Your Perfect Race Warm Up
A proper warm up is key to your next triathlon though often ignored. For some reason, athletes often ignore a warm up before a race though they would never do this before a practice. A proper warm up raises your core body temperature, improves muscle performance (faster contractions), primes several physiological systems to withstand intensity efficiently, and decreases your risk of injury. If you want to race your best, you will place a priority on your warm up. Now, how is it done? Below, I will give a short course triathlon warm up for someone who is comfortable completing the race distance but then go into detail on exceptions (including long course) to this below that. It is important to note that this is a general recommendation and that your warm up should be individualized to what you find works best for you.
Arriving at The Race
I recommend arriving at the race at least 90 minutes before the start if you already have your packet and 2 hours before the start if you do not. First thing you should do is get your packet, pick up your timing chip, and set up transition to mark your spot. Goal is to start your warm up around 75 minutes from the start time.
Warm Up Leg 1: Run
Once you have everything set up in transition, put on your running shoes and head out for around a 10-minute easy jog. Use this time to explore the run course, especially the last half mile so you understand exactly where the finish line is and can build a sprint strategy if in a duel. Finish this run with 4-6 x 100 yd strides / pick-ups (preferably at the finish line) and stretch lightly.
Warm Up Leg 2: Bike
Return to transition and grab your cycling equipment. I recommend leaving a towel over your spot on the rack to mark it and make sure latecomers don’t think it is available. If you are comfortable with the race distance, the bike warm-up should be the bulk of your warm up – I recommend 15-20 minutes if you have time. Start with 5-10 minutes easy, 3 minutes at race pace, 2 minutes easy, and then 3-4 x 15 second bursts with 45 sec easy between.
Warm Up Leg 3: Swim
The remaining time should be spent in the water. This is the part that many athletes skip though it is super important. Now the one exception to this would be if it is really cold out – if this is the case, do dryland swimming (going through strokes with or without stretch cords) on dryland instead. If you can get in the water, swim easy for 5-10 minutes and then complete 4-8 fast 25s like the start of the race with an easy swim back between each. If the race director allows you to stay in the water right up to the start of the race, do it, completing the fast 25s as close to the start as possible. Most will pull you out 15 minutes before – in this case, put on some warm clothes and do dryland strokes until your start time.
Above is the perfect short course warm up but there are times when it is not ideal. Below details these exceptions:
Long or Short Races (for you) – For half ironman and ironman distance races or any race where you might not be trained to go over the race distance (which could be the case with a sprint), your warm up should be limited to dynamic exercises / drills and possibly one of the above legs (swim is probably most important because it is first). Now, you might very well be very comfortable with the half ironman distance and therefore should use the short course warm up above but maybe shorten slightly. On the other hand, if you are training for Ironman and racing a sprint this weekend, I recommend a longer warm up than the warm up above.
Swim Start Much Later – If you are doing a pool swim and your start time is over 30 minutes after the pool closes for warm up, I would either replace your swim warm up with dryland strokes in the 15 minutes before your start time.
Hot Temperatures – If it is an abnormally hot day, shorten your warm up and do everything you can to stay cool during your warm up (wear hat, ice in suit, hydrate well).
Transition Woes – If you had to check in your bike to transitions (normal with big races), then skip the bike and extend your run warm up. There are also races where you must check your bike into transition earlier in the day (namely youth/junior elite races) – in these cases, flip the order of your bike and run warm up.
Lastly, make sure you keep up your nutrition plan through your warm up. After a good meal in the morning, the start of your warm up marks the start of final nutrition preparations. At this point, switch over to sports drink and sip throughout the warm up. 75 minutes before the race is a good time to get one last solid snack like a bar as well. The only other thing I might add is a gel 15 minutes before the start if this is normal for you.
There you have it. The perfect warm up to your perfect race. Race fast!