Have you ever had this experience? Your training went well, you set PRs in every key workout and you even worked through your list of to-do items in record time—but you ended up having a terrible race anyway.
Or maybe you're familiar with this scenario: you've beaten your training partner in just about every workout, but then he or she served you notice on race day by easily pulling away on the first hill on the bike course. The list goes on.
We train so that when a big race comes we are ready and have the results that our fitness should allow us to have. But this does not always happen. And while there is no failsafe method to guarantee your best day when it counts, there are a few steps you can take to maximize your chances of being the one to pull away and cap your list of training PRs with a great race-day performance.
The core of any great race starts with your training. And, of course, what you do just prior to your race and then during the event itself will have a tremendous impact on your performance. Spelling out the details of these two areas could fill the pages of Triathlete magazine for the next 10 years, but there are a few steps you can take regardless of the training program you are following right now to help boost your chances of achieving your goals.
1. Overdo Distance and Under-do Speed
Overdoing Distance: You are an endurance athlete. What you need most is endurance. Within your grab bag of favorite workouts should be one key swim, bike and run workout that stands out above all others. This is going to be a session that pushes the limits of your current endurance and transforms your body's perception of whatever distance your race is going to be and brings it into the realm of possibility.
Do this workout once during your offseason buildup, and then do it again in the summer far enough out (four to six weeks out) from your key race so you won't experience any residual fatigue from it.
Under-Doing Speed: This is not necessarily a call to do shorter sessions or less overall speed work but to make sure that your absolutely best speed effort is on race day and not on the group ride the month before. It means going as fast as you can in your speed work, yet still holding back a percent or two from your maximum capacity.
Instead, schedule just two intense speed sessions per season: one in the spring prior to your first race and then one more three to six weeks out from your key race. Bottom line: Don't give your maximum effort every week. If you do, I guarantee you your ideal race will not happen.
2. The Taper
Just about every athlete alive knows how important tapering down for the big event is, but very few actually do it. I'll chalk the reasons up to prerace anxiety and wanting to do one last big effort to make sure everything is in working order.
Note, however, that you really don't want to test yourself in any big way once you get into the final two to three weeks before your biggest race. Train...yes. Do speed work...yes. But save that really great performance for race day. Store it up and have confidence in your fitness and the work you've put in.
3. Sharpen Up
This is the one easy test you get to do to alleviate the nerves and let just enough steam off to hopefully prevent you from overdoing it. This will be your final main speed session to shake the bugs out before you go into cruise mode for race week.
For swimming, it should be a set of 4-8x100 with each of the 100s at close to top speed but relaxed. The rest interval should be 50 to 100 yards/meters of very easy swimming plus another 15 seconds once you reach the wall before starting the next 100.
For cycling, the workout is going to be 6-8 x 1-minute fast with another 30 to 60 seconds very easy recovery in a low gear spinning. Again, the fast segments should be near top speed but relaxed.