A few weeks ago, I got this email from a reader named Kim…
I decided to sign up for my first triathlon! It’s a sprint. Just started training yesterday. The event is October 20. I can’t wait! Anyway, my biggest anxieties are about the logistics of the event… Like, how early should I arrive? How will I know where to put my stuff in the transition areas? How will I FIND my stuff in the transition areas during the race? I’m also worried I’m going to forget something essential, like my running shoes… Haha.
I can definitely understand being nervous about race-day logistics. It’s intimidating how much more you have to DO immediately before a triathlon, especially compared to a running race.
I normally get to the race super early. The website will probably advise you on the ideal time to arrive. Always check the parking map because sometimes you have to walk (or bike) a mile or more from the parking lot to the race start. And you want to build in enough time to use the potty – those bathroom lines can be LONG.
Before a triathlon, there are FOUR main things you need to do:
Pick up your bib number: This is, of course, assuming you haven’t done it the day before. I usually just pick it up the morning of the event (for longer races, like my Half Ironman, you need to check in your bike and pick up your packet a day or two before; you may also have to attend a mandatory race meeting – just be sure to read the website). But day-of is usually fine. For a triathlon, you get a series of bib numbers – one for your bike, one for your helmet, and one to wear during the run (you can either pin it to a shirt you plan to wear during the run or use a race number belt). You may also get a special swim cap to wear.
Pick up your timing chip: Once you have your number, you’ll need your timing chip, which you usually put around your ankle.
Get bodymarked: There will be a bunch of volunteers standing around with markers. You walk up, show them your bib number, and they’ll write your number on your arms and legs.
Set up transition area: Last, but not least, you’ll want to set up transition. Some people do this first so they don’t have to carry their gear when they get their numbers and be bodymarked. You find the rack with your bib number and hang your bike on the rack. Then, you set up your swim to bike and bike to run gear under the bike. Take note of where your bike is in relation to landmarks in transition, as well as the swim, bike, and run entry and exit points, which are at different locations in transition. This post has more info about transitions (and includes a packing list).
I thought I’d pull together a few of my favorite HTP triathlon posts + Coach Marni’s posts to answer the rest of Kim’s questions.
My most comprehensive post series on triathlons are my So You Wanna Do A Triathlon posts.
So You Wanna Do a Triathlon: Transitions (including packing list)
Traveling to a Race: How to Avoid the Race FREAK OUT by Coach Marni
Packing for an Ironman by Coach Marni (waaaay more than you’d need for a Sprint or Olympic race but a great list regardless)
To Do’s on Triathlon / Running Race Week by Coach Marni