You train your body to meet the physical demands of a race. You train your mind to handle the ups and downs you may experience on race-day. But how often do you practice the finer points of racing, like race pacing, nutritional planning and transition set-up? These forgotten elements can make the difference between a so-so race and a personal best.
Whether you are running a 5K or an Ironman, the goal of your training is to be physically prepared to handle the demands of racing. An athlete is only as good as their training. An athlete’s racing is only as good as the training when applied.
Once a beginner has accomplished a certain distance it is natural to begin to think about completing that distance faster and more efficiently. In order to race faster, you must train faster. Adding specific race-pace intervals and tempo workouts into your training plan will help to prepare your body for the expectations of a faster race pace. It is not likely that you will average an 8:45 split on your goal 10K if you haven’t practiced that 8:45 pace in training.
Prior to a race, an athlete should sit down with themselves or their coach to create a race plan. Having a plan in mind of how your goals of getting to the finished line will be accomplished can reduce race-day anxiety. A race-day plan is like any other workout plan. You break the race down into more manageable sections and since you are simple duplicating what you have done in training, you have a greater sense of confidence. You will maintain your focus and stay sharp for the entire race as you implement your plan.
When you bring up nutrition there are usually more questions than there are answers. Here, we will simply focus on the benefits and importance of nutritional planning. Athletes are encouraged to seek out specific nutritional advice for their unique situation from a qualified Professional or Coach. Having a plan for your nutrition will help you finish strong.
Most athletes would never toe the line of a race without training. It is no different when it comes to race-day nutrition. You must train with the nutrition you plan to use on race day. Ask any veteran distance athlete and they will tell you the horror stories of poor nutritional planning. Improper race-day nutrition and nutritional timing can sideline even the most fit and well-trained athlete.
In order to avoid nutritional race-day pitfalls, it is imperative that a nutrition plan be developed long before it is ever put to practice in a race. A balance of quick digesting carbohydrates, water and electrolytes are the basis of a good nutritional plan. Timing of each of these elements can change depending on the distance of the race, size of the athlete, intensity of racing, weather conditions, etc. There is no single answer. It takes experimentation and maybe a bit of research until an athlete can settle on what they need nutritional to have their best race. Once an athlete establishes what the best nutrition plan is, it should be practiced and tested over and over in training before being applied to racing (particularly an important race). This 'training' will pay dividends towards a personal best race.
The worst thing that can happen with your nutrition in transition is to leave something crucial behind. Planning will make certain this doesn’t happen. Nutrition for the bike leg and the run should be set up prior to the start. There are many different methods of attaching your nutrition to your bike from bags to flasks to electrical tape. Your solid food should be cut up into bite-size pieces and stored in Ziploc bags that you put in the pockets of your jersey, in a Fuel Belt (for the run) or store on the bike. Prepare everything you need and have it ready to go directly into your mouth. Water bottles should be filled and loaded on the bike and in Fuel Belts. Gels and supplements should be stored in easy containers for quick opening and use.
Triathlon and The Transition Area
If you are a triathlete you are aware that races can be won or lost in that abyss between sports we refer to as “transition”. Transition is the time when the athlete is moving from one sport to the other. This time includes a changing of physical demands on the body, as well as a change of gear and clothing. You practice to swim, bike and run. Don't forget to practice your transition!
Transition is the forgotten discipline in triathlon. While some athletes seamlessly move from one sport to another in a matter of seconds, others seems to fumble for minutes, losing precious time. I like to explain the purpose of transition to beginner athletes like this: The purpose of transition is to GET OUT of transition. Transition is not necessarily the best time to take a break, have a snack or sort through your gear.
As with everything else, proper planning goes a long way when it comes to transition. This planning begins with what an athlete intends to wear for the duration of the race. With most distances, even long distances, an athlete can chose an outfit that is suitable for all three sports. This completely eliminates the need to even worry about clothing. What goes in the water with you at the start, will cross the finish-line with you at the end. An investment in triathlon-specific clothing is an investment in time.
Getting to transition early on race-day is helpful in getting an ideal place to set up. Look for a spot that will reduce how far you will have to run with your bike. Face your bike toward the “bike out” exit. It is much easier to drop your bike off a rack and head in a straight line than trying to navigate around obstacles. The best and fastest transition places on the bike rack are closest to the aisle where you will run in and out. This limits traffic from other athletes as well as being easier to find. Again, the Purpose of Transition is to GET OUT of Transition! Where ever you rack-up, take a minute to walk in from the exits. Take a mental note of where you are and how you will locate your gear in the midst of the race. Some people like to mark their spots with a helium-filled balloon, or with chalk on the ground. In the least, count how many racks you will pass by from each exit until you come to your row.
Before the start of a race, an athlete should set up their gear in such a way to reduce the need to THINK. You want to be in and out of transition without having to think through what you need. A great example, is putting your sunglasses, lenses down and arms open, in your upside down helmet. When you get to transition all you have to do is slip on the glasses and stick the helmet on top of your head- no fumbling, no unbuckling, saving valuable seconds. Think in order of what gear you should put onto your body first. Make sure the first items to go on, are on the top and the last items needed are on the bottom. Make certain that any necessary Velcro is undone and helmets and hats are upside down. Use quick laces for running shoes and race belts for race numbers. In training, see if you can ride and run sockless as to avoid the need to put on socks.
Planning Will Buy You Seconds if Not Minutes
So what does transition look like? Here is a simple example of a swim to bike transition built for speed: After the wetsuit is stripped and while bending over, the athlete puts glasses on, helmet on, shoes on, bike off the rack and gone. Simple as that. All of the items are stacked one on top of another in order of how they go on the body with the shoes at the bottom.
One of the most helpful time-saving ideas when it comes to transition is to use visualization. Close your eyes and watch yourself coming out of the water, managing your goggles and cap, stripping your wetsuit and slipping into your bike shoes. Watch yourself hang your bike and switch to your running shoes. Go over it step-by-step and eliminate everything accept the things you need in your transition area.
Racing well can come down to simple strategies in preparing for and planning your race-day. Physical preparation is paramount, but don’t forget the finer points of racing. With planning and preparation you’ll reduce seconds or maybe even minutes from your already FAST times.
Train Hard! Race Harder!
Colleen C. Rue
PowerTri Elite Triathlete
ACE Certified Personal Trainer