One of the biggest favors you can do for yourself the day before a triathlon is to check out the course so that you know what to expect on race day. While it’s probably not a great idea to swim/bike/run the entire course the day before the race, it IS a good idea to do a little bit of homework so that you can mentally prepare for the event. I usually like to drive the bike course, ride the run course, take a little dip where the swim is being held, and do a walk-through of the transition area to get a feel for the flow. Knowing the course layout beforehand helps alleviate some of the pre-race stress that can occur on race morning and gives you more confidence as you head towards the starting line.
For athletes who harbor extra anxiety around the swim portion of the event, doing a little course reconnaissance at the swimming site is a must. If the swim venue is open the day prior to the race then by all means take advantage if it! Even if the buoys are not set up exactly the way they will be on race day, the experience of swimming in the actual body of water where the swim is being held will help familiarize you with the surroundings and boost your confidence. Before diving right in, I recommend having a good look at the swim course from the shoreline first. If the buoys are already in place, make note of how many there are per leg, what colors the buoys are, and whether the buoys marking the turns are a different size and/or shape from the regular sighting buoys. Confirm the direction that you’ll be swimming in and then scan the horizon for any other landmarks that might be useful to navigation. Consider the time of day you’ll be swimming and which direction the sun will be coming from on race morning, then think about what type of goggles are going to be appropriate for the course. I keep one pair of mirrored goggles and one pair of light-colored goggles in my race bag so I can decide based on the race morning conditions which goggles are going to work best.
Once you’ve done a visual scan of the course from dry land, it’s time to hit the water! Remember for safety sake to swim only at designated times and areas, to wear a brightly colored swim cap, and swim with other people if possible (or at the very least, make sure someone else knows that you’re swimming). If the water is cooler and you haven’t been able to practice with your wetsuit as much as you’d like, this is a great opportunity. In warmer water you may prefer just wearing a swim suit or a speedsuit—whatever is most comfortable and convenient for you. Chances are there won’t be a drastic change in temperature overnight so a practice swim provides a great opportunity to test out the water temperature so that it won’t be a shock on race day.
At the very least, I recommend swimming a portion of the first and last legs of the swim; this way you’ll know what to look for in the turmoil when the gun goes off, and also what the swim exit is going to look like from water level. You don’t want to expend all your energy the day before the race, so swim mostly easy with a few pick-ups of 10-15 strokes. Control your breathing and roll over on your back if necessary. I usually stop when I get to the first buoy to have a good look at the layout of the course from water level; this helps me memorize the course so I can visualize it later in the day when I’m doing my mental preparations. At the end of my swim I like to walk and paddle around both the start and exit areas, checking out what the bottom is like near the shoreline; is it sandy, gooey, rocky, or slick? Are there any large rocks or posts to watch out for? What’s the slope like going into the water? How far can I swim into shore before standing up and running, and if it’s a beach start how far into the water can I run before dolphin diving and swimming? It’s worth practicing a couple of entries and exits so you know what to expect on race day.
To recap, swimming on the race course the day before your event can be a great confidence builder. It gives you a visual tool to use when you’re mentally preparing for your race, and knowing that you’ve previewed the course and experienced the water temperature can give you that extra edge that helps set you up for a successful swim. It also helps lighten the load of things to worry about on race morning, so you can focus on setting up your gear, relaxing, and enjoying the day.
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