Monday, July 29, 2013

Race Preparation - The Final Phase

Early on in your training preparation you can be pretty laissez-faire and non-specific in what you do training-wise.Your swims can have a good component of body surfing in and out of the surf rather than lap after lap in a pool. There’s no reason you can’t get out on the mountain bike and go off road when cycling and there’s nothing wrong with hiking, cross country skiing, etc., thrown into the mix to supplement your run training.
However, at a certain point, the notion of ‘specificity’ (being highly specific in what you do) becomes more and more important. This was really hammered home to me 20 odd years ago in Hawaii. I remember being out on the bike course, about 35 miles out of town and catching initial race leader, Kiwi Rick Wells, on the bike.
Wells was a freak of a swimmer, a machine on the bike and a serviceable runner. He actually won the then Olympic Distance World Championships staged in Perth and prior to coming to Kona he’d just won the famous Nice Triathlon on the Cote d’Azur in France over 4km/120km/30km – so he had the miles in his legs and knew how to put it together over longer distances on race day.
Problem was he’d just had a full summer training and racing in France and while he was race-hardened and fit, the vast majority of the riding he’d done in training and racing had been completed on a standard road bike with a set of clip-on aero bars to accommodate some of the brutally hilly mountainous courses served up in France. Kona, on the other hand, which has a bit of up and down, is, in comparison, a relatively flat course where you sit for hours on end in a TT position and thump a big gear.
Wells simply wasn’t used to doing this. He’d tweaked his bike position just before arriving in Hawaii and wasn’t prepared for the rigours of sitting and grinding. After leading out of the water and setting off on the bike at breakneck speed, 30 miles into the race his back tightened and by the time I caught him he was going backwards at a rate of knots, and in a world of pain. He was finally forced to withdraw from the event.
A really worthy contender, in peak condition, at the top of his game, pretty much unbeatable anywhere else in the world, reduced to a blithering mess by a basic preparatory, rookie mistake.
So here’s my guide on taking some of the guesswork out of your final preparation – putting the icing on the cake if you like, which I hope helps those of you heading to an event in the next couple of months.

Practise what you intend to do during the race at race pace. Complete a full-blown race simulation five-to-seven weeks out from the competition. If you can, train over the course or at least find somewhere similar. If we use the Ironman as an example, select a distance of about two-thirds of that of the Ironman: swim 2.5 kilometres, bike 120 kilometres and run 28 kilometres. Go through about a half to two-thirds of a taper sequence, do a full carbo-load procedure, do the training session at your proposed Ironman race pace and feed yourself in the manner you intend to do on race day using the same foods/drinks.

Weigh yourself pre-session, record your nutritional intake throughout the session and weigh yourself again post-session. From this you can work out your sweat rate and do your best to match it on race day. If at the same level of effort you find your pace dropping off dramatically in the later stages of the session you know you need to up the CHO intake.
If once you’ve completed the session and you find you’ve lost a significant amount of weight from your ‘normal’ body weight (not your pre-session commencement weight as you’ll ideally be a few kilos over your normal weight), then you know you’re going to have to be even more aggressive with your fluid intake. By a significant amount, I mean one-to-two per cent lower than your normal body weight. Doing the above will give you some degree of certainty (or not) that you’re on the right path come race day.
Aside from using all of the equipment you intend to use on race day while doing the suggested simulation, start using your intended equipment in training.

1. Goggles
Do they fog, do they leak? Do they give you a headache after being worn for extended periods of time? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, get it sorted weeks out from competition. Don’t turn up to the expo the day before and see the latest pair of swish goggles Pete Jacobs is wearing and buy them there and then to be worn the next day.

2. Wetsuit
Is it the right size? Does it chafe? Is it easy to get on and off? Is it a long-sleeve suit that fatigues your arms after a long swim? Start doing some of your training in your wetsuit so that you can get used to the change in body position and turning over the rubber in the arms. Identify the chafing spots and apply a lubricant, and also practise getting the suit off – quickly.

3. Bike
Position is obvious, as mentioned in my ramblings about Rick Wells. Train with the course in mind. For example, as I write this article, I am in my preparation for Ironman Melbourne. The bike course is very flat and fast. Orbea were kind enough to provide me with an Ordu TT bike to use for the race. Up ‘til now I’ve been training on a road bike, but I’ve changed across exclusively to the TT bike and had the position set by former AIS cycling/triathlon biomechanist Brian McLean (PhD). Brian was a bit aggressive with his positioning (too low in the front) for my level of flexibility. I’ve backed this position off a tad, but over the coming couple of weeks I’ll slowly try to lower my handlebars to achieve a more aero-position, as initially set by Brian. As the course is largely non-technical, the vast amount of my training will be confined to the indoor trainers. Here we can download the course profile and ‘ride the course’ in indoor safety 1600 kilometres away from the actual location and still get some highly specific training from a position and gearing perspective done. In contrast, later in the year when I take a group across to Italy to race in Ironman Italy 70.3, the bike course is far more technical and bike handling skills will become more crucial so (a) the bike being used will change, and (b) a lot more time will be spent practising descents, cornering and the like.

4. Clothing
What are you going to wear? While for some this might be a fashion statement, for those serious about racing it is functionally very important. For an Ironman-distance event comfort is a consideration, so you want something you’re going to be comfortable in for eight-to-17 hours. The only way to ascertain this is to do some longer sessions in your chosen apparel. If you’re not comfortable after a three hour ride and 1.5 hour run, chances are you’ll be less comfortable after a six-hour ride and a four-hour run and you don’t want to be experiencing that for the first time on race day. Your body is an amazing system; back in the day I can remember a large portion of the men’s field (myself included) racing Ironman-distance events in little more than a pair of budgie smugglers (no padding) and a singlet – your butt does adapt to it over time but you’ve got to get used to it in training. Modern tri-suits often have provision for you to carry gels and the like just in case you miss a feed, but they have the downside of covering a lot of skin, making your sweating mechanism less effective which, in a really hot environment, could be a deal breaker if you’re not prepared for it.

5. Footwear Bike and Run
During the course of a long ride some athletes develop hot or numb feet and/or sore knees. There could be a number of reasons for this, but the most common are (i) velcro straps being fastened too tightly, which, when combined with swelling feet, creates havoc, and (ii) incorrect cleat positioning. The best way to ascertain this – you guessed it – is long rides at race pace beforehand. If it doesn’t feel right in training you can rest assured it is going to feel worse on race day. With running shoes, if you intend to race in racing flats be sure to do some of your faster, quality training sessions in this type of shoe. Racing flats are lighter, less stable and have less cushioning, opening the wearer up to a number of potential acute injuries on race day if the body isn’t accustomed to wearing such shoes. Also, remember you’re going to be coming off a 180-kilometre bike ride, blood is going to have been sent in bucket loads for five plus hours to your legs and feet. It ‘pools’ there, your feet will have swollen, so your racing flats should probably be half a size bigger than what you’d normally choose for a straight running race. Otherwise you run the increased risk of losing toenails, blistering, etc.

6. Odds and sods
Helmets, heart rate monitors/GPS systems, sunglasses – well, you get the idea. You don’t want to be fumbling around with them for the first time on race day, so be sure to have trained extensively with this equipment before toeing the starting line.

Remember to live, work, train and race by what famed Surf Iron Man Guy Leech calls his ‘Five Ps’: Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. A mantra we can apply to various facets of our lives.

article courtesy of R.Cedaro