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Triathlon Race Day Checklist – A Beginners Guide

Get race day ready with our triathlon race day checklist! From the essential triathlon gear you need to pack, to the logistics to consider on race morning. We take the stress out of preparing for a triathlon, so you can focus on enjoying your race.

Writer & Long Course Triathlete
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You’ve trained hard and it’s time to take on your first triathlon. But with three sports to tackle in one day, the list of essential triathlon gear you need to remember can be a bit overwhelming. We’ve got you covered with our triathlon race day checklist. Outlining everything you need to prepare and all the gear you need to pack for a triathlon. Plus, we give some suggestions for timings and logistics on race morning to try and alleviate some of those pre-race nerves.

Save this post to come back to it before every triathlon – that way you can focus on your performance, not stressing about what you need to pack!

Gear & kit to pack: What to take to your first triathlon

Any good triathlon checklist will set out the kit you need for race day. However, in addition to the kit you need, to give you the best chance of having a great race day experience the ultimate triathlon checklist for beginners also includes the extras you might want.

Triathlon swim gear

Start your race day right and make sure you have everything you need for the swim section. Pool-based triathlons are a little less complicated – no wetsuit required. But there are still a few essentials you need to remember.

Goggles

If possible, pack two pairs of goggles so you’ve got a back up set in-case on pair breaks. If your race starts very early in the morning and there’s a chance it’ll still be fairly dark – you might want to have a pair with clear lenses as well as a mirrored pair, just in case the sun doesn’t break through the clouds in time.

Wetsuit

For triathlons with an open water swim, a wetsuit will usually be required. There are certain rules about when a wetsuit is mandatory, optional or banned based on water temperature – you can read more about that in our beginners’ wetsuit guide. But even if the weather has been warm and there’s a chance your race might be deemed a non-wetsuit swim. It’s still worth packing your wetsuit, as often the final call is made only an hour or two before the race starts.

Tri suit / swimwear

It might sound obvious, but with so much happening on race morning it’s surprisingly easy to forget to pack something as fundamental as your race kit! We’d recommend wearing a tri suit for ease and efficiency when switching between disciplines. But if you’re not wearing a tri suit make sure you’ve packed your swimwear. Even if it’s a wetsuit swim, nudity isn’t allowed in transition so you want to make sure you’re wearing something under your wetsuit.

Swim cap

Most race organisers will provide you with an official swim cap which you must wear for the race. If you collect your race pack the day before your race, don’t forget to pack this on race morning! If the water is likely to be chilly, you might also want to pack a second swim cap to wear under your race swim cap to give you a bit of extra warmth.

Timing chip

If the triathlon you’re participating in features chip timing (an electronic timing system that tracks your individual start and finish time), you’ll be given an ankle strap with a chip timer attached to wear. Again, if you collect your race pack the day before the race – make sure you’ve got your timing chip with you on race morning.

Water- and sweat-resistant sunscreen

Forgetting the sunscreen won’t ruin your race, but it could contribute to skin damage so in our opinion a good sports-specific sunscreen such as Pelotan is always a race day essential! Apply it before you start the race, and if necessary have a spare bottle (the Pelotan roll-on mini is great) in transition to top up.

Dry robe / changing robe

A dryrobe or changing robe isn’t essential. But it’s a great addition to your kit bag to keep you warm before you start your race. There can be a lot of hanging around outdoors early in the morning before a triathlon! A changing robe is also great to have with you for after the race so you can easily get changed out of your sweaty race kit.

Check out our pick of the top dryrobe alternatives to find the best change robe for you.

Flip flops / sliders

Quite often there’s a bit of a walk between transition and the swim start. Having a pair of flip flops/sliders with you makes the walk a little more comfortable. Some races have a bag drop right by the swim start where you can leave your flip flops to collect later. But if not, it’s worth taking a pair that you won’t be heartbroken if you can’t locate them post-race.

Transition bag

Certainly not essential, but designed to make life easier on race morning. A good triathlon transition bag features several compartments so you can easily transport all your gear to the race and find everything quickly when it’s time to set up your spot in transition.

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Things you need for cycling in a triathlon

Obviously it would be pretty difficult to complete a triathlon without a bike. But there are a few other specific bits of gear you need to remember to bring with you on race day.

Bike

A week or so before the race, check your bike over to make sure it’s ready for race day. That means ensuring your brakes work, your gears are shifting properly, and there are no big cuts in your tyres. Ensure you have bar ends/plugs on your handlebars too, this is a safety requirement and you won’t be able to race without them.

