You are here:   Hawk Island Triathlon > Beginner Tips
  |  Login

The Race Day Run-Down

An overwhelming number of Hawk-I-Tri participants each year are triathlon newbies, so we’ve compiled the following information to answer common questions and help reduce any pre-race jitters. Some information is specific to our race, but most will be helpful to beginner triathletes anywhere.


Do I need a wet suit?

Wetsuits are allowed if water temperatures are 78 degrees or below. They are not required. The main reason people choose to wear wetsuits is insulation. Wetsuits are designed to allow a thin layer of water between the swimmer and the suit. Body heat is trapped by the neoprene material of the suit, warming the layer of water inside the suit. People also wear wetsuits because the neoprene material increases buoyancy, making it easier to float (i.e., easier to swim) and provides a barrier between swimmers and any seaweed in the lake.


The key to a good triathlon wetsuit is making sure it fits just right. Do NOT use a wetsuit made for scuba diving or surfing.  These are not designed to allow adequate arm/leg movement necessary for swimming in a triathlon. The ideal suit will fit snugly around your body, allowing a thin layer of water beneath the suit, but no leakage around the arms or neck. It should NOT be loose enough that water flows through the suit as you swim. This negates any insulating effect and creates drag, slowing you down.  We’ll discuss getting in and out of your wetsuit later.

If you’re on the fence about whether or not to use a wetsuit, rent one for a few days and try it out in a local pool.


If You Haven't, Don't  

One of the biggest mistakes beginner triathletes make is trying out new gear, or a new performance supplement, or a new product on race day. If you haven’t taken the time to practice swimming in a wetsuit, don’t start on race day. If you’ve haven’t used bicycle shoes or toe clips on your pedals, don’t try them now. Don’t try new foods, new supplements, new socks, new shoes, or new goggles. You’ll be safer if you stick with what you know.


Pre-Race Checklist

We recommend packing the following items in your transition bag the night before the race. We like to assume you’ll remember your BIKE.

          Absolute necessities:

  • Swimsuit and/or wetsuit
  • Swim goggles
  • Swim cap (provided at check-in)
  • Race numbers (provided at check-in)
  • Water bottle(s)
  • Bike and/or running shoes
  • Bike and/or running shorts
  • Race shirt/sports bra
  • Bike helmet
  • Directions to the park

          Other helpful items:

  • Waterproof sunscreen
  • Vertical marker to identify your transition space (helium balloon, flag, etc.)
  • Extra swim goggles (in case a strap breaks)
  • Tinted swim goggles (to reduce glare from swimming into the sun)
  • Pro-Glide or Pam (for those wearing wetsuits)
  • Earplugs/nose plug
  • 2 towels (one for standing, one for drying)
  • 5 gallon bucket or milk crate (for hauling gear and sitting to put on shoes)
  • Gallon of water to rinse feet
  • Socks
  • Race number belt
  • Visor or hat
  • Sunglasses
  • iPod, mp3, or other music for the run
  • Recovery drinks
  • Energy gels/bars
  • Bananas
  • Garbage bags to store wet items (and cover things if it rains)
  • Tire pump and repair kit
  • Heart rate monitor
  • Antibacterial wipes
  • Advil
  • Camera
  • Toilet paper
  • Paper and pen
  • Business cards
  • Identification
  • Money/credit card



Label Your Gear

Every year, racers leave items behind.  Make it easier for us to reunite you with lost items by labeling your gear with a permanent marker.  Write your name and phone number on anything you can’t bear to lose, e.g., the inside of your shoes, the tag inside your wetsuit, your helmet, etc.


Arrive Early

We recommend that beginners arrive to the park no later than 6 a.m. on Sunday. If you didn’t do early check-in on Saturday, you still have to get your BIB number, race shirt, and swim cap. Then you need plenty of time set up your transition area, get your timing device and body markings, use the restroom, and, if you’re wearing one, climb into your wetsuit. If you’re coming from out of town, give yourself extra drive time, even if that means a 3 a.m. wake-up. Or better yet, book a room at Candlewood Suites, our official race hotel, do early check-in on Saturday, and get a good night’s sleep!



Parking at Hawk Island County Park is $3 for Ingham County residents, $5 for non-residents. Gates open Saturday at 7 a.m., Sunday at 5:30 a.m. Once the lots inside Hawk Island are full, racers, volunteers, and visitors will be directed to nearby overflow parking. There is NO PARKING allowed in the Dollar General store across from the park or in any nearby church lots. Violators will be towed.

If you need to leave before 11 a.m., please park in the overflow lots.  In the interest of safety, we would like to minimize vehicular traffic at the park entrance while racers are entering and exiting the bike course.


Race Numbers

When you check-in, you will receive a race number, also called a BIB number. Your BIB number must be pinned to your run shirt or attached to a race belt and worn during the run.  

