It's that time of year again, when shaking in our legs from the cold is replaced by the shaking from pre-race anxieties! As you dust the cobwebs off your wetsuit and dig out your tinted goggles, there is a lot to think about when you toe the line in your first few races of the year. Here are some specific pointers for you to consider.
Check the Race Priority
First things first: Is this a fun event or a A-level race for you? Hopefully these early-season races are more the former. Keeping it low-pressure and fun in your first few events is key. You're going to make mistakes. You'll forget your goggles. You'll wait until the last minute to get your bike tuned-up. You'll forget how to get your feet out of your shoes before you enter transition.
This is all 100 percent natural, so don't stress. Most other racers are in the same boat. And better now than in August when you want to be at the top of your form.
Forget the high-performance nutrition and the race wheels; this list is potentially the most important thing you can have for your first event of the year. You can always tell who is heading out to their first race of the year because they have packed every single piece of gear they own! While this is one way to go about it, you could also take a moment to think about the race and what you'll need.
Nothing can truly prepare you for a race situation, but you can sure try! Make sure you hit the open water for a few swims before race day. If the weather (or geography) won't cooperate, consider wearing the wetsuit to the pool once a week for the three weeks leading up to your race. Just be sure to keep exposure to a minimum and wash your wetsuit after the swim. Chlorine can sometimes degrade the wetsuit's material if used in a pool long enough.
Another option is to implement a race simulation effort where you attempt to recreate a race situation in a specific training event. Experienced athletes can do all three disciplines in a day; newbies should stick with a brick. During this effort you will eat, drink and ride as if you were racing.
Because of the intensity of this effort, be sure to complete it two (Olympic or sprint race), three (half Iron-distance race) or four (Iron-distance race) weeks ahead of race day. This will really give you a strong sense of whether or not you can ride 20 mph on race day.
No one has ever finished a race and said, "I was too rested and healthy for this event." On the other hand, you can learn all about plantar fasciitis, hamstring pulls or compartment syndrome just waiting in line for the port-a-john! You can see where I am headed with this: Do the right thing on race week and tone it down a notch so you are ready to give it your all.
Even if this is a C-level race for you, chances are you'll be putting in some A-level effort. Last thing you want to do is push your body over the edge into injury or illness. Keep the workouts short, keep the intensity up with short 60- to 90-second intervals at race pace with lots of recovery and be sure to stretch.
Did I Mention Have Fun?
There is something about race day that sets it apart from all other days. The air is crisper, you are filled with purpose and there is tension in the air. The anticipation of testing ourselves against the clock, the course and the competition is evident in the beating of our hearts. There is a fantastic course laid out by the race staff and manned by volunteers (thank them!), and there is usually some food or merry-making afterwards. It doesn't get any better than this, so be sure to savor the moment!
Patrick McCrann is one of a handful of elite triathlon and endurance sport coaches based in the US. Patrick's articles on triathlon, training and the endurance lifestyle have appeared on Xtri.com, TransitionTimes, Active.com and in Inside Triathlon magazine. You can learn more about Endurance Lifestyle Design on his blog or purchase one of his training plans online.