It goes without saying that if you want to do well in a triathlon, you need to probably prepare through training, fueling, sleep, etc. However, too many triathletes show up on race day unprepared to meet their race goals. Below I have outlined several key components of preparing for a race, as the Boy Scout motto goes “Be Prepared” (I can say that being an Eagle Scout).
If you’ve competed in a triathlon before you’ve probably heard a thousand times that you need to practice your fueling in training to see if it will work for you on race day. While this is definitely true, people often don’t train at the same pace they race. This can leave their body responding differently on race day when they are actually “racing”. For example: even if you follow the exact same fueling protocol you plan to use in your race for a 3 hour Zone 2 ride, you’re still not training as you race. What I mean by this is, your heart rate and effort are completely different than they will be in the race, therefore your body may react differently to the fuel. Using myself as another example: I can eat almost anything when my effort is low, however once my heart rate goes up and I start breathing heavy, there are very few things I can stomach.
To overcome this potential problem and be truly prepared on race day, practice taking in fuel during race pace intervals and see how you feel. A few weeks from a race, I always have the triathletes I coach start to do more race pace interval bricks where they can practice fueling on both the bike and run to prepare for race day.
I’ve personally made about every pacing mistake there is to make in triathlon (gone out too fast, gone out to slow, burned all matches on the hills, etc.). The good news is, by making all these mistake I’ve learned how to pace correctly in a race and how to train properly for a race. The key to pacing correctly in a race, is the same as fueling correctly: training at or even above your race pace. In fact as your race gets closer you should be training at race pace so much it becomes normal.
More often than not triathletes get stuck training in a certain what I call “grey zone” pace that is difficult but not quite race pace. For example let’s look at a hypothetical triathlete named Joe. Joe does almost all his runs at an 8:00-8:30 min/mile. When we does long runs they are at an 8:30 min/mile pace and when he does intervals they are about an 8:00 min/mile pace. Yet come race day he wants to run a 7:30 min/mile… I think you can see where I’m going with hypothetical Joe.
The point is, to truly practice pacing you need to get out of your comfort zone and train at your goal race pace. Don’t know your race pace? Race (notice I said race and not just complete) a practice brick (bike-run workout) that is slightly shorter than your actual race 4-8 weeks out from your triathlon without looking at your pace. After the work look at your splits to get an estimated race pace. Once you have this estimate train at or slightly above that pace when doing your key workouts.
Train as you race with all your equipment. I don’t mean year-round necessarily, but a few weeks out from a race you should be training on exactly the same bike wheels, racing kit, and even socks you plan to use on race day. You don’t want any doubt in your mind about your gear on race day.
I don’t mean to brag (well maybe I do a little) but if you look at any of my personal race results, I almost always have the fastest transitions. In fact I’ve won many races solely on my transition times as my competitors actually had faster swim, bike, and run splits. What’s my secret? Practice, Practice, practice. Before every race, I practice my T1 and T2 transition 10 times each until I can literally do it with my eyes closed.
Although my neighbors give me funny looks as I’m running to my bike in the driveway wearing a wetsuit… Come race day, my mind doesn’t even think about transition and I simply go through the motions like I did in practice, passing my competition in the process. The bottomline is practice makes perfect, simply practicing once before the race isn’t enough to truly master transitions.
The Little Things
There are so many little details of triathlon that you need to prepare for, from fueling to pacing, to setting up your transitions. The best way to figure out all these small details is to practice in training first, then (in the perfect world) a practice race, then finally a race that’s important to you. Experienced triathletes have learned to master all the little things that help them prepare for a triathlon. However, never forget that training is racing, the only difference is your (hopefully) passing people with numbers on their calves…