What happens on race day?

Your first race can be intimidating – there’s a lot going on and a lot to remember it seems. Let this short guide simplify things for you.


Even though you will have entered in advance, your first stop is registration where you confirm your attendance and receive your numbers. You may receive multiple numbers for your clothing, bike and helmet and there will be instructions on which number goes where. You will also be ‘body marked’ – your number written on your arm or leg.

Prepare Transition

You may have a designated position or you may not. If a position is assigned, you will see numbers on the racking. Hang your bike on the racking – look around and see how others have done this. Hang your helmet from the handlebars and put your sunglasses inside it. Place a folded towel in front of your bike and put your shoes on either side of it. You will use the towel to dry your feet to make it easier to put on your shoes.

Everyone has their own way of setting up their transition and you may have other items that you need (inhaler, food, race belt etc) but an important tip is to only bring what you need for the race. Leave large bags and your change of clothes outside where they won’t get in your way.

Finally, you should rehearse the route from the swim to your bike to be sure that you know how to find it easily.

Race Briefing

Just before the start, the briefing gives reminders of the important details and explains last minute changes to the route. It is mandatory to attend, so you should be ready to start the swim as soon as it is over.

Listen to the briefing carefully and, especially if English isn’t your first language, make sure you understand and do not be afraid to ask questions.

The Start

A triathlon can start in several ways. In a mass start, everyone starts together. In a bigger race, the start may split into ‘waves’ where a group of swimmers (e.g. from the same age or ability group) start together. In a rolling start, up to five swimmers start together and starts are at 5-10 second intervals. In all these cases, make sure you know what type of start and what start order is being used. For example, know the time of your wave or understand how the rolling start is being ordered – usuallyinnumber order.

In a rolling start you are timed according to when you pass the start so there is no advantage to pushing up the line to start out of order. Even in a mass start, novice triathletes may prefer to stay to the back or the side rather than be part of the ‘washing machine’ of arms and legs. Be prepared for some bumping and try to stay relaxed and calm until the race spreads out.

The Swim

An open water swim course is marked by large buoys. The race information pack will explain the course, number of laps etc. Look ahead of you every 6-10 strokes to check you are on course and if you can’t see the buoy, at least be sure you are following another swimmer. Sighting is a skill you should practice and staying on course can make a big difference to your swim time and how far you end up swimming.
Be reassured that if you have any problem during the swim, the on-water support boats are there for you. Tread water or float on your back and raise a hand to indicate that you need help.

A pool-based swim will be a far more familiar environment for most and new-comers will not face the challenge of a mass start. You’ll need to know how many laps to swim and where the entry and exit points are.

Transition (T1)

Remove your cap and googles as you leave the water and unzip and remove the top half of your wetsuit if wearing one. Now find your transition spot – remember you rehearsed that!

Take off the rest of your wetsuit and put on your cycling gear. Remember that you are not allowed to remove your bike from the rack until your helmet is on AND fastened. You can be penalised for not doing this.

Now run or walk to the mount line outside transition. It is forbidden to ride in transition.

The Bike

For both bike and run, it is your responsibility to know how many laps you need to do and how many you have completed. Marshals can help you with the route, but they cannot check your lap count.

Your time on the bike is a good time to take food on board in the form of energy drink, sweets or sports specific nutrition.

Transition (T2)

Dismount before entering transition. Rerack your bike where you took it from – even if you don’t have a numbered position. Only after your bike is racked, you can remove your helmet. Leave your transition tidy – penalties are issued if your bike or equipment interferes with those of another athlete.

The Run

If wearing a race belt, your number must be displayed to the front on the run. Ajusting from cycling to running is another triathlon skill to master but after a few hundred meters everyone finds their running legs and you are on the way to…

The Finish

Enjoy it! Later you can reflect on what you’ll do differently or better next time but now is the time to relish your success today. Remember to hand in your timing chip promptly.

In some events you won’t be able to remove your stuff from transition until a specified time but if this is not the case, be mindful and respect that later waves or slower athletes may still be racing through transition.