Getting Tuned up for Race Season
It’s funny, but it’s one of the most common questions I get during the last weeks of training before the season’s first race is How can I be sure that I’m ready? Well, If you’re not ready by now, there’s not much you can do. There is a TON of good advice out there on how to actually prep for a race, but the truth is that it’s the weeks and months leading up to this point that will set the tone for what you can do with those last few weeks to fine tune what you’ve got.
If you’ve been working and training hard, then it’s time to back off a bit, taper and focus on the little things. Your training plan probably calls for taper repeats- 30-90 second bursts to race pace with full recoveries in between. This is when you should follow the book. 30-90 seconds. Means 30-90 seconds, not 2-4 minutes. Race pace means race pace, not track interval pace. Full recoveries, means full recoveries to ZONE 1. OK, if your tapering for an Ironman or Half Ironman, it might be a little different, but you get my point. This is the time when it is so much more common to overdo and then be tired going into your race, rather than to under-do and not be ready, There isn’t much fitness you can gain at this point, so work on things that you can gain. You can gain a little muscle memory that says “Hey!! This is race pace!! Remember me?‚Äù without fatigue, if you do it correctly. That’s what the taper repeats are for. They’re not to gain speed. They might also give you just enough time to find that flow and that form that will get you to your goal on race day, but again, skip the fatigue part. You don’t have to prove anything now. Prove it on race day.
Now that you’re tapering, what do you do with all of this extra time?? Well, for one- SLEEP. Recovery, and sleep in particular is when your body is rebuilding itself and this is the process where you actually get stronger. It doesn’t actually happen during the exercise and training when you are breaking things down, so be aware that this taper is part of your training. Then you can also start to actually prep for the race.
If you’re still working towards other races and gaining fitness, strength, speed and power, there are still some things you can do to keep up the work towards your bigger races (which means fatigue) and still gain a little performance for this first race. This is where you need to listen to your body. At times in your training you will have to overreach and at some point you may hit a limit of overtraining. You will likely teeter near this point several times during the season if you’re really training hard. The key to going into the early season “training” races is not to let these races push you OVER the top. In order to manage this, you have to plan ahead and then work on the other little things with attention. The other things like recovery, nutrition, hydration, and sleep. So you don’t want to taper for this race, but if you go into the race on the edge of overtraining, race hard, then just keep on going, you will likely end up WAY over that edge. At that point you will likely lose several weeks of training, or end up doing more damage than good. So pay attention to yourself. Is that extra workout two days before the race really necessary? Look at the big picture! Is that one long ride going to make or break your A race down the road? Is that one tempo run going to save you later? As I’ve said, it will really be the planning leading up to this point that will determine what you can do. If you’ve done it right, this race will fall in a recovery week, so there are really no key workouts this week. Now you can understand why we typically plan it that way.
The days following the race should be a little easier as well. Look at that week and listen to your body. Maybe you move your swim to Monday and your tempo run to Thursday. Trust me, if you try that tempo run a day or two after the race, you won’t have what it takes to make that workout effective, so push it a little later in the week. You may have to skip a workout or two, but remember that key sessions typically mean you have to perform to make them key to your training.
There are a few rules of thumb for the weeks leading into your race that can apply universally. Now isn’t the time to add in other goals and objectives, like losing weight. It’s not the time for new foods or supplements. And it’s also not the time to pull an all nighter for class, or go out on the town and drink all of the fluids right out of you. I know this sounds like an obvious statement, but drinking caffeine and alcohol actually DE-hydrate you. I would avoid both leading into the race. If you can cut out caffeine in the two weeks leading up to the race, imagine how much more effect that coffee on race morning, or that Shot Blok with caffeine will have on race day! Plus you get the added benefit that you will sleep better. Did I make that point clearly enough? One of the SIMPLEST yet BEST things you can do going into your race to have a better performance has nothing to do with your training.
Actually, I think that most of the things that you can do for “race prep” have nothing to do with your swim, bike, or run training. By that I mean getting your gear physically ready and getting yourself mentally ready. Check everything on your bike- your cleats, your race helmet and race kit, your shoe laces. Is anything worn or need replacing? Do you have a race belt, water bottles for the bike, sunscreen, etc‚Ä¶ Use this time to prep. Don’t wait until the night before the race. Also, take one of those EASY days and add in transition practice.
You can even do this in your head. There are lots of ways to visualize racing, but one way that I’ve found to be effective is to concentrate on the little things. This way, when you get to race day, you’ve been over those little things and won’t get hung up on them. So start with picturing your transition setup. Each detail. Where is your helmet? Your sunglasses in your helmet and your running hat on your shoes so you can’t forget them. Picture the little things you need to do before you leave transition. Then move onto the race start- where will you start? If it’s open water, will you be towards the front, towards the back, right in the middle. Picture yourself starting perfectly and finding the right group that you’re swimming fast with. You can skim through the actual swim. That’s not what THIS visualization is about. You get out of the water and run to transition. If you know the race, picture it exactly as it is. If not, that’s ok, the principles are still the same. Move your goggles up to your forehead, but don’t take them off. They’re just one more thing to drop. Unzip the wetsuit as you’re running to transition‚Ä¶ You get the picture. Imagine each specific detail going through your transition and the bike mount. Fly through the bike and then picture EACH detail of T2. As you’re doing this, you might also remember to check your running hat or your bike gearing on race morning. If you can find time to do this in the weeks before the race, then on race morning, you’ll be ready and confident that you know exactly what you need to do. And you’ve done it a dozen times in your head, so while others are freaking out and running around looking for that extra CO2 cartridge, you are cool in the head and warming up your body for the race.
So, hopefully this will give you a little insight on one way to look at what I call race prep and fine tuning. As always, the most important thing to remember is to ENJOY every step of the race. It is part of the journey, so make sure you take it all in, thank that volunteer that hands you water, and smile for the cameras