Just when you think you're tough enough

Tough Takes

Sue Teoh: Preparing for a Triathlon RACE!

Sue Teoh on run

Oh yeah it’s RACE WEEK! For some of you you’ll be enjoying taper week, but for the newbies, maybe your heart is already racing in anticipation of your big race.

For those who didn’t manage to train enough, don’t do any last minute training. Trust me, you won’t gain any fitness in this short period but rather deplete your glycogen stores and feel tired on race day instead. So here are some pre-race and race-day tips.

Pre-race day

Tapering and recovering

  • In your last week of training, your workout volume should be scaled back by 50-60%.
  • Keep workouts short, maintain race pace speed with a few minutes of interval pickups for your swim, bike, and run. For example, 30 minutes of fartlek running, spin on the bike for 40 minutes, and add intervals of 3-5 minutes of race pace efforts. Keep heart rate about 80-85% of MHR.
  • During your swims, practise 25m or 50m race pace effort sets and try some open water swimming skills like sighting.
  • Go to bed early to have enough sleep for recovery and practise sleeping early for race day.
  • Keep off your feet as much as possible, put on compression wear if you have it to save your legs from fatigue.
  • Get in some gentle stretching and relax!


  • This week, you can carbo load by eating more carbohydrate rich foods e.g. pasta, rice and potatoes. Eat the same volume but the proportion of carbs in your meals increases.
  • Eat familiar food to avoid any digestion mishaps! Eat at hygienic restaurants too, to avoid stomach upsets and derail your triathlon dream.
  • Stay optimally hydrated. Keep drinking water to avoid being dehydrated on race day.
  • Stay off caffeine and alcohol so it won’t hamper my efforts to keep hydration levels up.
  • Prepare and stock up all your gels, bars, drink mixes. Purchase them early before store runs out of stock (Pre-GST craze).
  • Freeze your water bottle the night before the race. During the bike leg, you’ll have a refreshing cold drink.


  • Make a checklist of all the equipment you need for the race.
  • Gather all your equipment and lay it out before you pack it all up.
  • Keep your swimming goggles fog free with a fresh coat of anti-fog spray.
  • Get clear lenses or lighter coloured lenses for your goggles as the swim is early in the morning when light is low.
  • Have your bike serviced should be properly before race day.
  • Do your own general bike check by checking the brakes, gears, headset, wheels, pedals and saddle to ensure it is tight and functioning correctly.
  • Bring a cap and dark sunglasses as you’ll be running in the heat of the day.
  • No new shoes for race day! New shoes could potentially give you problems like blisters and pain in the toes if they don’t fit you.

Mental Preparation

  • Visualise your ideal race a few days before and also on race morning itself. Sit in a quiet place and focus on how you will race and your strategy.
  • Have a goal in mind. Maybe your first goal is to complete the race, then a more specific goal could be about one of the disciplines like swimming non-stop.
  • Understand your fears and identify if that fear is under your control or not. If it is under your control then have a plan to tackle it, if it is not, let it go and don’t wasting time fearing it.
  • Remember WHY you want to complete your race, you should have a reason for doing what you do!

Sue Teoh out of water

Race day

  • Get to the race venue early. Give yourself enough time in the morning to eat, use the toilet and avoid any rushing around.
  • When you get to the race venue, rack your bike and set up all your gears in order of when you need them.
  • Have a once over check to see if you have everything you need.
  • Now relax, chill out for a while. You can do some mental preparation too, like visualize your race one last time.
  • Have a look at the swim course, look where the buoys are so you have a general idea at the back of your head while swimming.

In the Swim:

  • Get into the water and go at an easy relaxed pace.
  • Beginners sometimes get too excited or anxious and start their swim too fast. Then, they get breathless and tend to panic.
  • Check yourself, concentrate on keeping to your usual pace and stroke.
  • Focus on your breathing, keep thinking about exhaling into the water whenever your head is in the water.
  • Get into a rhythm and just keep going.
  • When tired, float on your back for a bit to catch your breath or calm your mind. Once you are ready turn over and continue.
  • For the better swimmers, conserve your legs by using your pull more than your kick.

Sue Teoh on bike

On the Bike:

  • Keep your pace in transition, don’t rush.
  • Be hurried but in control, so you don’t fumble or forget to do anything.
  • You might feel a bit winded due to your swim so go on lighter gears and spin. Once you recover, you can get into your target pace.
  • Remember to keep sipping your sports drink or water regularly and eat at your planned periods.
  • You can slow down when you eat for a few minutes to drop your heart rate to a more manageable rate and you can swallow your food. Don’t knock into anyone or any obstacles or potholes on the road!
  • Sit during uphill climbs to conserve energy as up-saddling can make you expend more energy.
  • Conserve energy for your run!

On the Run:

  • Start a little slower to conserve energy and allow the legs to transition from bike to run.
  • Keep cool during the run!
  • Don’t forget your cap and sunnies at transition.
  • If available, pour cold water on your head to refresh yourself. Toss ice cubes into your trisuit to help alleviate the heat too.
  • Continue to hydrate, alternate water and a sports drink as you will need to replace salt and electrolytes.
  • Mental toughness is key to get you to the finish line.
  • Everyone will be suffering!

Sue Teoh on run

So draw on your goals and visualization prep work you did before race. Keep your goals in mind, have that mental image of you jubilantly crossing that finish line and collecting your well-earned finisher medal!

You want a good picture of yourself at the finish line right? So smile no matter what, you came all this way and achieved so much! Have a great race guys!

Finish with a big smile!


More about the author

Sue Teoh is an internationally certified personal trainer and triathlon coach, accomplished athlete excelling in competitive swimming. She is currently part of Malaysia’s National Triathlon team. Through coaching, she passionately helps people of all ages achieve their fitness and lifestyle goals.

Follow Sue Teoh, Fitness Trainer on Facebook here.