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If you are lucky, you always get to race on a nice sunny day. But statistically, it can happen that you have to race on a rainy day. It happened to me on a sprint triathlon and I can assure you there are a few things I wished I had known before racing that day.
To make sure you are prepared for it, I will share with you some tips to race in the rain.
Triathlon racing under the rain is not much different for the swim and the run leg. But it makes a big difference for the transitions and the bike leg. For the transition, it is a question of being organized and keeping the important gear dry. For the bike, it is a question of safety. Roads are more dangerous and can be very slippery. The chances of falling off increase. So they are a few things to know to make sure you get to the end of the race safely!
Tips to do a triathlon in the rain:
Organizing your transition area
Keep you gear dry with garbage bags
Bring a few large garbage bags with you on race day to help you set up your transition area. On a rainy day, there is nothing worse than getting your gear soaked before racing in it: especially the running shoes.
When preparing your transition area, put your running shoes (and socks if you decide to run with them) in a plastic bag. Then fold the bag with the opening down under the shoes. This will keep the bag from getting wet inside while still being very fast to open and get the stuff out during the transition.
Some people enjoy having a small towel with them to dry their feet to be able to put on their socks. You can add this small towel inside the bag over your shoes.
If the transition area is on grass, it is likely to get very muddy. In this case, I recommend putting an additional garbage bag between the grass/mud and all your gear. This will give a bit more support to the ground, you won’t slide so much in transition. And you won’t get mud on everything.
Lower your bike tire pressure by 5-10 psi
To get more adherence on wet roads, putting a lower tire pressure will help. Don’t remove more than 10psi from your usual race day tire pressure or you might end up being lower than the minimum pressure accepted by your tire. This would increase your chances of getting a puncture.
Protect your handlebars from the rain
For long races, especially Ironmans, you may be required to rack your bike overnight. If it is going to rain all night, and your bike is staying outdoors until the start of the race, the handlebar tape will be soaked with water. It happened to me: the handlebar tape got loose and I had to tape it again on the morning of the race. To avoid these issues, you can consider taping a plastic bag on each side of the handlebars to protect them.
Of course, remove them before the start of the race. It might still be raining while you do your swim and the bars can still get wet. But maybe it won’t be too soaked in such a short period of time. You might also get lucky and the rain will stop and you will be thankful for having protected your bike during the most important time.
Gear advice for a rainy race
Dress for the temperature, not for the rain!
It’s not because it’s raining that you need to wear a waterproof jacket. If it is 20°C or more outside, you are going to overheat with your waterproof jacket. So what should you do?
Check the weather report up to the last minute. Check the wind and the temperature. And decide your gear according to this. In most races, even under the rain, a simple tri suit will be sufficient all along the race. The only risk of getting cold when it rains is when the temperature is not very warm and there is wind.
The day I did a sprint triathlon under the rain, it was quite cold (12°C outside) and was very windy. On the bike, I get cold easily and I decided to wear a wind jacket for the bike leg, which I took off for the run. I wasted a bit of time putting it above my tri suit. It’s difficult to put on “plastic” feel jackets on wet skin. It sticks everywhere. It’s not very comfortable. But I think I would not have handled being cold on this particular day.
So the best advice I can give you is not to add layers just because it is raining.
Do not wear socks or wear snuggly socks
Wearing socks on a rainy day really depends on you. With or without, your chance of getting blisters increases as your shoes are wet. For short-distance triathlon, I don’t think I would bother with wearing them on a rainy day. It is always difficult to put on after the swim, but even more under the rain.
On long-distance triathlons, wearing socks usually helps prevent blisters. But on a rainy day, the socks will end up getting soaked at some point, and then they are likely to be the cause of the blisters… So it’s a tough call. I would wear socks for such events but I would pick socks that are quite tight to make sure they don’t move.
Use clear lenses for cycling (non-tinted)
Cycling under the rain means low visibility. So the first thing to do is to avoid tinted sunglasses or you won’t see a thing. So use a pair of glasses with clear lenses for rainy days.
Always wear glasses even on rainy days: it is for your safety. On a rainy day, even if you see raindrops, it’s still better than getting the rain inside your eyes. It hurts and it’s difficult to see anything. This can lead to dangerous situations.
Racing under the rain
Slow down around corners
Bike handling skills in the rain are very important. You are more likely to fall off due to a lack of adherence on the road. This is why you should avoid making sharp turns on a wet day. Slow down ahead of the corner to reduce the speed and not lean as much as on a dry day.
Brake earlier than you would on a dry day
On wet roads, the braking distance increases. It’s not because it is race day that you should not anticipate breaking. Do not put others at risk, nor yourself. When racing under the rain you are unlikely to get your PB. Just stay safe and do your best performance possible in these conditions!
Watch out for paint on the road! It’s slippery!
Avoid riding over paint on the road when it is raining. This is a recipe for disaster. It is very slippery. By paint, I mean the pedestrian crossings and road markings.
Don’t forget to hydrate (and eat)
Nutrition is key for a race. On a rainy day, you won’t feel thirsty. So you need to do drink regularly, according to what you would do on a normal race day. With nutrition, the rain might make it more difficult to get your food intake. Depending on how you store your food on the bike, it can be slippery, or the texture can change, and make it difficult to eat. So have a think before the race about the impact of the rain on your nutrition intake. You might want to revisit some of your plans!
After race advice
Dry yourself and get changed fast
Don’t catch a cold after racing in bad conditions. You will be wet when passing the finish line. To avoid catching a cold, you should quickly go get changed into dry clothes. And then you can clear your transition area and enjoy a nice celebration drink!