You will also receive numbers for your bike and helmet. Most racers don't want stickers attached to their frame, so we recommend folding the bike tag over one of your brake cables. Volunteers will verify that the bike you leave with matches your race number. BIB numbers, bike/helmet numbers, race shirts, and swim caps are distributed during Saturday and Sunday check-in.


Body Markings

At check-in, participants receive body markings on their upper arms (race number) and left calf (age). Consider it a temporary tattoo. Arm markings allow staff and volunteers to identify racers who are not wearing bib numbers (e.g., in the water or on the bike). Calf markings help you gauge your progress compared to others in your race category. They also provide a sobering reality check to those who thought they were in shape before being passed by a runner sporting a “76” on the back of his leg. Body marking will be available during Saturday and Sunday check-in.


Timing Chip

Timing services are provided by Ray Passchier of Epic Race Timing. Ray offers live results online during the race, online finisher certificates, and a 15 second YouTube video of each athlete as they cross the finish line. 

Disposable timing straps are distributed before the race on Sunday. Even if you do early check-in on Saturday, you will still have to get your strap on Sunday. Attach it to your left ankle.

Each device is a miniature transponder that is triggered when it crosses a magnetic field, e.g., a timing mat.  A signal is transmitted every time a participant crosses a mat into the next segment of the race.  Race results are based on overall times from start to finish, but racers also get a breakdown of their times for each segment (swim, bike, and run) and their times in the transition area (TA) between segments.

Once you cross the finish line, you can save your strap for posterity or dispose of it in the trash. If the strap falls off at any time during the race, you must notify the nearest volunteer when you realize it's lost, and again every time you cross a timing mat so we can track your progress.


Transition Area

The transition area is the hub of any triathlon, where racers keep their bikes, clothing, and supplies needed to “transition” from the swim to the bike and the bike to the run. For the safety and security of our participants and their gear, no one other than racers and volunteers may enter the transition area. Spectators are NOT allowed. Racers MUST display bib numbers or body markings. Volunteers will be wearing fluorescent yellow shirts.

Our transition area has four access points, two of which have timing mats. The north access (near the finish line) is where racers enter at the end of the swim and exit to the run. The south access (near Cavanaugh Rd.) is where racers start and end the bike course. The side entrances (on the east and west, near the porta potties) allow racers to move between the transition area, the race pavilion, and parking.

After the timing mats are activated (approximately 7:15 a.m.), the side entrances will be the only access available until the start of the race. The north and south access points will be closed to prevent racers wearing timing chips from triggering a false start by walking near a mat.  

Setting Up Your Transition Space

All participants will have their own numbered bike slot, corresponding to their race number. Each rack segment accommodates eight bikes – four on each side. Rack your bike on the same side that your space is marked.  Back in your bike under the cross bar and center your bike seat under the number (this is the center of your space).   Lift the back end of your bike and hook the nose of the saddle over the bar, so the back tire is off the ground and the front tire is down.

Take a look around.  Remember your surroundings.  With hundreds of racers and rows of bikes, it’s easy to forget where your space is.  Some racers make a mental note of the nearest tree. Some use colored chalk to mark the ground in front of their space. Some attach balloons or flags to their rack. I’ve even seen a giant plastic flower bouquet. Whatever you do, make sure you can locate your space.

Racers are allotted 24 inches of transition space, 12 inches on either side of your bike.  Transition etiquette demands that you organize your gear in the space allotted, so don’t spread out like you’re having a picnic. Karma will get you.  We offer the following tips for setting up your space:

  • Hang one towel across the rack for drying off
  • Lay another towel on the ground parallel to your bike
  • If you brought your gear in a 5-gallon bucket, flip it upside down to use as a stool/seat
  • Place an extra bottle of water nearby to rinse debris from bare feet after the swim
  • Place helmet upside down on handle bars, unbuckled, chin straps open, shades inside
  • Place the rest of your gear on the towel, bike gear toward the front, running gear toward the back
  • Leave room to stand while drying off
  • Pin race bib to a race belt or whatever shirt you’re wearing on the run.
  • Make sure that shoe laces are open and tongues are out, place socks inside
  • Roll socks down to the toes (easier to put on wet feet)
  • Make sure bottles are filled with water or sports drink, open the spout so it's ready to use
  • Put items you don't need in your bag to cut down on the confusion
  • Make sure bike is in low gear for starting out
  • Reset bike computer
  • Apply sunscreen


Puting On A Wetsuit

  • Allow plenty of time to get into your wetsuit
  • Clip toenails to keep them from snagging/tearing the neoprene
  • Put plastic bags over your hands and feet to help them slide through the arms and legs of your suit
  • Apply baby oil, BodyGlide, or Pam (yes, the cooking spray) to your arms and legs for the same reason
  • Lubricants also speed up removal of wetsuits after the swim
  • Put lube inside the back neck seam to prevent chafing while turning your head during the swim
  • Do not use regular petroleum jelly, which can degrade wetsuit material


Swim Caps & Goggles

Racers must wear swim caps while on the swim course.  We provide latex caps for all participants. If you have a latex allergy, you may bring your own brightly colored cap. Goggles are highly recommended and come in a variety of styles. Some prefer the smaller version that fit inside your eye sockets. Others prefer the larger, mask-style goggles. They aren’t as “racy” but they are more comfortable and have a greater field of vision.

