First of all, consider what you're going to wear for the race. Hopefully you've tried it out in training already. I like wearing a one-piece trisuit because it's easy. Though spandex is not the most flattering choice for me, it does simplify things. I don't change clothes during the race that way. Some people race in just a swimsuit, but I wouldn't be comfortable doing that, physically or emotionally! One of the things I have promised myself is a new one for next year, because I think some of the new designs are more flattering than the one I have. I wear it with a sports bra underneath for support.
The week before a race, you should take it easy and not try to do any last-minute hardcore workouts. It should all be in the bank by now: Save it for the race. You can do a short jog, or a quick tune-up bike ride, or a short swim for the first half of the week. The second half of that week, I switch over to total rest. I might go for a walk or do some yoga, but I don't do anything that might make me too tired or sore for the race.
If you're the kind of person who gets keyed up the day before a big event, make sure you go to bed early for two or three nights. You want to bank some rest so that if you can't sleep, you won't be freaking out and staring at the clock every hour. The night of the race, set two alarms so that you know you'll wake up on time ("What if my alarm doesn't go off?" is one of those things that might keep you from really sleeping.) If you have a crummy night's sleep, relax in the fact that you have rested enough to get you through, and know that you'll catch up after the race. You'll have enough adrenalin pumping through your veins to keep you going, I promise.
Start organizing your gear a few days ahead of time so that if you realize that you're missing something, you can go to the store and replace it. These are some things you'll need, as a bare-bones triathlete. I recommend recruiting someone to be your support team, and giving them a bag with the following:
- Camera for documenting your triathlon debut
- Maps to the race location (if they're not going with you)
- Water bottle and snacks for after the race (I have been to a few races with terrible post-race food and limited water, so I always bring something in case)
- Soft towel for wiping off after the race
- Soft clothes for after the race (you may be chafed)
- Old sheet to spread on the ground and hang out on while you wait for race results
You will need your own bag of stuff for transition (the place you change from swimming to biking to running). You will want to wear your trisuit to the race, along with some slip-on shoes, a pair of soft pants and a long-sleeved t-shirt (it's usually chilly in the early morning before the race). You'll need to take off your shoes and other outer layers and give them to your support crew to hold for you. You'll need to make sure to bring the swim cap from your race packet and a pair of goggles for the swim, too. I usually bring two pairs, just in case one breaks. It could happen! Your transition bag should include:
- A colorful hand towel to mark your transition space
- A small towel to wipe your face with (sweat always drips into my eyes)
- Your bike (Check the air in the tires before you leave home. I don't like to bring a bike pump with me to transition because then people will want to borrow it, which is distracting)
- Helmet (You only have one head, plus you will not be allowed to race without one)
- Sunglasses (if you don't wear glasses, eyewear is required by USA Triathlon rules)
- Bike shoes and socks (or your running shoes, if you wear the same shoes to bike and run)
- Gatorade (or whatever you've been using in training to drink on the bike -- nothing with artificial sweeteners, though, which can cause GI troubles)
- Running shoes
- Race belt or light tank top with your race number pinned to it
- Extra water or Gatorade to chug before you go out to the run
Eat a solid dinner the night before the race, but don't try anything new. Tonight is not the night to try sushi for the first time. I generally stick to the classic pre-race stuff: Pasta with tomato sauce, a little chicken, a salad. Don't overdo it in any way: No greasy food, no huge dessert, no 40 grams of fiber, no giant cups of coffee. You don't want anything in your stomach that might cause upset, bloating, heartburn, GI distress, etc., because you want to be able to get a good night's rest. I also don't drink for a few days before the race.
Go to the race site at least once before the race to make sure you know where it is. If possible, get maps of the course from the race website to get a sense of where you'll be going. You will probably be following the crowd, like I always do, but it's still nice to have previewed it ahead of time.
In case you haven't figured it out already, my race-day M.O. is to test everything out ahead of time and be prepared for the problems that might happen. It's a great thing to bring an under-seat bike repair kit with a CO2 inflator with you, in case, God forbid, you have a flat tire. I've been lucky so far on that count -- I barely know how to change a bike tire, but I bring it along so that I'd have some chance of salvaging my race if it happened.
The biggest thing to remember is to have a good time. A sprint is a short race, so you'll be done in less than two hours. That sounds like a long time, but it will go by quickly. Don't get too hung up on your time, what people pass you, how you look, or any of the other dumb stuff that can become distracting from the main point: You're doing this thing you never thought you could do.