Know Before You Go: A Checklist for Surviving Your First Race, Triathlon, or Organized Cycling Event (Part 1)


By Heather Nielson — I get asked by a lot of athletes participating in their first season of competition what pieces of advice I would give them and what to expect. I find that the details below apply to all endurance sports including road and mountain races and events, triathlon, and any organized bike ride (most of which I’ve participated in). I hope that it helps you.

Having a check list helps you to remember everything to bring on the day of your race or ride. Photo by Heather Nielson

In this first part, I talk about basic logistics that if not handled properly can ruin your race or ride before you even get to the start!

Expect to forget something!

I remember very distinctly the morning of a race in late summer in Northern California showing up plenty early (as I’ve learned to do!) and realizing I’d forgotten my cycling shoes. This is no small thing to forget. It’s not like I forgot my socks or even sunglasses. I could not race without my shoes. Fortunately, I didn’t live that far away, and the race was running behind (#longliveVeloPromo) and since I’d arrived early, I quickly did the math in my head and realized that if I drove fast (I’ll neither confirm nor deny the breaking of any speed limit rules), all the way home and back, I might…just might make it back in time. I did, in fact, arrive back 15 minutes before the start time. I’ve also never forgotten my shoes since.

Over the past 10 years of bike racing, I’ve curated a racing checklist that also includes an overnight section and bad weather section. All I need to do the day before and the morning of while packing for a race is go through that checklist and I know I’ll have everything I need. If you need any ideas or a starting point, I’ll provide my personal list below. One of the items listed below is ‘baggies for separate stuff’. I have found that in the chaos that is bike racing, things can get lost/mixed up/in a heap in a hurry; and if you’re carpooling with others this idea can be a stress saver. I put categories of items in separate bags and all those bags in ONE bike racing bag. For example: I’ll have my jersey, bibs, baselayer(s) in one bag and gloves, socks, arm and knee warmers in another bag, nutrition in another bag, chamois cream, baby wipes, sunscreen, sunglasses in another bag; you get the idea. If you always keep those same items in the same bags, preparation and clean-up afterwards is far less stressful. This may not seem like a big deal but you’ll find that any amount of extra/unnecessary stress before competition will tax you during your event.

The Checklist:

Regular Races and Events

  • Bike (seems obvious I know but…)
  • Helmet
  • Eyewear
  • Wheels
  • Spare wheels/wheel bags (Remember personal info on your wheels)
  • Bags for separate stuff
  • Shoes
  • Toe cover/shoe covers
  • Socks (extra socks!)
  • Gloves
  • Arm warmers
  • Knee/leg warmers
  • Jersey
  • Shorts
  • Podium hat/cap
  • Pump
  • Tool kit
  • Spare cleats
  • Chamois cream
  • Sunscreen
  • Baby wipes
  • Dirty clothes bag (to keep your clean clothes separate from your dirty ones)
  • Clothes to change in to afterwards
  • Changing skirt/towel
  • Water bottles
  • Race food
  • Recovery food
  • Trainer and front wheel block
  • Racing license
  • Bib number (pin it)
  • Power meter computer/watch

Triathlon Additional Miscellaneous

  • Wet suit
  • Running shoes
  • Body Lube
  • Compression socks and/or sleeves
  • Tri suit
  • Cap and goggles
  • Running hat or visor

Mountain Bike Additional Miscellaneous

  • Tire sealant
  • Armor All for tire sidewalls when it’s muddy
  • Hydration pack and tools
  • Mini-pump and/or CO2
  • Bike stand

Overnight/stage races:

  • Cards to pin race/bib #’s to wheel bags for support vehicles & a sharpie pen
  • Plastic utensils (you’ll be grateful for this on the road)
  • Tool box
  • Extra tubes & tires
  • Spare wheels
  • Multitool
  • Extra cassette
  • Extra cleats
  • Overnight clothes

If you’re flying:

  • Zip ties
  • Multi-tool
  • Plastic gloves
  • Electrical tape
  • Pedal wrench
  • Scissors
  • Cleaning rags
  • Bike measurements
  • Measuring tape

Severe weather gear:

  • Panty hose for ice cubes
  • Multiple gloves
  • Multiple shoe covers
  • Multiple socks
  • Towel
  • Newspaper (not for reading material while racing silly, to soak up water from your shoes after racing in the rain!)
  • Rain cape
  • Plastic bags
  • Sunscreen
  • Multiple sunglasses lenses
  • Multiple cycling caps/head covers
  • Extra arm warmers
  • Extra leg/knee warmers

Expect to get lost

Actually, this one is probably far less likely for you than it is for me. If there is ONE thing I am professional at, it’s getting lost. By foot, car, bus, bike…you name it. My biggest pieces of advice when traveling to your event: allow for extra time, check your maps (multiple times), make sure you know of alternative routes and use the ‘show traffic’ option on your handy google map app to account for bad traffic/crashes. Or you can do what I do, carpool as much as you can and have someone else drive and split the gas because 9 times out of 10, they’ll get there faster and without getting lost better than I ever will.

In part 2, I will talk more about the mental and physical parts of preparing yourself for your first season.

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