Training – Performing on Race Day
ironguides looks at some crucial elements of triathlon preparation that will ensure you get to enjoy your fitness in a goal race.
At the very heart of race season, we are looking to be in the best shape possible for our goal races; the training has been done and now the key is getting to the start line healthy and mentally ready to tackle the day.
In 2005 I was watching ironman Austria and saw Marino Vanhoenacker before the start of the race – he was incredibly calm and seemed lazy in all his movements. During a pre-race interview Marino was asked if he was nervous, and he replied simply, No. The work had been done and he knew he was ready! This is exactly the mindset we need to be taking into race day in order to maximize performance.
We all head into the race differently, though rarely in a completely perfect scenario: we may be a kilogram heavier than we would like, have missed one long run or long bike, taken too little rest or did too much travel. There is always something but come race day we all need to realize there is nothing we can do to change our current circumstances.
On race day we have to be content with our preparations and realize we can only do what our body is capable of. I have a saying on race day that is simply: “Enjoy your fitness.”
Unfortunately in ironman, fitness is not the only element to a successful race but it is the area where we spend most time preparing. Other factors are present on race day, and those can very easily derail all your training and lead to a bad performance.
These factors are transitions, equipment, nutrition and weather. If we want to enjoy our fitness in our goal race, we must have prepared in all areas to get the most out of our day.
Practicing your race plan
One thing I find is lacking in most athletes’ preparations is practicing race plans. Most athletes have a race plan and know how many and what type of calories they will take during the event, what drinks and what concentrations of liquids they will have during the race, and so on.
But the main element to a successful plan is missing and that is practice: you need to practice your race plan in training.
We want everything to run smoothly on race day and to achieve this we must have practiced everything thoroughly including transitions, removing the wetsuit, eating on the bike and at high intensity – it’s amazing how different an energy bar can taste and how hard it is to eat at race pace, compared with the way does at easy training intensity.
When training for Ironman on The Method system, you are going to have some sessions that are very similar to race day in the final weeks leading up to your goal event, and it is during these sessions that you should be practicing everything for race day.
Let’s look at some things to consider for your race-day practice.
* If you have race wheels, then use them for this session. This will allow you to know how the wheel feels when riding, braking, descending and climbing.
* Mount your aero bottle on the tri bars. Use this set-up in training so you’re familiar with drinking from the aero bottle and with refilling it while moving.
* Practice aid stations. Get a friend to hand you water as you ride past so you know how it feels. Taking a bottle from a stationary person when you’re going at 30km/hour is not easy.
* Transitions bags: use these in training so you are familiar with the process. On your brick session, have a run bag ready at home, so that when you change from the bike to the run in training you go through the same procedure as you will on race day in T2.
Problems with nutrition on race day are among the biggest complaints of triathletes. This is typically due to not having practiced in training. If you usually drink 500ml of fluid every hour when training, then suddenly taking on 1 litre per hour during a race is going to be unfamiliar for your body and it will not react kindly.
Also, taking on nutrition at different intensities is important as it is harder to consume calories when going hard. For example, you might have a 30-minute hard bike effort in training. Most athletes would do the 30 minutes hard without fuel, and then drink or eat after, but in fact this hard 30-minute session is the perfect time to practice your race nutrition.
It’s amazing how easy it may be to eat a Powerbar during an easy ride, but becomes impossible to take in at high intensity. If you do not try in training, you cannot know what will happen on race day.
Weather also plays a part in choosing nutrition. Don’t count on chocolate bars for fuel if you’re going to be racing in extreme heat as everything will melt, making it impossible to eat them. At the same time planning something like a Powerbar in a cold race is not ideal either as these become almost impossible to chew in low temperatures.
So you can see that fitness is not the only element to performance on race day. There are several other factors at play and if we attend to these in training, it will make our race day experience more routine and we can expect to carry our fitness to the line successfully.
We have all heard the saying, ‘Practice makes perfect,’ and in Ironman it’s the practice of the little things that make a big, big difference on race day! Don’t be fooled by watching the pros race and see that everything looks so easy – you forget that the pros race 10 to 20 times per year, and every race is practice. If you only compete once or twice a year in major races, then you need to practice your routines in training!
Enjoy your training
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