Race season is in full swing. It’s a busy time of year getting my athletes prepared for their upcoming races. Whether your big race is next weekend or at the end of the season, these six guidelines will help you cover all your bases so you’re ready to go when the gun goes off. Time to get focused and prepared to race at your best.
Gear & Equipment. I probably don’t need to tell you, but triathlon is a gear intensive sport! Make sure all of your equipment fits properly and is helping you achieve your goals. The bike is the biggest and most complicated piece of equipment triathletes use. Make sure your bike is the right bike for you: fit and size are critical to performance on any level. Sure, you can borrow your neighbor’s $100 Wal-Mart special to do your first sprint (go ahead, get your feet wet, see what it’s all about! Everyone has to start somewhere!), but it’s easier, more comfortable and faster to ride a good road or TT bike. Take the time to find what suits your needs, goals and budget. Whatever you ride, take care of your bike. Keep it clean and take it to the bike shop a couple of times a year to make sure the gears, breaks and all parts are working properly.
Other important equipment: your race kit. Find one that fits and suits your race and your body. Then test it out in training to make sure you made the right choice. Same with a wetsuit: Do you need one for your race? You can try before you buy and rent one locally or through the internet. Check your goggles to make sure they fit, will stay in place and help you navigate in the chaos of the open water swim start. Running shoes: again good fit and tailoring to your needs is important. There is a trend toward minimalist shoes. These are great for the right person. There is also now a trend toward high cushioned, highly engineered shoes that help you stay healthy while logging more miles.
Last but not least, your helmet. Need to keep your head safe and well protected. Make sure yours fits properly, snug, not too loose. If you’ve had yours for 5 years or more or crashed with it, time for a new one. If you’re looking for a speed advantage, a good aero helmet will shave minutes off your bike split (dependent on the distance of your race).
Get in the open water. Whether you want to complete a triathlon or improve your performance, you need to train in the open water. First timers need to acclimate to this different environment. Race day is not the smartest time to make your open water debut. If you’re looking to improve your race performance from last season, get out and swim in the open water as often as possible. Remember, it’s still swimming, the same thing you do in the pool, but the environment is different: dark water, cold temperatures, chop, currents, waves, salt water and a bunch of other swimmers around you. All these factors make the open water swim a new, different and exciting experience.
Attend a clinic! Get expert help if you are struggling on your own. Some of the skills I teach in my clinics: breathing, navigation, sighting, pacing, buoy skills, reading the pack, stroke variations, sprinting, temperature acclimatization, wetsuits and how to overcome fear, panic and frustration.
While out there, get used to swimming in a new environment with a wetsuit, acclimate to temperatures, current, chop and improve your navigation skills. Swimming straight is really helpful to get you in and out in the shortest time possible. Practice your race speed both in the pool and in the open water. Be ready for the fast speeds at the start or be disciplined enough to start at your pace to avoid panic.
Transition practice = free speed. Yes, fast transitions are free speed. Are you training transitions to take advantage of this simple way to lower your race times? This simple training technique can be applied to all race distances.
Set up a mock transition in your basement, backyard, driveway or local park. Go through all the steps from swim or mock swim (push ups & spins), into bike shoes, helmet, run with your bike, hop on and ride for a few minutes. Then hop off, run with your bike, “rack it”, helmet off, bike shoes off, running gear on, run for a few minutes. Repeat several times until it is quick and easy.
Racing with shoes in your pedals or flying mounts/dismounts will also help you shave seconds off your transition times. These are advanced skills and require extensive practice in training to master and implement on race day.
Plan on transition training 1-3 times/week for about 3-4 weeks leading into your races. This makes your race experience more positive as well as faster. Transitions need to be a well worn habit so on race day execution is simple, quick and efficient.
Race specific prep: pacing and conditions. Do you know the conditions you’ll be racing in: is it hot, hilly, flat, windy, cold water, salt water, ocean, lake, etc? Get to know the conditions you’ll be racing in and do your best to simulate these conditions in your training. Hilly race? Run and ride more hills. To prep for ITU World Championships one year, I knew it would be a hilly race. I ran and rode more hills in a year than most people see in their lifetime. I went fast, slow, long, uphill, downhill; I covered all my bases. When the race came around, that hilly course almost seemed flat to me. On the final hill to the finish, I passed the 4th place woman and won myself a spot on the podium. All my hill training really paid off!
What if you live in a flat area, but are preparing for a hilly race? Specificity is always the best training, but you can improvise. Hill running on a treadmill, hard gear riding or using headwinds will all help you be better prepared. Training for a hot race in a cool climate? Use heat acclimatization techniques: over dress for your workouts, saunas, steam rooms and hot yoga all help you prepare to race in the heat. These are all very helpful techniques that trump no effort to simulate actual race day conditions.
Race speeds. Do you know what race speed you’ll execute on the day? There are many ways to help determine these paces and efforts, something a great coach can help you with. Using powermeters and GPS watches give you objective feedback on your training that will help predict what you can produce on race day.
Rust buster race… lead up race. Never let your biggest, most important race be your first race or only race of the season. Plan a warm up or dress rehearsal race a few weeks to a few months before your more important race. Any race distance is helpful: a sprint before an Ironman, a duathlon before an Olympic distance, even some single sport races such as a century ride, half marathon, open water swim race, aquathlon, etc.
Even the most accomplished athletes with the best training plans cannot simulate all the stresses you’ll experience on race day. Training races are an excellent way to prepare for your bigger, more important triathlons.
Mindset/mental prep for races. Your mind can be your biggest asset or your greatest enemy. You have the power to train your mind as you train your muscles. It simply takes observation and practice. What are the messages you tell yourself? Are they positive and helpful or negative and detrimental? How can you change that message and change your performance? More on this topic in my next blog post.