You may have heard this tried-and-true adage: “nothing new on race day”. But what does it really mean? No, it doesn’t mean that you’ll need to wear the same worn-out gear.
“Nothing new on race day” means don’t do anything that you haven’t done during training. Whether it’s transition routines, nutrition, shoes, socks, wet suits, etc... there shouldn’t be any new experiences come race day. This is so you know how to act and pace yourself during your target race.
Timing Your Training
Schedule the start of your training days at the same time as the gunstart of your goal race so you can get a feel for the conditions at that time of day. For instance, if your gunstart is at 6 a.m. then you ideally should be doing a bulk of your training sessions starting at that time. For multisport races where the run happens later in the day (and thus, in the heat), you can do some runs in the late morning to acclimatise and familiarise your body with these conditions.
Testing Your Bike Set-Up
Doing your first race on a borrowed or rented bike is normal, but as you get more involved in triathlon you’ll want to buy your own bicycle. Training using your own set of wheels not only allows you to become familiar with the nuances of your own bike, but also to choose the equipment you want to use. Clincher or tubular tyres? Aero or training wheels? Dropbars or aero base bars? New bike fit? These are decisions you want to make and test out in training.
Pacing and Exertion
Whatever pace you’ve trained for will be your optimal pace for race day. Take note that you will probably be pushing harder just because of the adrenaline of being in a race. Ramping up your pace to what you haven’t done in training isn’t going to make you faster overall; in fact it may not be sustainable. You may fade faster than if you’d stuck to your intended pacing.
Fuelling is also something that you shouldn’t change at a whim. Coaches include nutrition in their athletes' training programs for a reason -- what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat it. Problems absorbing nutrients from gels and sports drinks can be solved long before the actual race by testing other products, other ways to time intake, or even at what intensity fuel is best absorbed.
Trust the process, trust your coach, and don’t eat or drink anything that’s not on the plan! You don’t want to screw up your gut come race day just because you ate something new.
Breaking in New Equipment
Don’t skimp on new racing shoes if your current pairs are already worn out. Running with busted shoes will not only hinder your progress, but can also decrease your performance and may even cause injury. Manufacturers recommend replacing your racing shoes every 400-600 kilometers.
However when getting new shoes, you’ll need to break these in. You can start them off with short easy runs and alternate them with older pairs. Then you can phase them in to wear more often, and test them at tune-up races or runs at race pace at least two weeks before race day to get a feel for the shoes.
Breaking in shoes allows you to see if there are hot spots underfoot that can turn into blisters; the break-in period allows your feet to develop calluses in the right places.
You’ll also want to test the apparel you intend to race in. Areas that chafed previously on training runs will teach you to apply lubricant in those spots on race day.
The “Training Race”
There is such a thing as a “tune-up race”, “training race”, or “test race”. It’s true that you can’t simulate the feel of the roaring crowds and elevated levels of energy that can come during the big racing day. You can use smaller races in the lead-up to your main race to test new racing shoes, equipment, nutrition, strategy, and changes in transition routine.
“Nothing new on race day” is a golden rule in triathlons for a reason. You want everything you do in training and on race day to minimise setbacks and set you up to be able to do your best.