We are well and truly into race season now, and I know I will be lining up along with thousands of other competitors in Staffordshire this weekend, however it most certainly wont be the only triathlon event taking place. Therefore, now we are in race season, and you have added that race specific training on top of all that hard endurance work you completed over the winter, what should you be doing to make sure you arrive on that start line fresh, sharp and ready to go?
Taper! I doubt there is a triathlete out there who has not heard about tapering. However, how much should you decrease your training load, and what kind of efforts should you maintain in your sessions? Well there is no structured, set out answer to this as we all have very different training structures, and hours completed. However, there is a general rule of thumb that can be applied, then trial and error will eventually find a structure that works for you as an individual. Personally, with the athletes I have worked with, a 40% decrease in training load seems to work. Too much and you can begin to feel lethargic, too little, and you do not necessarily get enough rest for your muscles to be rested and fired up to go! It can be hard as an athlete to do this, as you suddenly see the hours you clock up decrease massively, however, use the extra time to check out the race routes, visualize race day, make sure ALL of your kit is working well and ready to go, and rest!
Race pace efforts – definitely include these in your taper week. It keeps your fast twitch muscles fired up, prepares your body for the effort that will come at the weekend, and keeps you sharp. For example over a 90 min ride, include 3 x 5 min 70:3 race pace efforts, or over a 30 min run, include 5 x 1 min race pace efforts. No more, and no faster. You want to finish feeling like you wanted to do a lot more – You just have to be disciplined to keep yourself under control! In the pool, practice sighting, deep water starts, if you can get in the OW even better as its more specific, so you can practice race starts, and exiting the water. If you can get to the venue early, the organisers usually have some swim practice times, so use this to work out sighting markers on the land, as well as familiarizing yourself with the course, the start and the exits. However, do not be tempted to keep swimming the course, its not necessary, you will not gain any fitness a few days before the event, but you can fatigue yourself necessarily.
Carb Loading – For bigger events, you have no doubt been told you need to carb load. Well, I do not think you need to go over board here. Remember you have reduced the amount you are training, so maintaining your current balanced diet should be fine. However, 3/4 days out from the race it is time to make changes to the type of carbs you are eating. Now it is time to reduce the fibre in your diet, so start eating refined carbs and reducing the percentage of fruit and veg in your diet, as it will just be going straight through you come race day
If the event is on a Sunday, many athletes favour having the Friday completely off (and this evening meal should definitely be refined carbs based) and on the Saturday short efforts across all 3 disciplines For example: 10-15 min swim in the sea / lake where you are racing for familiarisation, 30 mins spin with 5 x 1 min race pace efforts, and a 10 min run (this can be off the bike) with 5 x 30 sec lifts spread across. A good stretch, then stay off your feet as much as possible, spend 30 mins visualising your success in the race, keep well hydrated and rest. Personally I favour swapping Friday and Saturday around, but stick with what works best for you as an athlete. This usually is due to the fact that I rarely get to the event until the day before, so its all a bit rushed. Not ideal, but unfortunately, cannot always be helped, therefore you need to find a plan that works with your travel plans.
Come race day, try to eat your breakfast 2 hours before you start, and do not go trying anything new on race day! I tend to go for a plain white bagel with peanut butter or jam and a banana. Its simple, and I can stomach it. But its personal! Make sure you keep a bottle of water with you at all times and keep sipping before you set off. Its also worth putting some toilet roll in your pocket as well, as you can guarantee after queuing for half an hour, the loo you get has no paper in it!! After final checks on bike, adding nutrition, checking tyre pressure, and making sure you have left it in a suitable gear, and know the exits of transition, relax, run through in your head how you are going to nail your swim, complete a warm up, whether dry side or in the water, and get ready for a fun day ahead!