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Race day tips from an Ironman champ

By Chrissie Wellington, Special to CNN
updated 7:13 AM EDT, Fri September 14, 2012
Chrissie Wellington competes during the Challenge Roth Triathlon in Germany.
Chrissie Wellington competes during the Challenge Roth Triathlon in Germany.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The most important tip? Don't try anything new on race day
  • Set two alarms the morning of the race and wake your body up with a warm shower
  • Transitions are tricky -- set up your area just right before the race

Editor's note: Chrissie Wellington is a four-time World Ironman champion and a guest coach for CNN's Fit Nation Tri Challenge. Her autobiography, "A Life Without Limits," is available on Amazon.

(CNN) -- The race is almost upon us.

The CNN Fit Nation athletes are waiting with anticipation to stand on their first start line in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon. And I'm here to offer some last-minute words of wisdom handily packaged into 25 race day tips. (Yes, 25 -- Tolstoy wrote novels that were more concise!)

I would like to sum up the list with the most important tip: Don't do as I have done in the past (recall the "sinking in the borrowed wetsuit" debacle) and try anything new on race day.

There will be suggestions in this article that might be new to you. If you haven't practiced them in training, don't try them. So, without further ado, here are my top tips for race day success.

Before race day

1. Read the race's athlete guide. Read the athlete guide. Read the athlete guide. Did I say read the athlete guide?! Yes, it's your responsibility to know where to park, the aid station locations, wave start times, and all the other issues pertaining to the race.

2. Engage in race course reconnaissance. Check where you'll come in from the swim, where you'll leave transition on the bike, where you'll bike in and where
you will run out.

3. Massages are great, but not the day before a race as they may leave you feeling sluggish. I always have a gentle rubdown on the penultimate day. Shave/pluck/clip/wax whatever body part tickles your fancy and make sure you clip your toenails.

4. Don't overeat. I cut down on fiber and spicy/rich foods about three days before to reduce the likelihood of GI distress. Avoid eating anything new in race week -- don't be tempted to try free samples at the race expo or pasta party.

Fueling yourself to the finish line

5. Check your equipment and make sure that everything is in working order. Lay out your kit in separate piles for each of the three disciplines and pack your bag(s) -- including your food/drinks -- the day before the race.

6. Visualize the race in your mind and have a mental plan to deal with all the inevitable ups and downs. This will give you peace of mind that will help you cope with the unexpected.


Race morning

7. Set two alarms (gentle sound, rather than a blaring buzzer is best) for an early-morning wake-up call. Have a warm shower to wake yourself, and your body.

8. Eat breakfast around 2 ½ hours before your race start time. Aim for about 300-400 calories, with low fiber, simple carbs and a small amount of fat and protein.

9. Put your race kit (and watch) on, and then overdress as the early mornings can be cold. You can always remove layers. Put your timing chip on your left ankle to prevent it getting caught in your chain ring when biking. Secure the Velcro with a safety pin, and lube the area with petroleum jelly to prevent chafing. Ladies -- and gents with long hair -- make sure your ponytail is at the nape of your neck so you can put your bike helmet on easily.

Transitions

10. When you rack your bike, look for a landmark that will help you locate it after the swim. Put the bike in an easy gear. Secure your bottles/gels/bars etc. Put your unbuckled helmet upside down on your handlebars on the side of the bike where you will arrive after the swim. Place your number belt (if you are wearing one) upside down on top with the clasp open.

11. If you wear bike shoes, sprinkle talcum powder inside and loosen the straps. Then either:

a) clip them into your pedals; or

b) place them next to your bike

I also sprinkle talcum powder inside my running shoes to help soak up excess water and prevent blisters.

12. Leave time to get into your wetsuit. Liberally apply lubricant to areas prone to chafing and also on your ankles to make wetsuit removal easier. Use a rubber glove or a plastic bag to apply lube, as it will prevent your hands from getting oily.

13. Buy some cheap, throwaway slippers/flip flops to wear down to the swim start. This helps avoid cold feet (literally) and prevents any cuts on sharp objects. Have two pairs of swim goggles at hand, one for bright sunlight and one for dull days (you also have a pair for emergencies in case the strap breaks).

14. When you transition from swim to bike, put your sunglasses on first, then your helmet. This way they will be under the helmet straps and won't get knocked off when you pull your helmet off in the second transition.

15. Focus on yourself and don't watch what others are doing. Yes, the bike next to you might be slightly more bling, but it's the engine that counts. Close your eyes, relax, breathe and accept that a few nerves are normal.

Swim

See the tips offered in my previous column, "Taking to the open water."

Bike

16. Wait until you have settled into a rhythm (after the first kilometer) before taking on any nutrition/hydration. Slow down for aid stations and watch for other cyclists.

17. Begin and finish the bike in a lower gear than you plan to race in. Use the hills, corners and aid stations to sit up and/or get out of the saddle. This variation in position will help you to recruit different muscles and prevent fatigue and discomfort. Race at YOUR pace.

18. Don't unclip your helmet until you have racked your bike.

Run

19. Ignore your legs. They will undoubtedly feel wooden and wobbly. This won't last, and within a kilometer you will settle into your stride and shake off any biking discomfort. I try to maintain a shorter stride length, keep my shoulders down, lift my hips and look forwards.

20. Constantly check yourself. Relax your shoulders, face, neck and arms and hands. Tension in these areas manifests in tightness throughout the body. I hold gels in my hands to stop me clenching my fists.

21. Use the water, ice and sponges at aid stations to help cool your body on a hot day. These can also be shoved down your race top, under your hat or down your shorts.

22. Only use positive words and affirmations. Have a mantra and a couple of special songs/poems to repeat over and over again. I write my mantra on my water bottle and on my race wrist band to give me a boost.

You should draw heavily on positive images -- family, friends, holidays, past races, a plate of chips, and recall times when you have struggled and overcome hurdles/hurt. This gives you the confidence that you can overcome dark times and come out the other side.

23. Break the race up into smaller, more manageable segments. You might even think only about getting to the next aid station or lamppost and from there set another landmark goal. Stay in the moment and don't think too far ahead.

24. Draw on the energy from the spectators (including all the CNN FitNation support crew) and the other athletes, as well as the spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and the mountains. Dedicate each of the last few kilometers to people you care about.

25. Remember every moment of the finish chute and celebrate when you cross the line. A timing chip records your time, so look up, smile, and let the race photographer get a picture to savor!

Ironman champ: Your mind matters more

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