As with most of my ramblings, this article was inspired by one of my athletes. We are all looking for that “perfect race day”; a day we define with seemingly unlimited speed, strength, endurance, and the absence of any nutrition issues. It may be day where some of us even consider placing in our age group or overall. Or, maybe just a day where you don’t run out of gas. These days do exist but when they don't, we get disappointed, discouraged. Wouldn't it be nice to have the perfect day every time we race? Well.... you can. What? How? The problem we face achieving "the perfect day" is less with our performance and more with our definition of "the perfect day." Here are some tips to help you physically and mentally achieve the perfect race day every time you race.
Set Reasonable Expectations
Too often, race expectations are set based on how we "desire" to perform and not based on the quantity or quality of our training leading up to the event. When you train consistently with a good plan, trust your training to provide a good performance. When you don’t train consistently, calibrate your expectations and redefine the day’s expectations.
Structure Workouts to meet your race goals
Your training plan should include workouts specific to measuring performance and/or include "B" races. What is a "B" race? Good coaches advise you to limit yourself to no more than two or three “A” races per season. An "A" race is where you want to perform at your best. To do so, you follow a training schedule tailored so that your performance "peaks" on the day of your "A" race. "B" races can be considered practice races where you're more concerned with measuring the progress of your training or utilizing the event as a speed/endurance workout.
Set Appropriate Objectives
Set race objectives then race to those objectives. Don't mistake an objective with a time goal. How many times have you left T2 without the ability to run your true pace or more specifically without oxygen? If this is a challenge for you, setting a run objective that looks like any of the following:
- Start the run slow and work up to a pace you can sustain for the remainder of the run
- Run a negative split
- Complete the run without walking (regardless of overall run time)
If running strong off the bike is your Achilles Heal, consider sacrificing a race by swimming and cycling conservatively. The objective here would be to save your energy so that you can run with confidence. Then you can work backwards to the bike and swim at future races.
Execution of your race plan will support your goal of a perfect day. The most common mistake made by both amateur and professional athletes is cycling too hard leaving your legs too tired to run as planned. Another is lower back pain on the bike from not enough core work and/or swim/bike combination workouts. You want another? How about having someone pass you in a race triggering your ego to go harder taking you out of your game plan? Have a plan for race day, execute the plan, and wait until late in the event to “race.” The second someone gets in your head, it’s the beginning of the end for you.
Have a Road Map
Many athletes focus on the here and the now; today. Setting a future “A” race goal should be considered the destination and your focus. Include a series of “B” events in your training plan that take you from your current fitness level to your desired fitness level. Not only will you improve fitness, you will see progress, gain confidence and experience which leads to success. Race expectations increase gradually as you progress through your road map. Stay the course.
Lastly, be flexible, adjust, and adapt. There will be good and bad days. Shake off the bad and build on the good.