Monday, February 1, 2016

“Training Through” Races

“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it” -Arnold Glasgow

As spring comes upon us and the racing calendars start hitting our inboxes, many of you will be tempted to enter "just a few" B- and C-priority races. In my experience, many athletes are confused over exactly how to approach these races to ensure that you have a good result but still keep building fitness towards your "A" race of the year. I’ll offer a couple of tips below on how you can use these races as a springboard to your more important season objectives.

  • Pick shorter races
    Even if you’re an "ironman specialist," iron and half-iron races are pretty grueling irrespective of how easy you think you’re taking them. Any race that is likely to result in significant glycogen depletion runs the risk of you starting to tear into your muscle for supplemental fuel. When you’re trying to "build up" through your season this is -- plain and simple -- a bad idea. During a build, I would generally advise against using marathons and half IM races as B-events. For slower athletes, even olympic distance races can fall in the same category.

  • Avoid tough running races and sprint finishes
    For the same reason, try and avoid those eccentric loading suffer-fest races that involve a lot of downhill running and save the grit your teeth, tear some muscle fibers, sprint finishes for when it really counts. Additionally, make sure you do some training through your build at and above paces you are likely to encounter in your B-races. Don’t go into your first race of the year with only base miles under your belt.

  • Pick races that address/test your weaknesses
    This is one of the big mistakes that a lot of AG athletes make. They get into a habit of following the same race schedule each and every year that involves local races that are close by and at which they are likely to do pretty well. One of the best uses of B-racing is to test yourself. How does your 5K speed compare to your 15K? How do you do in a skills dominant event like a mountain bike race compared to a flat TT? How does your basic speed stack up against real swimmers? Once you have an idea of where your greatest athletic limiters lie, picking races that address them is a great way to use up your C- and B-racing quota. You’ll force yourself to do more of the training that you don’t enjoy so that you’re race ready and the emotional punch of not being the local hero will push you to get better.

    Of course, use liberally and include a couple of races that stroke your ego as well but if you can "handle the truth" this is one of the best uses of B- and C-races.

  • Don’t expect or train for a PR
    This bullet point has two sides to it.

    First, don’t fall into the trap of “now that a race is on the calendar I really need to start hitting it.” Keep in mind that these are B-races and that they should show a steady progression towards your end of season objective, not a PR. Don’t be a February rockstar!

    Second, keep in mind that you don’t want to be "super fresh" for a B/C race. These are training events similar to a key session. Save the "busting out of your skin" super-freshness for your A-race. If you are feeling that way a few days before your C-race, go out and train more!

    Generally, I would expect an athlete to race within 95-98% of what their current fitness would indicate for a C-race, 98-100% for a B-race and 100+% for an A-race. However, in terms of life best, with the ebb and flow of the season, this will usually only amount to 80-90% of life best fitness. In other words, a 35 minute 10K guy may only be in 38:30-42:00 shape for their B- and C-races. It takes a lot of faith in yourself and your coach to deal with this. However, if an athlete is at 100% life best fitness 12 or more weeks out from his or her A-race, in my experience, it is often a red flag!

  • Train in and out for a C-race
    So, that brings us to the nitty gritty. What does preparing for a C-race entail? Simply, a C-race is a race that we don’t freshen for, anymore than we would a key training session. Nor do we expect to take any more time to recover than we would a key session. We train in normally for the week leading up to the C-race and we train out, that is, we go straight into the next loading week.

    Because we are in the midst of loading, the athlete is "racing tired." Racing tired is common practice in the world of competitive swimming, where perhaps better than any other sport, coaches understand that an athlete can only be "up" a very small number of times each year. Just getting a feel for the right racing effort that allows an athlete to "keep the training rolling" is a useful task in itself.

  • Short taper in, train out for a B
    How does this differ for a B-race? For a B-race we use a short taper (one week or less going in) as opposed to the long taper of two to three weeks that we typically use for an A-race. This leads to an athlete that has a baseline level of freshness but not the "jumping out of your skin" super-freshness that we associate with a full taper.

    Again, a major concern with the B-race is that it is not so hard that it demands any more recovery than a normal key session in the following week. This can be harder to accomplish than the C-race as the athlete has a bit more pep going in.

  • Don’t ditch key sessions for the sake of some race adrenaline
    The final recommendation on incorporating B- and C-races within your schedule is to not switch out the most important specific sessions that simulate your event for the sake of a few more races. This is especially true for ironman athletes. The mid-season is the best place for these races that are, in all honesty, pretty far removed from the demands of your event.

    In addition, the "all out" psychology of a short distance event can have some pretty negative transfer to the psychology needed for ironman success. In the late season, in sessions and races, the emphasis should always be on "holding back" and "executing" rather than spurring yourself on for more.

In my opinion, I don’t think athletes should race in the final two blocks before tapering for an Ironman as these two blocks are the key period that have the most direct effect on your specific ironman fitness. This is the time for key simulation workouts that best mirror the demands of your event.

Hopefully these tips will prove useful as you finalize your racing calendar.

Train Smart.

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