"And once I had a job cleaning toilets for a living - on the night shift, for chrissakes. Got that? I didn't even rate cleaning toilets during the day. My bosses actually thought to themselves, "Yeah, Miller's good, he's real good. He's just not ready for The Show yet." Dennis Miller Planning the perfect race is next to impossible. There are so many variables: the heat, the humidity, the race directors organization, the water, the wind, your mood, the mood of the guy next to you at the first buoy who's swinging his arms like hatchets, the driver of the Acme Tack and Nail truck who's trying to keep his load from bouncing all over the bike course on his way to the Quackenbush account in Oxnard. You can't cover all the bases, but you can set yourself up for a good race by making smart choices. I write this with the team championships at Zuma in mind, but these hints can be applied to most races. Think "Rest" 5 days out Even the coolest triathlon veteran will sleep poorly the night before the race. If you're headed to your first event, you may find yourself glued to the ceiling at midnight trying to talk yourself down from spastic visualizations of the swim and from triple checking your gear. If you're sleeping at a hotel, or as a guest in someone's house, you can experience any number of pitfalls - pillows that are too thick, or oddly distracting (but intriguing) nearby noises. Plan for and get solid nights of sleep for the five nights prior to race. If you only get a few hours sleep the night before the race, you still have stored rest from which to draw. If you don't know a race taper from the Mark Taper, don't sweat it: the basic elements to shoot for are shorter workouts with only brief moments of intensity. If your plan is a week on the couch before the race, you may find your body going into shock on race day. On the other hand, if you're killing yourself a few days prior to the race with ten one-hundreds on a minute in the pool, and a track workout, you may find yourself too tired on race day to make the finish (or the start). Find a balance that keeps you fresh and active. Hydration is also critical as early as four days prior to the race. Too much water can actually wash away critical electrolytes so consume 8 ounces of Powerbar Perform or a similar beverage between every 1.5 liters of water that you drink. Eat Smart The dinner on the night before the race should be something you know and like. Twelve hours from the race start is not the time to be experimenting with Uncle Leon's new double barrel Cajun recipe, or testing to see if that childhood peanut allergy has faded with age. Eat a simple, balanced dinner. Try to avoid foods that may congest you, like red meat and dairy. Carbo-loading is important for events lasting several hours, but for shorter races get a good lean mix of carbs and protein and don't overstuff yourself. The Morning of One of the most successful short-course triathletes in the LA Tri Club is Jamie Silber. One of Jamie's best secrets for a successful race is maintaining warmth before the race. From the moment you wake, get warm and stay warm until the gun goes off. Go with layers that you can peel off to get down to your race wear - sweats, a jacket and even a winter hat will help your body prepare for the effort to come. Use the facilities at home. I cannot stress this enough: get up early, have your race breakfast, and use the toilet at home rather than at the race site. There are always lines at the site, the restrooms are rarely as clean or as comfortable as the one in your own home, and you can spend that time at the site double-checking everything. Know the Course Use the internet, ask your friends, and check the maps until you know where the course goes. Find time to cover most of the course (especially the bike and run) in the days before the race. If you have never participated in this event before you must go to the "course talk". If you have done the race before you probably should go to the "course talk" because there may be changes or new hazards. After you set up your transition, walk to the "swim entrance" of the transition area - sight your space and make a note on how to find it when you come out of the swim. Then walk to the "bike entrance" of the transition area - sight your space and make a note so you can find your shoes when you come off the bike. Finally, check out the swim start. Walk the line from the start towards the first mark of the swim - look for rocks, holes, sand bars, etc. You will be running this route later so get to know it. Also, get out into the water and check for currents, learning the currents can save you several minutes in the swim. Know the Rules I've tried to read the USAT rulebook - correction: I did read the USAT rulebook as a part of my certification. The book is pretty thick, it has many chapters, and is written in fairly fine print, but I came away remembering three "big" rules: one about the helmet, one abut drafting and one about blocking. The helmet is easy; it must be on and be fastened while with the bike. There are notes about "fastened until dismounted", but why test the officials - just leave it on until you rack the bike. Drafting always interests me because it is the most divisive and religious element of our sport. Here's the gist of it: there is a "drafting zone" around each bicycle - it's in the shape of a box. The box measures 2 meters in width (1 meter on either side of the rider) and 10 meters in length, and they measure that from the front wheel. When you pass, you need to move through that zone in 15 seconds. Blocking basically means if you pull out to pass, you need to check back to make sure you don't pull out in front of a faster rider who is passing you. Humans who have different perspectives judge all these rules. For example, it seemed that the drafting zone during my ride at Wildflower in'99 was the size of a shoebox and measured off of the rear hub. The bottom line is: don't draft unless you're in a draft legal race, keep your helmet on and fastened, and look back before you make a move. By keeping just some basics in mind you can reduce the number of unpleasant surprises that can come up in a race. For many of us in this sport, racing is recreation. So keep it fun and enjoy the experience.