For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
Your first race will surely give you butterflies and get you psyched for the upcoming season. We talked to Lance Watson, head coach at LifeSport Coaching and coach to four time sub-8 hour Ironman finisher Brent McMahon, about what to expect—and how to make the most of that first taste of competition.
Set a Goal
Your first race should not be your most important one, rather it should be a B or C priority event that lets you get your feet wet, shake off the cobwebs from winter and get the adrenalin going again. A short event like a sprint or Olympic race is a great way to jump back in.
Setting a goal—even if you’re just racing to get back into it—will help you get motivated and use the race as a stepping stone towards your big event. “Your first race is a good chance to get back in touch with the routine of preparing to race,” Watson says. “You can use it as a dry run for future A races.”
Your goals should be less about time and more about the process of racing again. “I like set the goals on execution of the plan and sticking to the desired zones, be it power on the bike or heart rate on the run,” says Mike Ricci, founder of D3 Multisport and the 2014 USAT Coach of the Year. “The reason being that athletes tend to get pretty wired up for the first race of the season and I’d rather have an athlete hold back a touch on the first race of the year, have a positive experience and feel as though they can go faster versus trying to crush the race, and then feeling terrible if they fall flat of a time goal.”
Prep Your Mind
“The first race typically feels harder than your body remembers, so it’s good to do a little mental homework before you toe the line,” Watson says. “This is also good practice for future races.” He recommends viewing the course and taking notes, using self talk, visualizing yourself being calm, using your energy wisely by not going out too hard at the start, pacing your bike evenly and saving enough to run strong to the finish. It may seem like overkill for your first race, but like anything else, practice makes perfect.
Check Your Gear
Your first race is also the perfect time to testing the gear that you may use for your A race later. Watson recommends you go over your bike, try out race day wheels, run in your race day shoes at least one week prior to make sure they work and try on your wetsuit (swim in it in the pool prior if you can). The goal here is avoid any unwanted surprises.
Test Your Strength
Try using the event to address any weakness you’ve focused on over the winter. For instance, if you’ve worked to improve your run, keep your energy in check on the bike and then test your newfound run strength. Last, you can drill down even further to emphasize a smaller element of the race (i.e. the first half of the run) to use it for training benefits in that specific area.
Your first race of the year should bring you confidence. Executed with precision and purpose, it can be a rewarding first step for your season.