglasses, and that was it.  Okay, so it took me EIGHT minutes the first time, but hey, I did it.

These days, I’m a little more precise.  After realizing that the “finish time” actually includes those eight minutes spent in Transition, I try to make sure I have everything organized and laid out before I ever get to the race.  It keeps me steady on race morning, and lets me settle in the night before (well, at least I can try).  So what’s the organizing principle?   Simple: there’s the Night Before. And The Morning Of.  Or something like that. 

The Night Before

The night before any race – especially your first – you might take one of two approaches.  Maybe you’re a Fly By – as in Flying By the Seat Of Your Bike Shorts – kind of guy or girl.  Maybe you think “I’ll get up in the morning and throw some stuff in a bag, and that will be that”.  And maybe that will work for you.  But for me, I like having a plan, and even more, I like having a list of things to check off.  As someone said in a meeting this week, I put the “A” in “Type A”.  Read into that what you will, but the bottom line is that I don’t like surprises on race morning. 

The Night Before then, is about prepping the race bag, and the car (if necessary) and the food, and the bike.  I designed the attached checklist to summarize the things I usually do when getting ready, and you’ll see it’s broken down into a few areas (Head, Body, Feet, Food, Bike, Car, and Timing).   It might make more sense to think about things as you’ll need them in the course of a race, in which case, you’ll have to read between the lines!

The basic thing to remember about the night before is this: if it’s your first race, you’re going to be nervous.   If it’s your twelfth race, you’re going to be over-confident.  In both cases, a checklist helps you remember the little things that will, otherwise, slip your mind.

After doing races for so long, of course, this list is built to suit ME. You might not need all this stuff. Indeed my friend Lisa, a master of efficiency, can show up with NONE of this and still kick my ass.  The other key to remember is that you don’t NEED all this stuff to race well.  All you really need is your body, some clothes that let you do your thang, and the basics: a bike, goggles, and running shoes.  In most cases, the rest is there if you need it.  So don’t get psyched out.  Just know what kind of race you’re running, and prep accordingly.

The Day Of

Race mornings can be a little bit much.  I’ve literally RUN to Transition before (Wendy’s Triathlon, forgot to put gas in the car, forgot my watch, lost my chip, and walrus-ed into a wetsuit in a not-so-attractive manner before stumbling into the start).  And I’ve been two and a half hours early for my start (every Chicago Triathlon I’ve ever done, because Transition is such a challenge and you have to be there early when there are 7,000 racers getting ready).  

But what if you’ve never done one of these? What should you expect on race morning?  Truthfully, that’s a whole other (very fun) post. But for now, you should remember the basics:  it’s like any other early-morning workout. You’re going to need your gear, and your fuel.  Make sure you have them in order, and make sure you get your stuff set out in Transition, and you’ll be fine.  I’ve added a few basic tips to the checklist (pack a fuel bag the night before; lay out your stuff in Transition on a towel so you can see it – but not a beach towel, people, a hand towel) but mostly it’s just a trigger for you to make sure you’re not missing anything.

If you do forget something, don’t hesitate to ask around.  Most seasoned athletes pack backups – backup tubes, backup goggles, backup saline.  I’ve given out all three in Transition on race morning, and always gotten them back. 

In the end, this preparation will maybe save you some time.  But it really only works if you practice your Transitions during your training session.  Yes, that means running up to your stuff, wet and out of breath, and finding out what works best for YOU.  Practice a few times (at your race site, even if you can) and you’ll find that after a few attemps, you’ll get smoother at getting out of your wetsuit, putting socks on wet feet, and running through Transition in your bike shoes. 

Here then, is your checklist – use it, save it, trash it, or change it – whatever works for you.  And in the end, just remember, it’s not this kind of preparation that determines whether you finish – it’s all that other training you’ve done – on the bike, in the pool, and on the path. 

PlusRunner Tri Checklist

See you out there.

5 thoughts

  1. This is a great primer for someone interested in a triathalon. As someone who’s never done one (yet) I got a giggle as the “Transition” I’ve read more about (and experienced) has to do with birthing a baby!

    Good post.

  2. When I prep my bag pre-race, I separate my stuff in plastic grocery bags by swim/bike/run and pack into the carry bag in reverse order. I also have a gallon ziplock bag w emergency/last min stuff like BodyGlide, pepto, motrin, bandaids, duct tape, TP, sunscreen etc.)

    I use a large towel folded in half for my layout towel and a hand towel to dry my feet, that I place on top of my run shoes/socks. Besides my bike bottles, I bring a pre-race water bottle and a 20 oz bottle for the run, for control of my hydration needs.

  3. I’m using this checklist for my race this weekend. I’m popping my triathlon cherry on Saturday and pretty nervous. At any rate, I’m loving your blog. It’s been great!

    1. Thanks, Annika! Pick and choose what you really need, but it’s a good guide! And thanks for reading – I do my best!!!

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