5 Triathlon Race Day Mistakes to Avoid: Lessons from the New York City Triathlon 2013

While a lot of hard goes into any triathlon plan, a key element is an holistic approach to reviewing your races. To improve your triathlon performance, you need to be consistently learning from your mistakes, both in training and on race day.

I recently raced the New York City Triathlon and, long story short, it did not go well.

At all!

It was a fun event, particularly all the spectators and volunteers, but maaaaaan was it a tough day at the office!

As much as I wanted to expel it from memory, I forced myself to sit down and review what went wrong. It can be a tough exercise, but  ultimately being honest with yourself will help you identify areas where potentially big gains can be made in your next race.

Here are my race day triathlon lessons:

1) Nutrition is key for triathletes

My biggest error for this race was my nutrition. I simply tried too hard to eat well the day before. I had a big lunch rather than dinner to give myself time to digest but I also snacked too much during the evening which left me full and lethargic on race day morning.

I wrote out a to do list for race-day morning but still managed to forget some snacks on the long walk up to the swim. Given there was a good 45 minutes (and a 1 mile walk) from transition closing to swim start, this might have had an impact.

On the bike, I probably did not drink enough water due to my stomach feeling ‘full’, and again on the run, I skipped the first few aid stations as I was struggling with GI distress. This may not have been a bad idea but I definitely had no gas on the day.

Maybe it’s time to test new pre-triathlon nutrition and race-day snacks.

2) In a triathlon, race your own race

Keep calm and run your race

Despite being an experienced swimmer,  having good swim technique and a solid grasp of triathlon swim tactics, I forgot all my experience and in my haste to be competitive, I started the swim too fast.

I was gasping for air by 600m and had to dial it back in order to catch my breath and get into my normal rhythm. As a result, I tired myself out and lost time – a double whammy that is every triathlete’s nightmare!

I let my anxiety get to me, instead of focusing on my race, my pace and my technique. I train to start steady, build my pace and negative split my swims, and I threw away all those hours in the pool in the course of an anxiety-racked first 200m.

Swim, bike and run your OWN race. Focus on yourself first and your pacing, and then start kicking ass!

3) Race-day training and practicing triathlon transitions

One thing I certainly did not do was practice my transitions. From a non-scientific review of the results, I lost 3-4 minutes on my (would-be) rivals during T1. Had I been competitive on the day, that would have been the end of my race.

I even put my bike shoes on the wrong feet! So, lesson learned, I will practice my transitions before my next race!

And not the changing equipment, but running after the swim and jumping on a bike while out of breath, and then running on wobbly legs again after T2. I simply wasn’t able to get going quickly enough to be effective. Watching the pros and how seamless they do it is inspiring.

4) Equipment – know it, test it, trust it.

man on an old bicycle

(Feministe blog)

No matter what you are using, know and trust your equipment.

I adjusted my saddle the day before the race. Major error, as I wasn’t used to it, it wasn’t effective and I just didn’t feel at one with the bike on race day. I should have left it as is, or gone to my fitting guy, but I just had this nagging doubt that plagued me all week.

The old adage, “don’t do anything new on race day” holds perfectly true. A mantra for the ages. Still annoyed with myself for this one.

5) Stick with it.

It might be a horrible race, and all you want to do is quit and lick your wounds, but (as long as you’re not injured) persevere: it will help develop that race day toughness. As bad as it seems now, the next race will seem so much easier because you stuck with it when times were tough (figuratively and literally!).

I’m glad I finished, even though I was 30+ mins behind my goal time. Given all the mistakes above, apart from persevering, the only other good thing to come out of this race was my bike tires getting a good cleaning thanks to a little moisture on the roads!

Here are some good quotes on failure, if like me, you struggle to see the positives:

  • “I have not failed I have just found 10,000 ways that did not work.” Thomas Edison
  • “Remember that failure is an event not a person.” Zig Ziglar
  • “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill
  • “Just because you fail at one thing doesn’t mean you will fail at everything.” Marilyn Monroe


  1. Jay

    Felt Extremely similar with my experience at the New Jersey State triathlon.
    1. Nutrition: Saturday I ate a big lunch to avoid eating a big dinner, and drank a ton of water during the day to combat the heat, but that left me bloated and full until after dinner when I snacked. FAIL. Lethargic all morning. Got enough on the bike but it was already too late, the GI bug had struck and stuck with me through the rest of the race. Need to do a better job of prerace nutrition and porta potty patrol.
    2. I’ve done 10+ tri’s of all different distances and know my swim strengths, but felt lethargic (due to food, 90+ temps, or high 80s water temp – I’ll blame all 3) Sunday morning. Instead of listening to my body, tried to push it in the swim and got beat up pretty badly after the first 600 m. Didn’t even feel comfortable until 10,000m in. Might want to cut down training distances and mix my breathing pattern during training. I usually stick with bilateral breathing, but Sunday made it clear I am too comfortable with in, and if I can’t find it, it blows up my pace.
    3. For the first time ever I didn’t walk through transition in my pre-race as I felt confident with my experience. Naturally I came into T1 a little disappointed in my swim and ready to bust it on the bike, and I couldn’t find my bike because I ran the wrong rack…twice.
    4. Kicked the bike’s ass, but that left me with very little except for cramps on the run.

    All in all a disappointing day in terms of time, but a great learning experience.

  2. adesignforwife

    Great advice, thanks! That has to be the thing i tell my pals the most – race your own race. Never brought home to me more than when I ran the London marathon and got overtaken by a man dressed as a chicken at mile 2…it panicked me but I thought nah race your own race and then smashed past him at mile 13 – very satisfying! Great post, thanks

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