For Better Performance: Analyze Your Race Day into Segments

author : Coach AJ
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You may think that all the swims are the same. You get in, follow the buoys and exit. Well, it’s not so simple. What will the water itself be like?

By Coach A.J. of D3Multisport Coach Contributors

If you have planned your season out correctly, you have spent weeks getting ready to peak at just the right time. You may be after a prized Kona slot, or just looking for a personal best. Whatever your goal is, race-specific training can help you get there. Between race websites and triathlete forums, the Internet has provided racers with a wealth of information. You can get details for each leg of the race and put the final touches on your race preparation.

The swim
You may think that all the swims are the same. You get in, follow the buoys and exit. Well, it’s not so simple. Will you be starting on the beach, or floating 20 yards out? If it is a beach start you may want to practice high knee running into the water and dolphin dives. If it is a floating start, try starting your pool sets by floating rather than pushing off the wall. On which side are the buoys going to be? If you constantly breathe to the right, and the buoys are on your left, you may have problems navigating. The obvious fix is to practice bilateral breathing. That way you are ready for anything.

What will the water itself be like? Some races are notorious for having the swim in rivers with a strong current while others are in pristine, calm lakes, and some may be in the ocean. Finally, will wetsuits be allowed? If so, then get in some open water swim practice to get used to the feel of swimming with a wetsuit.

Seed yourself accordingly. If swimming is your weak point, start at the middle or back of the wave. You still want to catch a draft, but having people swim over you will leave you with a beaten up feeling. If you are a strong swimmer, don’t lose time by having to swim through the pack. Get up front, get on some feet, and cruise. Getting the swim right can be a large physical and mental boost early in the race.

The bike
Moving on to the bike, there are several factors to consider. Most obvious is the type of terrain you will be racing on. Hillier courses demand more power and strength, while flatter courses mean you need to be comfortable in the aero position for longer periods of time.

Pace for hills
For the hilly courses, look at where those hills are on the course. Some courses have hills right after you come out of T1. This can be particularly difficult as much of your blood is still in your upper body from the swim. For courses that are entirely rolling or have the hills near the end, you would be wise to pace yourself accordingly. Appropriate pacing can mean the difference between finishing strong and not finishing at all.

Hills can also make timing of your nutrition difficult. You don’t want to be reaching around for a gel while trying to climb a steep grade. Nor do you want to take your hands off the bars on a screaming fast descent. Check the course map and know where you will be when you want to take in calories. If you take gel 30 minutes into the bike, and it looks like you will be on a climb at that point, think about taking it a few minutes before or after the climb.

Study the terrain
Also with terrain you should look to see how many corners there will be on the course. Lots of cornering will cut down on your average speed. Feeling comfortable cornering at high speeds will mean less energy expended getting back up to speed. What is the road surface like? Some races are on perfectly smooth, well maintained roads. We all wish that races were on these roads, but often that is not the case. For those less than glass-smooth roads you may want to consider a lower tire pressure. This can reduce your chances of a pinch flat. If you are carrying nutrition on your bike, be sure it is secured well. Several times I have seen bottles, bars, gels, spare tires and CO2’s come flying off of a bike. This is especially important if you have special nutritional considerations and carry specific items.


The run
Now we come to the run. Again, terrain is the biggest consideration. Just as on the bike, hills demand strength, while flatter courses are better suited to a fast, efficient turnover. Will there be any shade? On the bike you have the wind to keep you cool, but on the run you can heat up in a hurry. Tree lined courses that keep the sun off your back are ideal, but rare. Be prepared to battle the heat. Use sunscreen, a hat or visor, and adequate fluid intake to keep your core temperature down. Surface is again a consideration. Dirt roads or trails present a different type of challenge from a paved road. If there is significant portion on dirt, or if it is entirely on dirt, those 5 oz. racing flats may not be the best choice.

Little rocks or sand can quickly cause debilitating blisters, so do what is necessary to avoid them. Most runs are either out and back or looped courses, but they can still have a lot of corners. One race I did last year was particularly twisty. It was on a golf cart path so you were constantly veering left and right. At the half way point my hips were hurting from all the turns, and I had to slow down just to get to the finish.

The unexpected factor - Get to know the weatherman.

Finally, we have those items that cover the whole race. Chief amongst them is weather. While you cannot predict the weather two months out, some courses are noted for the amount of wind. Strength and a good mental attitude is what will get you through a tough windy bike. Early season races tend to be a bit cooler if not downright cold, while racing in August in the Midwest means heat and humidity. Be prepared for the worst. To combat the cold you can use arm warmers and toe covers. In the heat, use a hat and light colored clothes to keep you cool. Many people have issues with heat. Cramping is the biggest and is best solved with nutrition. Most companies now make products that are designed to prevent cramping, so try them out and see what works best for you. Keeping with nutrition, you should know the location of each aid station. Heading onto the run and thinking there is an aid station at mile one, when it really is at mile three, is not something you want in your “A” race. Since most races have maps online with aid stations marked, there is no excuse not to have a plan.

Don’t forget your watch!
Finally, there is timing. No, not what method will be used to monitor your race time, but what time does your wave go off? What time does transition open? Just like planning a season, I like to start from the end and work backwards. If my wave goes off at 7, transition closes at 6:45, and I want to be there when transition opens at 5:45 and it takes me 30 minutes to get there, then I need to leave at 5:15, which means a nice early 4:30 wake up. I always set three or more alarms. It is my biggest fear to wake up at 6:30 and miss the race. So start the day right and give yourself time to relax and take care of things. We have all seen that person racing to transition, throwing their bike on the rack and racing to the water. That is not how you want to prepare for your big day.

Planning is the key. Have a complete plan in place and be ready to execute it. So don’t let you’re “A” race be a disappointment because you didn’t take the time to check the small things. It is attention to details that can make all the difference.

AJ Johnson is a USAT certified coach. He can be reached for personal coaching at [email protected].


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date: September 3, 2005

Coach AJ

USAT Level 1 Coach
"My coaching philosophy can be summed up in two words: listening and balance. By combining these two elements I feel I can help each athlete achieve their full potential."

avatarCoach AJ

USAT Level 1 Coach
"My coaching philosophy can be summed up in two words: listening and balance. By combining these two elements I feel I can help each athlete achieve their full potential."

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