Written by: Cliff English
The triathlon race season is pretty much in full swing now, and some of you have already started racing weekend in and weekend out, juggling short-course, long-course and everything in between. Nothing is impossible, I believe, and with some good planning, periodization and organization, you can really make that dream season happen.
While your race schedule may include 12 to 15 races, you must have a definite idea of what your key or A-priority races are for the season. This does not mean your other races are any less important. In many cases, these tune-up or training races are some of the most important competitions of your season. Racing and performing really are in the minute details. Whether you are an age-grouper or a professional, the competition depth in every discipline and division has grown over the years and the difference in winning or even placing in the top 10 at some races can come down to just a few seconds. Consistent performance in competition comes from repetition. Practicing, racing and refining over and over again until racing is an automatic behavior. Do not hope for success; plan for success.
Let’s examine the importance of the training race in your race schedule and how to get maximal benefit from it.
Racing is the best training. I fully realize that this is a bold statement, yet in all seriousness, it really is true. You cannot beat a race for specificity. You get to practice all your skills, including physical, mental, technical and tactical—all under race stress. In a training race, you are able to test your equipment and your nutrition and hydration plan. The more often you race, the less stressful it is as well. Many athletes race only a couple times in the season or have only one to two A-priority races, leaving them with an all-their-eggs-in-one-basket scenario. This can lead to a bit of a freak out when the big race comes up and usually, yet unfortunately, under-performing on race day. Having the opportunity to blow out the rust in a training race, work out the kinks and learn from the experience usually leads to nailing your key race.
You can get more out of your effort in any race than you would in any time trial or race-simulation training session. Some of the best athletes use races to get their fitness back for the very reasons described above. What they have learned to do is to check their egos at the race start and think of the big picture. They have the experience to know that the first few races of the season are important to get them to the level they need to be for their A races. Races are always going to be 100-percent efforts. If you back off in the 10K and tell yourself that it is just a training day, you won’t benefit at all from the race. Just because you are using a race for training does not give you an excuse to not give everything you have in that race. Doing so would be a waste of time.
You have to be smart when using races for training. You really want to benefit from the work you put into the race. Many athletes come in too loaded and resume training too quickly. There are two approaches to training races. One is to do a full unload week or taper week, and the other is to train through the race and use a drop taper.
Here is how to do a proper drop taper. Leading into a training race on Sunday, I find you can do quality swims on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, as swimming doesn’t take as much out of you as the other two sports. Then you can get in a solid run on the Tuesday and a good bike on Wednesday and then another bike or light run on Thursday that is less volume and mainly very low-end aerobic in effort, with perhaps just a few pick-ups to race intensity.
Then instead of taking Friday off, take the Monday of this week off and then go into your pre-race routine on Friday and Saturday with a run of 20 minutes on Friday and a small swim and small bike on Saturday. This is a two-day drop taper.
What you do coming out of the race is very important as well. After the race, it would be wise to do a good cool-down and then perhaps even an ice soak or ice bath for three to five minutes to really speed up recovery. A 20- to 30-minute flush massage after the race would be ideal , but if that’s not possible, try to get it on Monday. Monday would be a day off or just a light 20- to 30-minute swim. Then on Tuesday keep the sessions aerobic and probably just do a swim and a bike. Wednesday, you can have a solid swim and get back to an aerobic run. Thursday you can go back to some intensity with a bike and run and then continue through the weekend, or drop back down again to the Friday and Saturday pre-race routine if you are racing again.
The rule of thumb with racing is: Heading into a race, go run, bike and swim with the order for intensity of sessions and placement of the sessions in the week, with the high-intensity run being earlier in the week, far away from the race. Coming out of the race, start back with swim, then bike, then run sessions.
The details for recovery after races are very important, as the goal is to be able to recover quickly from the training race and resume training within a few days. Ice baths, massage, nutrition, rehydration, rest and active recovery are all key ingredients.
Until next time, race hard every time you toe the start line and you will certainly have success in your key races. Have a great season!
Cliff English has more than 15 years of experience coaching athletes ranging from age-groupers to Olympians, first-timers to Ironman champions. For more on his coaching services or training camps, visit Cliffenglishcoaching.com.