It's the time of year for racing—or at least thinking about it. For many of us, these first races are non-priority or training races. There are a few different ideas as to what a training race is and how it should be done. Some people think it just means you don't taper but instead train through it, allowing for a nice excuse when you don't do well.
In fact, a training race is a prime opportunity to get great training, important race-day experience and see where your fitness is in the exact environment you're training for in the first place. Here are a few key points to consider and plan out when doing an early-season race.
It's Still a Race
A training race is not a time to waste your entry fee to speed around in a circle with a bunch of other spandex-clad freaks for the heck of it! It is an opportunity to really test yourself in the field and against your peers.
Aim for a specific, measurable goal. While a training race will not require a three-week peaking phase, you should take the few days before the event to make sure you're well rested and ready for a good effort—physically, mentally and with all your equipment working 100 percent.
You have committed the money, time, and energy, and made the sacrifice of getting up at still-dark-out-thirty to meet at some random state park. Make it count!
Focus on a Specific Goal
If you've been working hard on your cycling all winter and spring, your first non-priority triathlon of the year might be a good event to focus on just one leg. See how fast you can really go. How hard can you push yourself, and how does that compare to your competition?
If you know the course and/or the conditions are very similar to last year's race, see if you can beat a previous bike split. Or try to stay within 15 feet of crazy Klaus, the Belgian ex-pro road racer.
On the other hand, if you aren't yet to the point where you want to throw down in one particular leg, there are other ways to gauge specific aspects of your ability. Focus instead on maintaining a solid effort and pace throughout while being efficient and not extending your body too far.
Or pay special attention to a technical aspect of competition: the start and finish; transitions; cornering and bike handling; proper hydration; maintaining an aerodynamic position; or other minute details that sometimes get lost in the race-day scramble.
A training race is a prime opportunity to learn: about your self, your competition, your preparation, your fueling plan, your equipment, your warmup (or there lack of).
Do you run well in the wind, or on the hills and downhill? How did you feel after the race? Like you couldn't have gone a foot further? Or do you feel recovered after 15 minutes of hanging out by the table of bananas and water, thinking "Man, I could have gone way harder"? The list goes on.
Come the big race day, you can't afford to be caught off guard by something silly. A cross wind hitting your fancy, new disc wheel. Your cool new tank top and tri shorts fitting well while in your aero position. And how big are those pockets? Do they fit one or two energy bars?
Gaining as much experience about yourself and how your body works in a race situation will have you better prepared come the big day. This may not have you breaking any records early in the season, but when the going gets tough, the prepared shine through. Anyone can post a personal best under ideal conditions on easy terrain. You want to train your body to perform well in any conditions, on any terrain, on any give day.