Three Simple Steps to Calming Race Day Nerves

The morning of your triathlon you may experience nerves, fear, excitement, an indescribable queasiness or all the above as you make your way to T1. Regardless, it's important to recognize and manage your feelings so you don't end up short-circuiting the goal or goals you've put in front of you. 

There are three key points to consider on triathlon race day to keep your feelings in check and use the naturally accelerated rush of adrenaline to your advantage.

1. Race Morning Nutrition & Plan Execution

When it comes to triathlon, a plan is always a good thing. This extends to your gear set-up and nutrition the morning of the race. Always have your race gear ready to go the evening before the race. The last thing you want to be doing in the morning is scrounging for your race belt or digging for your goggles.

Create a transition set-up plan before you even step a foot out the door (And practice your transitions!). Know exactly which tasks need to be done and in which order you’re going to perform each. The day is stressful enough already so put your Type-A brain (since you’re a triathlete odds are this will be easy) into play and be organized and logical in your transition set-up.

Lastly, know what nutrition is going to work for you. There are few rules for this one, although some omissions are obvious (for example don’t eat a full plate of Fettuccine Alfredo in the morning). In reality, though, everyone responds differently to the food they take in when the nerves are strong.

Maybe solid foods are impossible to get down. That’s OK. Do you thrive on a little coffee? Fine as long as you don’t overdo it (coffee is a diuretic after all). Find out what nutrients your body needs the morning of a race and stick to the plan that works best for you.

As a rule of thumb, you’re going to want carbs (glycogen), a little protein (optional and preferably from a bar), and sodium (especially if it’s going to be hot). But above all – HYDRATE.

2. Effective Warm-Up

Like nutrition, pre-race warm-ups are going to vary from person to person. Therefore, this may take some experimentation if you’re a newbie.

For many events, bike racking the night before is mandatory. This makes a few pre-race pedal strokes impossible. Under these circumstances, I like to do a few light lunges, squats, and jumps to get my cycling muscles firing. However, remember that warm-ups are never about feeling the burn. We’re just trying to get the blood flowing.

Personally, I also always need a light jog with a few strides and a few minutes in the water to warm up my arms. Sampling my race pace is a must in each case. Some of this, admittedly, is purely for mental reasons. I need to feel race pace so that I know what I want my body to do once the gun goes off.

Once again, discover what type of warm-up is going to fit your body and is going to boost your confidence.   

3. Mental Fortitude

Whether you're a professional athlete, Olympian, middle of the pack age-grouper, or the person who is worried about the 17-hour cut-off at an IRONMAN event, everyone gets nervous before a race. Everyone!

How you handle these nerves can have a direct impact on your race. My recommendation is compartmentalize the upcoming events which, in total, comprise your race.

This means focus on your race and how you’re going to handle each leg. Visualize your percentage of threshold pace that you’ll be holding in each discipline. Don’t worry about the person next to you. Think about what you need to do at T1 and T2, when you’re going to eat and hydrate, and how you’re going to handle the conditions.

In other words, slow the race down in your mind.

Likewise, keep your thoughts in check if you are susceptible to being overwhelmed. For example, I actually get intimidated rather easily. Even if I know I’m the only elite athlete at a race, I can still get caught up in thinking some guy is going to be faster than me just by looking at his physique.

I’ve learned to conquer this weakness by keeping my head down, avoiding too much eye contact, and simply thinking about my race and only my race. This mental tactic has served me well in keeping my priorities in check.

Most importantly, be aware and experiment with what tactics work best for you in gaining a mental edge on triathlon race day.

Whether it's these three points, or three of your own, make sure you have a plan of attack for those race morning jitters so you avoid the aforementioned short-circuiting of your goal(s). And, instead, run at full power. 

JARED MILAM is a professional triathlete, TriDot Coach, and member of the Tri4Him Pro Team. He has 16 years of competitive running experience and 11 years of competitive triathlon experience with a half-Iron PR of 3:59 and a full-Iron PR of 8:30. Coaching under the TriDot system since 2011, Jared loves working with aspiring triathletes of all ages and performance levels.


Triathlon race day doesn’t have to be an unsettling affair. You can rise above fear and nerves with a disciplined approach. Compartmentalize your race day events, have a well-thought out plan and mentally slow things down. Do this and you'll begin the race you invested so much time and effort in with confidence rather than trepidation.


What are your top tactics for more effective race day management that reduce nerves and keep you focused?


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