Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sweating the Details (Pt.1)

This is going to be (at least) two parts... with the first part being less about equipment and more about how we think about a race and leading up to it, and the later parts being a bit more specific about things that can save time.

So let's dive right in to some of the "small" details in triathlon, or in the first case, a HUGE thing that's often thrown in the back seat as a small detail.

Nutrition - It has almost certainly won or ruined more races than any other single thing, but for some reason it just seems to never get the proper amount of attention. The number of people who fiddle their way through race day nutrition is staggering. Of the people who do have some idea what they are going to fuel with on race day, most of them have never practiced with it in race simulations. How many people who start getting sick on the bike could have known weeks in advance if they had fueled with the same stuff on their long training rides? How many people never get a drink of Ironman Perform until their big race? And I'm only talking about the bike so far... where, of all 3 disciplines, people likely have the most coherent strategy.

Once we're off the bike and off to the run... I'm pretty sure most people's strategy is to wing it. "I'll live off the aid stations" is a common motto... and can be a very good one, so long as you know what 'living" entails. How much do you sweat? Do you need solids or are you just going with liquids? Do you lose enough sodium that you need to forgo water and stick to sports drink? Do you need to supplement that still? When are you starting the coke? How many calories do you need every hour?

This one is mind boggling. There are TONS of articles out there to help you get a good grasp on this if you are in the dark. You also have all winter to TEST things out for yourself to make sure it works for you. I would guess this is probably the one thing most AG'ers would gain the most time from in their A race.

Race Plan - These next few go hand in hand, but lets start with "the plan." When you toe the line to a race, you should have already played it out multiple times in your head. Thinking is tough when you are racing hard, (heck I've had a hard time figuring out which direction my visor goes on before.) so the more things you have "nailed" onto cruise control the better. Having your transition set up "your way" (however you get things on fastest) knowing what to sight off of in the water, figuring out how tight turns are (and how much speed you need to scrub, if any) on the bike, where the aid stations are, when you are close enough to start sprinting for the finish, etc are all things that can make you just that little bit faster for no "effort." With all of the tech advances (and hell, a lot of bigger races have youtube video's of the course) with maps and such, there is NO reason not to have the course thoroughly scouted before you ever get in the car to drive to the race.

The Checklist - This one is elementary, it's just a list of everything you are going to need for the upcoming race. I've got two lists, one for local (leaving my house) events and one for destination (staying in a hotel) events. Right now, go make your own list, save it to your phone and grab check it before you leave every race (or traveling) day. Here's the basics (mine is more extensive, but I take a considerable amount of tools with me when I travel.)

- goggles
- extra cap
- Suit

- Bike
- Shoes
- Helmet
- Computer
- Bottle
- Sunglasses

- Shoes
- Number Belt
- Visor/Hat

That is cut and dry basics. Nutrition, flat kits, socks/clothes to change, tools, etc should be on the list too, but that's a lot more personal. Those things, basically everyone needs.

Race Week - Race week (at least for your "A" races) is about getting to race day morning at 100%. There are a lot of things I hear (and see) people doing that could very well be costing them time on race day.

The first place things start going awry is the taper. Tapering is not intended to produce any (more) fitness, it's intended to let your body recover while still maintaining the level of fitness you've acquired. That means you have to give your body the opportunity to recover. It's easy (I would know) to freak out a few days out when a run goes feel like you've "lost it" and the only solution is to go hammer out some sprint repeats. Of course, it doesn't work like that and in the end you just end up sabotaging yourself. It's been said before, but TRUST YOUR TAPER.

Next is the course. GO SEE IT FOR YOURSELF before you are racing on it. Look at the swim, drive the bike and if you've got the chance do one of your rides on the run course. (or drive it) Know where the "hard" parts are, be ready for them. Make yourself a note on your forearm on race day if you need to. "Pot hole mile 12" written down your arm might be the difference between a great race and a DNF.

Next is diet. Everybody freaks out when they start cutting back the volume. It's really easy to go overboard and hamstring yourself by cutting too many calories and not giving your body the fuel it needs to recover. If your diet is solid already (it is, right?) then my general plan is to eat almost exactly the same as when I'm training hard. Of course if your diet is all out of whack to start with...

Which leads us to what to eat when you're traveling. I was VERY lucky at Nationals this year that I got sick AFTER the sprint race. I had already had a meal at the place I suspect made me sick the night before the Olympic. I swore then that I wasn't going to chance a big race again on something as silly as pre-race food testing. When you have a race coming up, take the day or two before (at least) and have your meals planned. You can taste the rare cuisine AFTER the race is over, but beforehand stick to things that are easy on your body, nutritious and common. Request a Fridge in your hotel and stop at the grocery on the way into town...whatever it is. Don't ruin a season on an ill-fated trip to Denny's.

Once you're AT the venue, it's time for lazy bum mode. Go to check in/packet pickup, get your bike checked in and then get out of the sun and off your feet. Now isn't the time to go sightseeing, hanging out at the athlete village, or whatever else the venue might present. Go watch a movie, go take a nap, whatever it is, make it easy on yourself. The only time you get to break this rule is to do your short workout(s) on the day or so before. Otherwise, you should be a slug. Dinner the night before a race and the morning of should also both be thought out well in advance, and of course...alcohol is not optimal (especially the morning of...)

Or the TL;DR - Get a lot of sleep, do your taper workouts and as little else as possible, have a meal plan, don't be an idiot.

That'll wrap up part one. Next week I'll talk about some equipment choices that can make a big difference in your finish time.

Thanks so much for reading!

- Christopher Morelock

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