Spit inside your goggles to keep them from fogging; nothing else works as well. Try putting goggles on before your swim cap - they’re less likely to get knocked off if the goggle strap is under the cap.


Warm Up

Warm up and stretch, at least enough to break a sweat and get the blood moving to your muscles. If you’re wearing a wetsuit, now’s the time to wade into the lake let water seep into the suit. Swimmers wearing bathing suits can also get in the water before the race, but remember to stay warm while you’re waiting in line to start the race. You might want to throw on a sweatshirt or jacket or wrap in a foil blanket to keep warm until your start time. 


Swim Course

The most intimidating segment for beginner triathletes is the swim. Use the following tips to help you through:

  • If you’ve chosen a mass start, think of the swim as a contact sport – don’t be surprised to find yourself surrounded by a swarm of flailing arms and legs and elbows and feet.
  • To avoid the swarm, start at the back of the pack or choose a staggered, individual start.
  • The preferred swim stroke is anything that keeps you moving. I’ve seen people freestyle, sidestroke, breaststroke, backstroke, and doggy paddle. It doesn’t matter if it’s pretty – just finish.
  • If you get tired, swim to the nearest peddle boat, grab a flotation ring, and rest before moving on.
  • Know the course. Set your sights on the turn buoys and on the wind waver on the beach at the exit. Look up every 3-4 strokes to make sure you aren’t going off course.
  • If you are in distress and cannot continue, call for help and/or wave your arms. The nearest lifeguard will assist you. Racers who leave the water receive a DNF (did not finish) and are disqualified from the rest of the race.
  • Swim as far as you can into the shore. Most people instinctively stand up as soon as their feet can touch bottom, but walking through water uses far more energy that swimming until your fingertips reach the bottom.
  • If you’re wearing a wetsuit, unzip it as soon as you stand up. Begin peeling it off your arms as you walk out of the water – it’s much harder to remove once you’ve started to dry off.


Bike Course

Helmets are mandatory. After you transition into your bike gear, buckle your helmet on your head. You must buckle your helmet before you take your bike off the rack.  Walk/run your bike through the transition area and across the next timing mat, THEN mount your bike and pedal out to the bike course.

You might consider carrying a seat pack with the following items to make simple repairs while out on the road:

  • Portable toolkit with Allen wrenches, screw drivers, and a chain breaker
  • Two tire levers
  • Spare tube and patch kit
  • CO2 pump and two cartridges (or small handpump attached to the bike)

Ride single file on the right side of the road. If you wish to pass, announce your intention, pass on the left, and return to the right as soon as you are able. Earn Karma points for offering encouragement to the racers you pass!

Extreme changes in temperature have not been kind to Michigan roads. We do our best to clearly mark potholes and hazards along the course. Please respect our community and refrain from throwing gel wrappers or other waste along the bike course.

As you reach the end of the bike course, heed the volunteers who tell you to slow down. Cyclists have to make a 90 degree turn to re-enter the park, and speeding here is just a road rash waiting to happen. Once you’re back in the park, you must dismount before crossing the timing mat and walk/run your bike back to your transition space.  Do not remove your helmet until your bike is re-racked.


Run Course

When you leave your bike and head out to the run, you may experience a Jello-like sensation in your lower extremities. It might even be more like Jello pudding. It will pass. You'll have your land legs back shortly, but if at any time you need to walk, do it. There’s no shame in walking for a short stretch in a 13.5 mile race.

Runners/walkers will have three opportunities to stay hydrated on the Sprint course, one on the Super Sprint. We have one aid station every ¾ of a mile.  IPods, mp3s, and other sources of music are permitted on the run. The only thing you really have to do now is have fun and make sure your bib number is visible on the front of your body when you cross the finish line.



Volunteers will be waiting just after the finish line to give you your finisher medal. Those who place receive an engraved plate that affixes to the back of the finisher medal (during the award ceremony).   


Cool Down

After you finish your first triathlon, take deep breaths and keep walking for a few minutes to prevent cramping. Don’t forget the fluids. You might not be hungry yet, but you need to keep hydrating. Be proud. You DID IT!