When I served in the Air Force, I had to pre-flight my aircraft before each flight. No matter how well I knew the routine, I always followed a checklist to ensure that every item was checked and mission ready. The consequences of missing an item on a pre-flight could be very severe, even life threatening. At 43,00 feet, there are no places to pull over and make an adjustment or repair. While forgetting an item in your race-day swim bag may not have the same impact as missing an item on an aircraft, you still don’t want any surprises before a race. Here are some of the items that I include in my pre-race checklist.
Extra bathing suit. Suits can rip or tear during warmup. I usually break out a new swim suit at the start of each season and use it only for races. It becomes my back-up suit for the next season.
Extra swim cap. These can rip so easily! If you take a spare, you can even wear it for extra warmth if the water or air is particularly cold. Swim caps, whether they are silicone or latex, should be brightly colored. White swim caps can sometimes be confused with the white caps found in choppy waters and are therefore not a good color to use.
Extra goggles. How many times have you had a strap break or a lens pop out just as you were getting ready to swim? Also, weather conditions can change, so consider take one pair each of clear and tinted. Clear goggles are good for dark or cloudy days; smoked lenses help cut the glare on sunny days.
Anti-fog liquid for your goggles. It’s very difficult to sight through fogged goggles. Use saliva or one of the commercial products made specifically to keep lenses clear.
Earplugs. Not everyone likes them, but they do help keep cold water out or your ears. They come in two types — those that mold to your ear and those that are pre-molded.
Warm-up suit or sweat suit. The weather can turn cold while standing on the beach waiting for race results. For races in the evening you may want to put on a warm-up suit as the sun sets. After cold-water swims, whether during the day or evening, it’s always important to warm your core up quickly. You’ll really appreciate having the extra clothing with you in that situation.
Sunscreen. Sunscreen should be applied to all exposed areas well before you get in the water. Be careful to clean all the sunscreen off your hands when finished, because it has affects your ability to hold onto the water. You don’t want anything on your hands that will make them slippery while trying to race, nor do you want to risk getting any on your goggles. Make sure that you don’t put sunscreen on your forehead if you are going to wear a swim cap. If you do, your cap won’t stay in place.
Body Grease. You’ll need some sort of body lubricant to prevent chafing, especially in salt water and especially if you wear a wetsuit. Vaseline and lanolin work very well, but lanolin comes off in warm water. These are best applied with plastic gloves because they tend to be messy and you don’t want to risk getting the grease on your hands and smearing your goggles. Body Glide is very effective and it’s applied like a stick deodorant, so you don’t risk getting it on your hands or fingers and eventually your goggles.
Nourishment, both liquid and solid. Don’t accept any form of nourishment from a friend on race day. You don’t want to compete on anything that you haven’t experimented with during training because you don’t know how it’s going to sit in your stomach while racing. You certainly don’t want an upset stomach during the race. Have something on hand for after the race, too. A thermos of hot tea or soup is good to get your internal heat back to normal. An energy bar or special protein treat will help restore lost calories and nutrients, and will help you recover faster.
Wetsuit if you are going to compete in one. Wet suits come in a variety of styles: shorty, full-length sleeveless, and full length with sleeves. If you are going to compete in a wet suit, don’t forget to pack it in your swim bag! And don’t forget to spend time training in your wetsuit, as it will affect your stroke. You don’t want to find out the day of the race that your stroke is different.
Hat and sunglasses. (For standing on the beach waiting for race results.)
Footwear. (You might have to walk a mile or so to the start of a race after you register.)
Those are just suggestions. You’ll no doubt have your own items to add to the list. When your checklist is complete, file one copy for future races and put another copy in your swim bag. You can run through your checklist quickly the night before a race. That way you won’t forget anything and you’ll avoid those unpleasant surprises on race day.