A vital element of a training program – which seems obvious but is rarely the focus of enough attention – is ensuring training sessions are as much like the key race as possible. This becomes more and more important as the race gets closer, with overall weekly and daily mileage becoming less important in favour of mimicking race conditions. Training like you expect to race is commonly overlooked. Athletes arrive in a race setting, and then try to increase the pace faster than they have in a training session, for longer periods or are inexperienced in a particular terrain, which results in a whole range of problems! So many times I have heard athletes blame cramp on electrolyte loss or ‘just not their day’, when the reality is they have not trained for the race they have tried to execute.
In order to plan and execute a key race specific training session these are some key areas to consider:
- Pace/Intensity – it is important to do ‘efforts’ that will mimic your race day intensity while under similar fatigue to what you will expect in a race. This is also a perfect time to practice extended periods in the tri bars. This is especially important if much of your bike training is done in a group, as your wattage will vary greatly if you are sitting on the back of the group as opposed to riding on your own as you would in a non-drafting race. This is something I am very particular about, with all athletes having set wattage/heart rate/pace and/or perceived effort goals for each part of a session.
- Terrain – hunt out areas that mimic the race you are building up for and get better each week at executing them. Do your research on the race course: whether it is flat, hilly, rough roads etc. Another important consideration, especially with shorter races, are u-turns. Athletes who are not trained to turn with efficient gearing will be impacted in the run!
- Nutrition – your gut is highly trainable, much like your cardiovascular and muscular systems. From 6 – 8 weeks out it is vital to eat and drink like you plan to in a race, so you can refine the plan over time. The same applies for the pre-race nutrition.
- Temperature/Time of Day – where possible, train all or at least the key part of the session at a time of day that mimics race conditions. This is important for your body to be prepared at a particular time of day, especially with early race starts and also with races that are longer, and extend into the warmer part of the day.
- Mental Preparation – this is an often overlooked part of training and racing and something that I hound my athletes about on a weekly basis. The ability to remain focused on the processes that dictate performance (and therefore the outcome you achieve) is vital, as is staying positive and mentally strong when you’re getting tired. This is a skill no different to any other and needs to be rehearsed regularly.
- Time – Make sure that if you are going to be out racing for a long period of time, that you also practice for a extended periods to build the endurance required. These sessions need to be monitored so that you do them intermittently if they cause a lot of fatigue
- Run off the bike – race-specific running off the bike is an element of training that is often ignored. Studies have shown a change in run form when running off the bike. This combined with a higher core temperature following riding and changes in nutritional demands make it absolutely critical to rehearse the skill regularly – at race specific pace.
- Equipment/Clothing – don’t try anything new on race day. If you plan to use it in a race, make sure you have practiced in it first!
At AP10 we practice these, plus other race specific skills regularly. An example of a race specific session we did last Saturday is below. Athletes were preparing for various races including Port Macquarie 70.3, Huskisson Olympic, Nepean and Busselton, so the training session was designed very carefully, taking into account all the above elements.
AP10 Saturday 4th October
Typical Race Specific Session
Meet at our place and everyone set up their transition area in our back ‘car port’ or ‘training base’ – run gear and nutrition ready to go. It is a great group with over 25 athletes of varied abilities. We then had a good chat about what the session involved for each person and the plan for the day. I also discussed key mental strategies and how to implement them for the session. Interstate AP10 athletes who were doing similar sessions that day joined in the pre-session briefing via Skype.
Roll out and headed north in 3 separate groups. We then did bike time trial efforts at race specific wattage/HR for varied durations from 6km to 14km. Most people did between 60 and 80km of time trialling, all individualised and focusing on nutrition, pacing and mental rehearsal. The area we were in is perfect for Port Mac and Husky, as the hills and rough roads are exactly what the athletes will find there.
Arrive back at the house for a quick change and out on the run. I rode the new AP10 ‘fixie’ with water and gels for the crew and fixed my Garmin to the bars so I could keep track of their paces and accurately compare them to what I want them to run in their respective races. This also gives me the opportunity to closely work with the athlete and coach them properly – correcting anything I see during a session that is needs improving, especially with technique. In this session we did a mix of 2km and 1km repeats on short rest, with the quicker runners running slightly longer, so that after a U turn everyone finished together as a group. Running in the heat of the day really gets your body used to the demands of the race, as does eating and drinking while running, which all athletes rehearsed.
Following this we all (most!) hit up the ice bath after plenty of complaints had our recovery drinks and rehydrated. Some of us then did a core session to finish off!
This was a perfect session mimicking all of the race specific elements mentioned above. It is also great to do as a group (especially one this supportive), being very wary not to ‘compete’ against or sit behind each other, which you see so often in training groups and takes away from the specificity of the session. Each athlete therefore gets the most benefit from and maximises their adaptions!