Wheels and pedals

Another obvious one, but if you’re travelling to the race by car and you need to take a wheel off to get your bike in the back – don’t forget to pick the wheel up! And if you’re racing abroad and packing your bike up into a box for the flight, make sure you’ve got your pedals, wheels and the tools you need to put the bike back together when you arrive.

Cycling helmet

A helmet is a non-negotiable in a triathlon and you’ll need to wear it as you head into transition to rack your bike so the race officials can make sure it fits you properly. A week or so before the race make sure you check your helmet over for any signs of damage. If there are any cracks or dents, you won’t be allowed to use it for the race. And it won’t be doing an optimal job of looking after your head anyway, so it’ll need replacing regardless.

Track pump and puncture repair kit

You can usually borrow a track pump to put air in your tyres on race morning, but if it’s not a hassle to bring your own it just saves you the stress of finding one. Make sure you’ve got everything you need to repair a puncture when you’re out on the bike course: inner tubes, a gas canister/hand pump and tyres levers as a minimum. You can store these on your bike in a saddle bag, or pop them in a water bottle and have an extra bottle cage on your bike.

Bib number and race belt

Almost all triathlons require you to wear a race bib number. But you won’t be allowed to wear it during the swim, so you’ll need to put it on for the bike and the run. We’d recommend getting a race belt as this saves you from fiddling with safety pins in T1.

Cycling kit

If you’re not wearing a tri suit, do make sure you pack your cycling kit to change into after the swim.

Cycling shoes

You might prefer to wear running shoes/sneakers and cycle with flat pedals. But if you’re riding clipped in, don’t forget your cycling shoes. It’s also worth checking your cleats a week or two before the race – if they’re worn out they can make it hard to clip in and out.

Water bottle

Even in a sprint triathlon, you’ll need to make sure you stay hydrated to avoid cramping up by the time you get to the run. Get a bottle cage on your bike and make sure you have a bottle of water – ideally with electrolytes – to take with you for the bike section of your triathlon.

Cycling sunglasses

Not essential, but wearing sunglasses on the bike will help you to see the road ahead clearly and protect your eyes not only from the sun’s glare – but also any debris or water spray from the road.

Bike computer

If you want to keep a track of your pace and manage your effort by looking at stats like your heart rate, then a bike computer is a great way to track your progress in real time during the race. Plus, then you can upload your ride to Strava after your triathlon to rake in the kudos!

Nutrition

Taking nutrition on the bike becomes essential if you’re racing middle distance or longer (and we’d also recommend taking at least one gel during an Olympic distance triathlon). For shorter distances, it’s optional. But it’s still worth considering taking an energy bar or gel to top up your fuel if you start to feel low on energy.

Essentials for the triathlon run leg

It’s the last triathlon discipline, and the only thing standing between you and the glory of the finish line! Here’s what you need to make sure you’ve got waiting for you in T2 for the triathlon run leg.

Running shoes

If you’re a beginner and you don’t cycle clipped in, you might already be wearing your running shoes. But if not, make sure you’ve got them ready and waiting in T2. Leave the laces untied (or use elastic laces – see added extras) and open up the tongue of the shoes so you can put them on quickly and easily. Some triathletes put a little bit of talcum powder around the edge of the shoe opening to make it easier to slip your foot in.

Socks

If you’re not wearing socks while on the bike, you might want to put some on for the run. In short course racing, some triathletes choose not to wear socks – saving themselves a few seconds in transition. But this is a good way to get some pretty nasty blisters so unless you’re really racing at the pointy end of the field, we’d always recommend putting socks on for the run. For longer distance racing such as Ironman, even if you’ve worn socks on the bike. It can be nice to treat your feet to a fresh pair for the run.

Cap/visor

For hot weather racing, a cap or a visor to keep the sun off your face and head is a great addition to your gear list. You can also fill your cap with ice at aid stations if it’s particularly hot.

Elastic laces

Particularly for short distance racing, elastic laces are an easy win to save a few seconds in transition. As you might gather from the name, these are stretchy shoe laces which mean you get a secure fit without having to spend time tying your laces.

Gels and nutrition

If you’re racing middle distance or longer, then having some nutrition you’ve tested out in training should be in the essentials column. But for shorter distance racing, you could get away with using what’s available at aid stations on the course.

