As many of you, like myself, are deep into your race season I thought it was appropriate for this next article to be based on ‘Getting ready for race day’. Whether you are a race day expert, complete novice or a soon to be Challenge Copenhagen finisher this article should give you a few extra pointers to ensure your race day experience is the best possible.
Race day preparation is very much individual. We are all special and unique in our own way therefore it very much depends on the person how they prepare for a race. What I aim to do in this article is provide you with some useful tools that can enable your preparation for racing is a good one.
I will cover many areas including race day focus, morning preparation and training preparation so I hope it will give all of you something to take away.
Pre race preparation
This area covers the entire period leading up to a race. It includes your winters training and all training sessions leading to your big day.
Identify your goal and how much you are willing to sacrifice to achieve this goal. Once you have done this write it down and keep it somewhere so you can always remind yourself what you are aiming for. As training progresses it is not uncommon that people get ahead of themselves and try to determine new goals. This is fine but by having your initial goal established anything beyond this is then a bonus. So as an example an athlete establishes they want to complete and Ironman = goal identified. The initial goal is to finish the event training 10 – 15 hours per week = sacrifice made. As training progresses they realise they are capable of a time under 11 hours = bonus. Do not then reidentify your goals and target times. This can possibly add disappointment to an area that originally you were content with. Remain focused on your original goal and ensure you cover all areas that will provide you satisfaction in reaching this goal.
Get to know your goals inside out and what processes need to be taken in order to achieve them successfully. Do not feel you have to achieve things alone. Of course it may give you more satisfaction if you do achieve things alone but ultimately two, three or four heads are better than one. Seek advice from those who are able to give good advice. You will still be alone on race day to achieve ‘your’ goal. Creating a support team of advisers/coaches is a must.
What I mean about getting to know your goals inside out is understand exactly what is required to achieve them e.g. In order to complete an Ironman you are required to finish inside 17 hours. Find out exact cut off times and then establish the pace at which you will need to swim, bike and run in order to accomplish your goal. Test if you can train at the paces required to finish inside the cut off time.
Another example is you want to qualify for the World Championships and represent your country. Find out the selection criteria, selection races, how many spots etc. Then establish what areas you will need to improve on in order to gain this World Championships spot. This is getting to know your goals.
Adapt your training to accommodate your race. To some of you this may seem like common knowledge but I am sure to many of you it will be useful advice. Those athletes with experience will know that adapting your training to your race is something that is now just done without even thinking about it. But for someone who is new to the sport adapting your training is possibly the best pre race preparation out there.
Firstly it is important to determine the course and climate in which you are racing. Not always can you prepare for climate conditions. By knowing what they are you can mentally prepare yourself for a hot day or for extra layers in the luggage. Making yourself familiar with the course is something that will benefit you the more you look into it. The easiest and quickest way is to find the course profile and adapt your training accordingly. So a bike course consisting of a lot of hills means your training ground becomes tougher including more hills – common knowledge? Not always. However do not be affraid to delve deeper into things.
– Past history: This is a great way to research your target race. You can gain so much information from race reports, athlete experience, race results etc. e.g “After the toughest ever run to transition which included a 9% gradient climb, I enetered T1 exhausted and it took me 5 minutes to recover before I could ride.” This type of statement is not uncommon when reading peoples race reports (maybe not the 9% gradient, but obstacles which will hinder you achieving your goal). This research will then allow you to adapt your training to conquer such obstacles in a race.
– In depth course analysis: This will leave you with no unpleasant surprises come race day. Identify areas of the course that require more focus, areas where you can defeat your opponent. Then work hard on these areas. The best way to do this analysis is to recce the race course. Recce’ing the course months in advance leaves you with plenty of time to adapt. This is not always possible and for shorter distance races the course is often not advertised until a month
before. However race organizers are there to help and from my experience if you contact most race organizers asking for in depth course information they will supply it to you.
– Race start: Be sure you are aware of when the race actually starts and prepare for this. Should you be racing at 7 am in the morning the body needs time to get used to being active at this time of day. So training early in this case will be beneficial for race day. As you get ever closer to race day then try and emulate race day routine by getting up earlier etc. Also vice versa.
Recently at the ETU European Championships the elite men raced at 7 pm. It will come as a complete shock to the body to race at this time had you not adapted your training. So I know many of the elite men altered their training pattern leading into the race in order for their body to adapt to race time.
Race day preparation
Race day preparation is very individual and very personal. However there are a number of steps you can take to ensure that all is done to prevent any unneccesary mistakes.
– When arriving at the race destination, in the days leading up to the race, ensure you go over the race course. Swim the swim course, or some of it atleast. This will help ease you mentally and help you acclimatise to the water temperature. It will give you a general understanding of the distance to bouys, current, tide etc. Ride or drive the bike course to ensure nothing has changed from your preparation. It is best to ride it but obviously you can not ride an Ironman course 2 – 3 days before race start. If you can ride the tougher parts of the course this will really prepare you well mentally. Come race day there is nothing worse than entering the unknown on a race course. Running or walking the run course will also put you mentally in a great place. Once all of the above are checked of you are left with no surprises on race day leaving you to focus on other areas.
– Arrive at the race site with plenty of time before race start. 2 hours is always plenty of time, it means you can really relax about your last minute preparation. Check over your bike, make any last minute changes. The most important thing during this period is that you are in a good place mentally. You are clear on what is needed of you to achieve your goal. Aim to be out of transition 1 hour before race start then you can get dialled in on the race.
– Visualize yourself in the race. It is a great tool to do this the night before the race. Just lie on your bed, eyes closed and picture yourself in your race. Swim start, swim exit, T1, Bike start, tough parts, T2, Run start, tough parts, Finish all these areas and more should be covered. Go over grey areas many times. e.g your transition routine…swim exit, googles up, wetsuit unzipped and down to waist, compose into T1, wetsuit off, helmet on etc. This type of visualization will reassure you that on race day you know what you are doing. Also complete this visualization once you have set up all your equipment on race morning. This will help your adrenaline build up but do not over do it. If this type of visualization makes you nervous then look for things that take your mind of the fact you are racing.
– Most important night sleep is 48 hours prior to the race. Many people begin the day in a negative mental frame of mind if they do not have a good night sleep leading into the race. It is actually proven that the most important night sleep is the evening 2 days out from the race. So if you wake with only 4 hours of sleep due to nerves etc. Do not panic this will have little effect on your race performance. Of course more hours is better than less, as is always, but do not think your day has started negative with little sleep.
Of course there are many more areas I could talk about regarding this topic. There are so many views on what is right and wrong. Hopefully the above helps and reassures you, your race day preparation is on the right road. My simple advice is to seek advice if unsure. Prepare well and most of all enjoy your experience. Do not expect to much from yourself and the rest will follow.