Monday, February 1, 2016

The Short/Long Stack

by Justin Daerr

As athletes get ready to take on long course races (half ironman to ironman distance) they often question whether they might benefit from racing a shorter event in the final few weeks of preparation; specifically two to four weeks before their ‘A’ races. As with many questions, the answer is: “it depends.”

Over the years I have experimented with a variety of race stacking with myself and with other athletes. While no formula works for every athlete, there are a few things that tend to help me lean towards, or away from, doing a lower-priority race in the final weeks of preparation.

Factors that lead me to say, “Yes, go race.”

  1. The athlete has a proven history of fast recovery. These athletes have the ability to return to normal training loads very quickly. If the athlete has shown to really struggle (both physically and mentally) following a race, then I opt to pass on a preparation race.

  2. The race is local. Typically, the athlete will be traveling to their key race so I am hesitant to suggest another race a few weeks out if there is extensive travel involving a flight. Like point number one, some athletes handle travel better than others, but for some, it wears them out and there is always the risk of falling ill after long travel bouts.

  3. The athlete has had extensive training blocks. If an athlete has gone a long time without racing, I often see some benefit in doing a preparation event. This choice can be very helpful to get the athlete back in the mindset of racing as they will get to feel race nerves again prior to their big event.

Factors that lead me to say,“No, don’t race.”

Aside from simply saying the exact opposite of the above, I want to include:

  1. The risk of injury is high. Racing doesn’t necessarily have a higher risk of injury (than training) in and of itself. However, we do things in racing that we might not do otherwise and that is where the risk lies. Too often, I have heard of people saying that they pushed through something in a race that “didn’t feel right” and it ultimately ended in an injury just before their key race.

  2. The athlete has had a race heavy season. If an athlete has already been racing heavily and has subsequently tapered and recovered from multiple events, then I tend to opt away from suggesting a tune up race. A solid training weekend may be much better in place of another race for this athlete.

  3. The course and/or conditions become high risk. This typically has to do with weather conditions as those tend to lead to the highest risk(s). Unfortunately, the conditions might not be known until the morning of, or days leading into, a race which is why I prefer local races for tune up events.

The final thing I will mention has to do with an athlete’s confidence. The one thing that makes me almost completely ignore the above list, is whether I believe racing, or not racing, will benefit an athlete’s confidence. Even when something doesn’t make sense on paper, it can make complete sense in the real world. And a confident athlete is the best kind of athlete.

Train smart, race fast and have fun!

Justin Daerr is a professional triathlete and co-owner of Endurance Corner. You can follow him on Twitter @justindaerr.
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