The first race of the year is always tough simply because there is so much uncertainty. Will all the work you did in the offseason pay off? Have you done too little or too much? What has everyone else been doing? Are you better than you were last year at this time?
Every athlete shares these fears. That's why we race: to test ourselves and see what we can really do. However, you never want to head into your first race totally blind. Here are three great workouts and one test session to get you ready for your first Olympic-distance race of the season.
High-Cadence Workout: Offseason bike work often incorporates a good deal of steady, small-gear cycling and indoor riding on stationary trainers. These workouts are great for developing aerobic fitness but not so good for building or maintaining technique, and after a long offseason phase, it can be very difficult to feel comfortable at higher race cadences.
To help remedy this problem, incorporate higher-cadence work into your longer weekly ride from as early as three months out from your first race. For example, include 10 x 2-minute intervals in the middle of a long outdoor ride. Pick a section of road with a slight rise, stay in the saddle and gradually increase your cadence to 100-plus rpm.
Hold this cadence for two minutes, focusing on a smooth pedal stroke; don't bounce in the saddle. Use a moderate gear that will allow you to maintain the cadence for the full two minutes.
Take two minutes of easy-spinning recovery after each interval. Be sure to ride a cool-down of 30 to 60 minutes after your interval session to flush out your legs.
30-30s: Once you have a few cadence sessions under your belt you're ready to step it up a notch with 30-30s. This workout will help to wake up your legs from your offseason steady riding. Cyclists use 30-30s to prepare for the accelerations and attacks that occur during road racing, but the session can also be very beneficial for triathletes.
After a warm-up of 30-plus minutes, find a gradual hill about 30 minutes long (but flat roads are just as good). Begin in a medium gear and stay seated as you quickly increase your cadence to 100 rpm. Hold that cadence for 30 seconds, focusing on a smooth spin.
Once the 30 seconds are up, shift down and spin easily for 30 seconds, then hit it again. If you're new to this type of workout, you can change your fast segment to 20 seconds and your easy segment to 40 seconds. Begin with 10 intervals and build up to as many as 20. Be sure to cool down for at least 30 to 60 minutes after the session. Include this session once every 10 to 14 days.
Muscle-Tension Intervals: In addition to race-day cadence, the other key piece of fitness that's often neglected during offseason training is muscular strength and power. In other words: the ability to turn over the larger gears you'll use while racing.
The best way to develop sport-specific strength is through muscle-tension intervals. MTIs consist in riding up a moderate (not super-steep) hill for five to 10 minutes while pushing a very large gear at 50 to 60 rpm. Use up to a 53 x 13 gear for the work interval, and recover by coasting back down and then spinning easily on the flats to ensure you get at least five minutes' rest.
While this workout is excellent for developing bike-specific strength and power, keep in mind that this is a very difficult session. Be sure to spend several weeks on the first two workouts described above before you attempt MTIs.
Also, begin conservatively. If you haven't done anything like this before, your first workout should not be more than 4 x 3 minutes using a gear no larger than 53 x 15. Overdoing it in this workout can lead to tendonitis and extreme soreness, so don't get cocky.
2 x 30-Minute Test: You want to get at least two good test sessions in prior to your first race. Four to six weeks out from your first race do your first 2 x 30 test. On terrain similar to what you might expect from the racecourse do 2 x 30 minutes at your lactate-threshold heart rate. If you don't know your threshold or if you don't have a heart-rate monitor, you'll want to hold a hard but sustainable pace that allows you to maintain a consistent effort throughout both 30-minute segments.
Basically, you should be able to talk, but you probably won't want to very much. Your legs shouldn't begin to burn, and you shouldn't be fighting for air, yet you should complete the second 30-minute interval feeling pretty spent. This workout should be done only every two to three weeks, not weekly. Allow yourself some adaptation time before testing again.
These workouts should put you on the right track for a great opener to your season and hopefully put your mind at rest by giving you confidence in your preparation.
Jimmy Archer is a pro triathlete, coach, and freelance writer. During his career Jimmy has raced at all distances and formats of triathlon, competing for the U.S.A. on four national teams and finishing top 10 at five XTERRA world championships. You can visit his website at jimmyarcher.com.