Other triathlon race day essentials

That’s the key bits of race kit covered. But there are a few other things you need to bring with you on race day for before and after the race:

  • ID / Race Licence
    Typically you’ll need to bring a form of identification to collect your race pack. Most races require that you have a race licence from your triathlon federation – such as British Triathlon or USAT. If you’re not a member, you can also pay on the day for a day licence. This is a type of insurance to cover you to participate in the race.
  • Bib number, timing chip and race number stickers
    We’ve mentioned most of these things already, but it’s worth reiterating. If you collect your race pack the day before the race make sure you bring your timing chip, bib number and any race number stickers (usually placed on your bike and helmet) with you.
  • Toilet roll
    Without being too crude, the portable toilets on race morning can be… quite a sight. And with all those nervous tummies, toilet roll can become a bit like liquid gold. Trust us when we say, you’ll be glad you have your own roll just in case you discover supplies have run out!
  • Head torch
    If your race features an early start, the sun may not have risen when you’re having to set up your transition zone. Having a head torch makes it easier to see what you’re doing when you’re pumping up your tyres and checking your bike over.
  • Post-race clothing
    A changing robe and some fresh, comfortable clothes to put on once you’ve finished your race will be something you’ll thank your past-self for. There’s nothing worse than having to hang around in wet, sweaty kit.
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Triathlon race day checklist

Racing this weekend? Now you know what you need to take, use our race day checklist below to methodically work through everything you need to do, pack and prepare to help take the stress out of race morning.

Before Leaving

If are driving to the race and you cannot or do not just put your bike inside your vehicle, make sure you know where your bike rack or similar is, and that it is in working order. Many race day mornings have been made more frantic than required due to wondering where the bike rack is!
At the latest, check your bike over the day before your race so you don’t have any nasty surprises in transition. But ideally, give your bike a check the weekend before your race so if there’s anything you need to get fixed you haven’t got a last minute rush on your hands.
Plan your timings for race morning in advance. Look at what time transition closes, and how long it will take you to get to the race and plan back from there. As a general rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to set your alarm for at least 3 hours before your race.
It’s important to start your race fully hydrated. We’d recommend to start sipping on a bottle of water with electrolytes soon after waking up, and try to finish it 45 minutes-1hr before you start so you have time to pee.
Nutrition-wise, don’t try anything new on race day. Eat a breakfast you know sits well in stomach when you exercise. Porridge/oat meal, white toast with jam or a bagel with a banana and peanut butter are all popular choices. Typically you want to avoid anything that is high in fat or fibre, as this can cause stomach issues. But stick to what you know. Aim to eat 2-3 hours before the race so you have time to digest your breakfast.

Race Arrival

Some races require that you register and rack your bike the day before the race. But at smaller events you might need to do this on race morning. Arrive with plenty of time as there might be queues.
Head straight to transition to get everything set up. If you racked your bike the day before, check it over, make sure it’s in a suitable gear and check your tyre pressures. Get your nutrition and water bottles on your bike, and lay out the rest of your kit in the most logical way. For example, you may decide to place your helmet upside down on your handlebars with the straps undone so that you can quickly place it on your head before touching anything else; equally, position your running shoes facing the direction you want to put them on, with your hat close by.

Pre-Race

Before the race starts it is worth spending time checking where your bike is located in relation to: where you enter T1 after the swim, the bike exit, bike entry, and run exit. Some people carry out a pre-race transition walk-through to familiarise themselves with the surroundings. Make mental notes to help you recall your position, for example a noticeable tree or sign, and count which row of racking you are on – when rushing into transition it is easy to become flustered.

Once you’ve set up your transition area and familiarised yourself with the flow of transition. Don’t forget to swing by the portable toilets before you start putting your wetsuit on. It’s a mistake we’ve all made at some point and trust us when we say you don’t want the stress of taking your wetsuit back off once you’ve wrestled your way in.

Time passes extremely quickly on race morning. Keep an eye on your watch and make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to put your wetsuit on properly. Rushing it will be stressful, and you might accidentally end up putting a hole in it.
Some races have a fairly long walk between transition and the swim start, so make sure you know how long it will take to get to the start. Aim to be there ready to go at least 10 minutes before your allotted start time to avoid last minute stress.

And just like that, you’re ready to take on your triathlon. Good luck – and enjoy!

Jenny Lucas-Hill
Written by
Jenny Lucas-Hill
Jenny Lucas-Hill is a writer, content creator and communications professional. A long-distance triathlon enthusiast, she has three full Iron-distance finishes to date & also loves watching the sport.
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