The following originally appeared in the weekly newsletters for two teams I coach.
Peak Season: Train Like You’ll Race
By Scott Beesley
Nothing New on Race Day
The saying, “Nothing new on race day,” is used by many coaches and athletes. The idea is that come race day you will have experimented with every aspect of your triathlon that the actual race is just like another practice. Sure, another practice with 2,000 fans, 2,000 competitors and post-race beer tent. Yet from the perspective of the actual swimming, biking, running and transitions it should be no different than the swimming, biking, running and transition strategies used at Team practices. Now is the time of the season to experiment with and finalize those components of your race strategy.
Exactly what components of each discipline are we talking about? All of them. What you eat the day before, morning of, and during the race. What tri-specific gear you use. What lube, chapstick, and sunblock goes on your body. Pacing and sighting during the swim. How much hydration you take in on the bike and run. Transitions. The gesture/emotion/strut/dance you’ll do as you cross the finish line. Everything.
Up to this point in the season, the above has been difficult to practice given the weather. It’s not like you had the option to practice in your tri suit and test out your favorite sunblock as you trained in 50 degree rain and 25 mph gusts blasting you. That weather has passed and it’s time to fine tune your swim, bike, run routine.
My general philosophy as an athlete and coach is that this sport should be fun. The more we force you to hold to strict training ideals and schedules, the less fun it is. I myself have stopped on many training runs – and now that I think about it, on course at my first ½ and full long course triathlon – to pet a dog. Petting dogs is more fun than running, so I usually opt for later when I can. That fun-over-performance philosophy needs to be set aside for a more disciplined approach to training as race day approaches.
The most important aspect of that approach is the train-like-you’ll-race strategy listed above.
The second most important aspect of that approach deals with how you attack each training session.
If you are still building miles and have not yet trained to your race distance, now is the time to eliminate excuses (unless they pertain to injury prevention) and put your time in. No longer is the “just get out there and sweat for twenty minutes” approach adequate. More time in the saddle followed by short runs during your brick sessions are key. Getting in open water is up there on the priorities. And squeezing in one extra weekly workout of your weakest discipline for the next month will do wonders for your physical fitness and mental preparedness. Follow the program. It works.
If you have already trained to race distance in each event, now is the time to shift focus from high training duration and volume to high training intensity. Notice that those runs have been a little tougher lately? It’s not an accident. As they say, to swim/bike/run fast you have to swim/bike/run fast. Make Zone 4 your friend. Short recovery periods are in the plan by design. For example, the swim plan in weeks ahead will have a number sets designed to simulate race effort (or faster) at race distance with short breaks. Examples of this include main sets of 5x 300, 4 x 400, or 3 x 500 with rest intervals of 1:00 or less. The temptation is to both lower your effort toward the end of each set and increase the following rest interval. Resist that temptation and really push yourself once per week in each disciple. Your reduction in training volume and duration (i.e. total time per week and time spent in each specific workout) will not harm you. It is actually necessary in order for your body to recover and benefit from the high intensity sessions. Follow the program. It works.
With all the above said, please do not lose focus on why you are here. First, you are doing a great thing for yourself and your body. Celebrate that. Second, someone has sacrificed to make your training possible. Thank them. Fourth and final, enjoy the social aspect of this sport. As the season nears an end many people think ahead to post-season and ask, “What am I going to do the rest of summer when I’m not training with my teammates?” I would suggest train with your Teammates. Now is the time to exchange contact info, find each other on the face books and shift your mentality away from that of a Bucket Lister and embrace the triathlon community for all that it is and can be for you