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The Triathlete Blueprint newsletter #14-10 Things That Could Go Wrong on Race Day-How to Fix Them

Updated: Apr 8

Read time: 6min.

By Coach Yan Busset

Race day can be an exhilarating experience, but it's not without its share of challenges. From exploding tires to swim panic attacks, some obstacles can quickly turn your triathlon dream into a nightmare. But fear not! I've compiled a top ten race day fails and how to tackle them like a pro.

1. Exploding tire at T1.

When you race in warm summer weather, your bike can stay in the sun for hours in the transition area. Make sure you don’t over-inflate your tires, especially if you do it in the morning or the evening when the air is cooler. With the heat, you risk exploding your inner tube. Imagine the frustration of finding your bike with a flat after your swim at T1! So the best approach is to leave your tires a bit deflated when you leave them on the rack and adjust the pressure not too long before the swim start.

2. No socks on long-distance run.

Running sockless over the 5-10k of Sprints or Olympic distance is okay if you have been training for it; it can save you some precious time. But for longer races, I strongly recommend you wear socks, as blisters over a long run can ruin your day. Even if you can endure the pain during the race rush, think ahead, as it can affect your training for the days after. So give your feet a treat and take those extra seconds to add some comfort.

3. Secure your gels/bottles on your bike.

Make sure to choose a setup for your gels and sports drinks that is race-speed and bump-proof. What can work on an easy slow ride or on your indoor trainer can fail when rolling on a bumpy road. Chickens can't fly, but bidons do! I have seen many bottles flying, especially when placed upright behind the saddle. A handy race hack is to pour all your gels into a single bottle to make it more practical for fueling. But now that you have all your eggs in the same basket, you don’t want to lose that bottle on the first road bump. To avoid it, make sure the bottle cage you use is tight enough to secure the bottle. Also if possible, adjust the bottle cage angle closer to a horizontal position.

4. Penalty.

If you intentionally drafted and got a penalty for that, you don’t deserve my next tip. But if you got caught by accident in a situation that led you to receive a penalty, don’t freak out, calm down; your race is not over. First, be respectful and polite with the referee. Remember that without them, it would be chaos, and they are mostly volunteers who take their own time so you can race. Adjust your mindset, stop at the next penalty tent to serve it. Use that time wisely: you are not allowed to go to the toilets, but you can eat, drink, and stretch.

5. Bonking.

You pushed too hard or didn’t fuel right, but here you are, your body starts to shut down, and your energy level is low. Congratulations, you have hit the wall! Did you skipped the pasta party or didn’t take enough gels? Now your precious glycogen stock is in the red. You are in Hypoglycemia. No panic, to overcome it, slow down, take time to fuel, drink, and after a while, "the Wifi will be back in all the rooms," and you will be able to start again. Make sure you carry enough backup fueling, in different forms to increase the chances for your body to assimilate more carbs. And next time, plan with your coach a fueling and pacing strategy that will allow you to jump that wall and not hit it.

6. Stuck in your wetsuit.

If you have been at least one time on the spectator side of a triathlon, you saw people struggling to take their wetsuits off at T1. Sometimes, they are battling with it on the floor, as much in rage for the time loss as for being caught in an awkward situation. To avoid this struggle in the future, use every end of an open water training session to practice taking it off. It’s usually the feet that have a hard time coming off the wetsuit, baby oil around the ankles and on top of the end of the wetsuit leg will ease the process. Also, if the end of the wetsuit leg is very tight, you can cut them a few centimeters shorter so that the end diameter will be larger. This should put an end to your Jiu-Jitsu fights with your wetsuit.

7. Vaseline on the goggles.

Let me tell you the story of a friend, let's call him Y. B. He was very young and inexperienced. On one of his very first triathlons, Y.B. applied vaseline on his wetsuit to take it off faster, so far a smart move. But he still had sticky vaseline on his hands when he placed his swim goggles on the start line; guess what happened? Everything became very foggy. In a panic, just few seconds from the start, in a second brilliant move, he tried to rub this vaseline off with the only thing that was available to him: the sand of the beach. Mission accomplished, the vaseline was gone, as well as all hope to see clearly ever again throught these scratched goggles. No need to mention that Y.B. could have used the help of a guide dog to navigate his way into the Atlantic ocean waves that day. So learn from this smart ass, when applying baby oil to your wetsuit, use a disposable glove; this small detail can save your swim! Believe me… I mean believe my friend.

8. Cramping.

It probably happened to all of us at least once. So what to do when your muscle is cramping? Stretch the muscle; it will help to release the muscle tension and help you to restart. To reduce the risk of it coming back, make sure you hydrate enough with a drink that contains electrolytes. Some recommend something acidic like a pickle; if you are lucky and can find some at the aid station, it might have an effect on the nerves that give the signal for the muscles to cramp. There are multiple reasons why this cramp came in the first place, lack of electrolytes is not necessarily the reason; most of the time it comes from a lack of fitness for the given effort. So when you train better, you should not cramp that often anymore.

9. Swim panic attack.

For many, the swim part is the most feared and the most challenging of the 3 sports. Swimming in open water where you sometimes don’t even see the bottom can feel overwhelming. If, for a reason or another, you start to panic in the water, swim aside from the pack, take your breath in breaststroke or on your back. When feeling calmer, resume your swim or ask for help by raising your hand; there are usually volunteers and lifeguards along the way who are here to help. It’s allowed to rest for a while holding onto the crew kayak or paddleboard and start again. To avoid this once more is a question of specific training. I have seen the best results when people join training squads and don’t train alone. In open water, being able to train the way you race leads to the self-confidence to not be afraid of the water anymore.

10. Mechanicals.

Investing lots of time and money on a big race preparation and having to DNF because of a mechanical issue is a real bummer. Here are some tips that could save your day. If traveling with your bike to your race destination, especially by plane, make sure that nothing was damaged during the trip. Go for a test ride to see if everything works well. If you have an electric groupset, make sure you charge the battery of your group pre-race. Sometimes during transportation, shifters can be triggered, and it can drain the battery. Remember, no new things on race day. Don't change last-minute components or try new positions setups; it's a recipe for disaster. Practice changing a flat quickly during your training. Having the right tools is good, but it's not enough; you need real-life practice so that you won't be stranded on the side of the road forever. Also take great care of your bike all year round! A well-serviced and well-kept bike will have a way less risk of causing you issues, and it will also save you money. Drive chain components can last twice as long if well-maintained.

By hoping for the best but being prepared for the worst you can avoid many race day disasters. Stay calm, keep a positive mindset, and remember that not everything will go perfectly. Adaptability and resilience are essential qualities for any triathlete. With proper planning and a bit of luck, you can conquer race day challenges and cross the finish line and brag for the rest of your life. Good luck and happy racing!

Thank you for reading and see you next week!


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