Race Day Preparation
By Tripp Norton, USAT Certified Coach, Owner of Endure 3 Sports, www.endure3sports.com.
Race Day Preparation
NewBie Triathletes spend all their spare time training to prepare their bodies for the great physical challenge of a Triathlon. On race day they are more fit than they were before their training started. In most cases they feel confident that there bodies can handle the challenge ahead but there is one piece of preparation that many novice triathletes neglect to address which can turn a good race into a great race. Many new to the sport only train for the distance and not the actual course or race type conditions. A few weeks before the event it is essential to practice race day simulations which I call “Race Day Preparation.” Inserting race like scenarios into your training that mimic actual race conditions will greatly improve your times and confidence level on the day of the big event.
Do Your Homework!
Research the course and the possible conditions that you will likely encounter on the day of the event. What time of year will the race be in? Will it be hot? What is the humidity? Is it an ocean or lake swim? Is it a wave or mass start? How many participants will there be on the course? How far is the swim finish from the transition area? Is the bike a hilly or flat course? Is the run a hilly or flat course? How long is each of the three sports. These are just a few of the many questions that you will want to know the answer to before signing up for a event and these are the factors that you will want to consider in your “Race Day Preparation”.
Gear & Nutrition?
When thinking of gear and nutrition it is important to plan out the details. Consider such factors as what you plan to wear in each portion of the race and a plan for taking in fuel in the form of bars/gels and fluid. Will you be wearing a wetsuit or none at all? Will you take bars, gels or just fluid on the bike and whether you will wear the same outfit throughout the event or will you change part of the way through?
I would suggest to use the same form of fuel and fluids in training as you will be using the day of the race. Do not try anything new on race day because this can only lead to disaster. Also do not rely on what the race organizers have your source of fuel and fluids because I have participated in some races where they have ran out. Yikes! As far as what to wear, I would suggest picking clothes you could wear throughout the event. Most triathlon specific stores have clothes that will suit your needs in this area. Some great recourses are can be found on the web.
The Bang the Gun!
Bang! The gun has gone off and everyone is racing into the waterâ€¦now what? The start of any triathlon can be an exciting and very action packed and in many cases quite frightening. I remember my first race vividly. It was a sprint and I had done the training to do a 400-meter swim to only find out that on race day the swim was 750 meters. Oh No! This is one mistake you never want to make. This added more pressure and uncertainty to an already stressful situation other than it being my first triathlon. This is why it is important to do your research on the course prior to even signing up for an event.
In addition to knowing the distance you will want to have at least a few open water swims under your belt before race day. A good time to include an open water swim in your training is a few weeks leading up to the event. I would also suggest doing these swims with a few training partners as a way to simulate what it will be like to swim in close proximity to other swimmers. You do not have to do a long swim session in open water but just enough to get the feel of being in open water and what it is like to not have the lines of the bottom of the pool to guide you. Another thing to consider is whether it is a beach or water swim start. Some in the water starts will have you tread water for up to five minutes so practice treading water before some of your swim sessions to prepare for this if it is a water start.
I survived the swim…now what?
Once you have survived the swim it is time to relax right? For many NewBies surviving the swim is a great success (and it is) but the race has just really started. Your heart rate will likely be elevated and you may feel a little disoriented. I have found that it takes a few miles on the bike to get into the grove. My suggestion is to incorporate some training sessions where you start off swimming and then transition directly to the bike. This is called a Brick workout. The swim/bike brick is most convenient if done at your local gym where your pool is located. My suggestion would be to do your normal swim workout at race pace intensity then get out of the pool and immediately jump on a stationary bike for a 10 min ride. This will help with the awkward feeling of the transition from the swim to the bike. My suggestion is to incorporate these a few weeks from the race with the frequency being at least one Swim to Bike Brick once per week leading up to the event.
It is also important to train on the bike in the same type of terrain as the course you will be racing in. If it is a hilly course then train hills or do hill repeats. If the course is flat practice a steady spin or on a flat terrain. It is also helpful to drive the course a day or two before the actual event to gain more knowledge of the actual course so there are no race day surprises.
The Dreaded Run, ugh…
Wow, what is this sensation in my legs? And how long will it last? After the bike portion of a triathlon your legs will feel really weak and you will likely feel off balance. This will most likely be the moment that quitting first comes into your mind but this sensation will go away. Usually this discomfort will subside after the first half mile of the run so try to push through it.
For many Newbie Triathletes the Bike to Run transition is when they hit the wall. To combat this it is important to incorporate Bike to Run Brick training sessions. Unlike the brick sessions for swim to bike, I recommend incorporating Bike to Run Brick sessions as early as possible in your training plan. Â All the athletes I coach have Bike to Run Bricks included in their training plans in the very first week. Likewise, I recommend doing at least a 10 min run after every bike workout. Instead of making this weakness make it your strength.
Last but not least…Transitions
In both transitions (T1 & T2) either from the swim to the bike or the bike to the run it is very hard to concentrate on getting changed and ready for the next segment when you have less oxygen going to the brain. During the transitions NewBies waste a lot of time because they do not have a plan. The key to mastering the transitions is to Practice, Practice, Practice. I would suggest practice laying out all your equipment and timing yourself changing clothes. This is great to do the week of race week when your training load is likely to be less than the weeks of heavy training.
Another issue that many beginner triathletes have is locating their stuff in transition. In my first triathlon I did not focus on where my gear was located and I wasted three minutes searching. You do not want to waste valuable time not being able to locate your gear when all you have to do is think ahead. My suggestion is to pick a landmark and remember approximately how close your bike and gear is from it. Â Another trick you might try is to bring a colorful towel that is different from everyone else to lay your gear on or to tie a balloon to the rack at your transition spot. You also might consider the fact that your race number is marked on your body and most triathlon transitions have the bike racks labeled by race number order. I typically will make a mental note of what my race number is before entering the water and if I have to, I will look down at my arm when I come out of the water.
By doing your homework on the course and doing race simulations you will have a leg up on all the other NewBie competitors which will give you more confidence and ensure your success on race day. Keep in mind that there will never be the perfect race day but you can race the perfect race given the circumstances if you are well prepared. My suggestion would be to get creative with your race day simulations as they are not only fun but will help you to cross the finish line with the least amount of anxiety. For more advice or personal coaching needs please feel free to contact me at email@example.com .
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