Preparation and planning for race day.
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
- Benjamin Franklin.
I remember hearing a story of a stage actress (sorry, her name slips my mind) who, before every show would go on stage and run through every line, every movement, and hit every mark before the show started. Without fail, she did this every show, even if the show ran for several months. One would think that after so many shows, she would stop this routine. But there she was, every night before the curtain raised, going through every line on stage.
This really stuck with me when I heard it. It was her dedication to her craft and the seriousness that she took her job. Her excellence may have been seen as talent, something she was born with, but what no one saw were the hours of work she put in.
What would a theater production and stage actress have to do with a triathlon or any race for that matter? Great ideas, focus, determination, and preparation are important in everything we do if we want to achieve success.
It is coming to the end of the season. Everyone’s “A’ races are just around the corner, whether it is your first race, a local 5k, World Championships, Wisconsin, Kona, Arizona, or any number of other races. What I have come across recently are many athletes who have put in a lot of training, but outside of nutrition, heart rate, or power data, they have no real race plan. They know little about the course. They know what they will have for breakfast, which is good, but only know if it is a flat bike or hilly run, etc. When you go into a race, leave as little to chance as possible. Here are some areas to think about when coming up with a race plan.
1. Know your course. When I did Ironman Wisconsin, I knew the bike route like the back of my hand. I rode it with friends many times before and I went up to ride the loop several times before I raced it. Every time I rode the course, I planned out my race. I knew when the roads were fast, I knew when they were slow. Everything was planned out, from how to take a corner so it was fast to the large rollers- carry speed down and use momentum to carry myself over the top as to not use too much energy climbing. I never rode the entire route out and back, but I did drive it. A big mistake I made when training for Wisconsin was never looking at Observatory hill. It would have been easy for me to bike most of the run course on one of many trips up there and that little extra riding would have helped on race day. Every Olympic I have raced, I drive the course a day or two out. At one pre race dinner I was telling other Pro’s about the bike course and warned about a dangerous turn. Sure enough on race day a very famous triathlete was being loaded into an ambulance on that same corner (he was not in our discussion). I don’t know if he ever drove the course, but I knew a hard turn there would end in a possible accident. Riding the run course is part of my day before race prep. Knowing where the turnaround is on an out and back can be a huge mental advantage. Knowing of any hills, exposed areas to the sun with no shade can help prepare for the run. You may not be able to see the entire course, but there are maps out there. Study them. Look at elevations and where on the maps any climbs are. You may not be good at reading elevation maps, but will have a better idea of what to expect.
2. Segment the course: I tell all my athletes to segment the course. Break it down into parts. This makes it a lot easier on race day from a mental approach. 112 miles can sound daunting. If you break it into 4 x 28 miles stretches, it does not sound as bad. Wisconsin is an easy course to segment on the bike. There is the ride out, and then each loop, and finally the ride back in. If you focus on each section then the parts are easier to handle then the whole. Break your swim up by buoys and turns. The bike and run can be done by aid stations and out and backs. The longer the race, the more important it is. During Hell Week for Navy Seal Training, where the candidates get very little sleep, they are told, just make it to each meal. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. When it gets difficult, if you focus on each individual segment, it becomes a lot easier to stay motivated and keep moving through each section..
3. Train to your race strategy: Once you have a race strategy and know your course, train to it. If there is a bike course that has a lot of turns (ITU World Champs in Chicago for example), work on your cornering and pickups out of those corners. If you go into a race without working on small spikes in power for a race with a lot of corners (you spike in power as you get back up to speed), then when the run comes, your legs are going to feel flat. If there are hills, do some practice on hills or simulate hills in some way. What is the history of the swim venue? Is it usually choppy, flat like glass? Make sure to prepare yourself at least mentally for the conditions you will race in.
4. Practice every situation: What are you going to do if you get a flat during your race? Have you practiced changing a flat so you are quick and efficient and there is not panic? Prepared if it is a non wet suit swim? Do you know what to do if you throw your chain? Preparing for as many situations as possible will not only make correcting the situation faster, but will also keep you calm.