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: Swimming

So You Wanna Do a Triathlon: Cycling

So You Wanna Do a Triathlon: Running

So You Wanna Do a Triathlon: Transitions (including packing list)

So You Wanna Do a Triathlon: Training

So You Wanna Do a Triathlon: Pool or Lake Swim

Traveling to a Race: How to Avoid the Race FREAK OUT by Coach Marni

boston marathon

Packing for an Ironman by Coach Marni (waaaay more than you’d need for a Sprint or Olympic race but a great list regardless)


Basic Triathlon Tips


To Do’s on Triathlon / Running Race Week by Coach Marni

first IM

Ask a Tri Coach: Open Water Fears

In & Out: Faster Transition Tips

Need-To-Know USAT Rules

IMG_5717 IMG_5718

Happy Racing!



  • Jacquelyn @justjacq October 2, 2013, 2:36 pm

    I got anxiety just reading this post! I never thought about how you have to set up your transitions. I think the thing that would freak me out the most would be finding my stuff in the craziness!

  • Sara @ LovingOnTheRun October 2, 2013, 2:40 pm

    Love this! I have considered doing a tri in my future when I have the financial means to do so and this really helps get all the information I need in one place! Thank you!

  • Katie October 2, 2013, 2:55 pm

    Yay!! I’ve been reading all of your triathlon tips and I love them so much! I plan on doing a triathlon in 2014. I did an irongirl duathlon 2 weeks ago so I could experience the run-bike-run, and some people used sidewalk chalk to help them know what rack their bike was in, I thought it was genius!

  • Daniela S. October 2, 2013, 3:09 pm

    I usually get to the race very early, get my bib, chip, markings and transition setup done, and then I do a walk-through. While I study the transition area, I try to answer questions like: Where does the swim start? Where does it finish? How do I get from the water to my bike? When I pick up my bike, where do I exit? Where do I come back? etc…
    If I can’t figure out the various entrances/exits to the transition area or where my setup is with respect to those entrances/exits, I ask the volunteers. I am much more relaxed when I have a clear picture in my head of where everything is.
    Also, the more you race, the more comfortable you get with the organized chaos that is triathlon/duathlon racing.

  • Anna {Herbivore Triathlete} October 2, 2013, 8:16 pm

    Such a great compilation of posts!

    I always try to get an outside rack for my bike in transition in possible and look for a landmark of some kind. I always check the in/out run/swim/bike areas relative to my transition set up as well. I agree w/Daniela, the more you do it, the easier it gets.

    I’ve seen people mark their area before with a balloon or other item in the past as well, but I think it would get in my way.

  • Marni October 2, 2013, 9:39 pm

    Thanks for sharing my articles but all those links are super helpful!! The more experience you have the easier it will feel but it always seems overwhelming the night before! My best tip is to write out a list of everything you need to do on race week. So excited for you!!
    -Marni (your coach)

  • Shaun October 3, 2013, 10:28 am

    I did my first tri in sept. and I loved it. It really is a little overwhelming, and we swam in a pool and so there was a line that took me about 45 minutes to get through…the anxiety was building the whole time. But when I got in the water, I got in my zone, and really enjoyed the race. Somehow I ended up 4th in mens overall, and 1st in my age division too!

  • Kim October 3, 2013, 12:24 pm

    Thank you so much, again, for posting this! It’s a great help to me (and my fiance, who is doing the triathlon with me and is equally clueless). What has helped us is going to the actual course. We live nearby, so we rode the bike path there a couple weekends ago. I’m still anxious about figuring out how it all works, but this is my first one so I’m giving myself a break. I’m not really going for time, so I’ll try to just be calm and figure it out. You are such a great help! Thank you!

  • Taylor @ Single-tracked Mind October 3, 2013, 3:53 pm

    Great tips! My boyfriend is an Ironman so I had a great resource when I did my first tri.

  • Amanda @runtothefinish October 3, 2013, 5:23 pm

    Fantastic round up of posts!! I am seriously book marking this because I know after watching Kona I am going to be ready to finally sign up, but will have so many questions

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