Springtime means time to get outside and see what all that base training did for you this winter. It’s time to leave the spin classes behind and take the training to the next level. One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “I have done my base training, and my races are still weeks away, so what should I do?” If you feel your base work is adequate, then here are five areas I would recommend you can work on before your first race.
Determine your weaknesses. Work on the aspects of your training that you aren’t 100% happy with. If you feel that you are lacking swim endurance, then do longer swim sets. If you feel you are lacking hill climbing strength on the bike, this is the time to do extra reps in training. Some folks feel strong and have plenty of endurance, but lack skills. If this is the case, then get the advice of a swim instructor or a run coach to assess your form and technique. Subtle changes can go a long way toward improving performance.
Improve your mental toughness. Having the skills, the endurance, and the speed is worthless if you don’t have the mental capability to back it up. Weak-minded athletes think in terms of ‘hope’ and ‘wish,’ while strong-minded athletes think in terms of ‘I will’ and ‘I am’. If you hear someone say, “I hope to go under 50 minutes during the 10k run,” the chances that they will are pretty slim. If you hear an athlete say, “I am running under 50-minute pace in training and I will do it in the race too,” their chances for success are much greater. Setting goals, writing them down and keeping them realistic are all part of improving the mental toughness aspect of training. Pick up a book on mental toughness if you don’t know where to begin. A good mental toughness book will have exercises that will help you figure out exactly what your mental weaknesses are. The top athletes work on their mental game all the time. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be on top.
Challenge yourself to do a workout that you don’t think you can complete. What? Yes, push yourself to go just a bit farther than you think you can. If you have a sprint tri coming up and you are worried about the distance, set up a training day where you go beyond the distance. Swim 1000 yards, bike 20 miles and run 4 miles. All those distances are longer than the typical sprint and on race day, it will be that much easier. Another idea could be to bike 40 miles if the longest you have gone is 25, or run 10 miles if your longest run has been 6 miles. Bottom line: find out where your limits are, and push beyond them. I am not giving you permission to go out and injure yourself, but go out there and see how far or how long you can go.
Practice your transitions. Most of us will run after a bike ride before our first race of the season, but how many of us practice getting our wetsuits off, getting our helmets and shoes on, and mounting our bikes? Go to an early season race and you will get your answer. Practice the transition; it’s FREE time against your opponents, if your opponent is only the clock.
Train in race-like conditions. This is probably the most important of the five recommendations. If you can’t train on the actual course you will race on, you should do your best to simulate it. If the course has a lot of long slow hills, go ride and run on some long slow hills. If the course finishes running and riding into a headwind, try to do the same in training. If the course is in hot conditions, then train with long sleeves on to get used to the heat. Whatever you can do in training to simulate the course, it will make it that much easier on you on race day.
I hope you work on your five points between the end of base and your first race. When it comes to race day, you will be glad you did! Michael Ricci is a USAT certified coach. He can be reached for personal coaching at firstname.lastname@example.org.