But just because I am saying “racing in a COVID world” it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be business as usual. Here are my coaching tips on what to do different in your training to be ready for a race experience that too will have a very different look and feel than in the past.
Let me start with the racing guidelines that are being put out by both USAT and by IRONMAN. Knowing what will likely be different at your races will help you craft your training to be ready for them.
First and foremost understand that race directors are not calling the shots on how or when their events will take place. They are at the whim of bigger mandates that come from places like the CDC and the WHO. On top of that there are also going to be mandates from cities and states. So if things don’t add up to your liking as this all unfolds, please don’t blame the race directors. They want races to be a great experience and to take place as much if not more than you!
Be ready to be socially spaced and waiting with patience in everything you do around a race. A lot of the normal in-person events will likely take place online to help avoid this situation. Those could include having check in, race briefings and award ceremonies all done through the Internet. Masks will likely be required at all times other than when you race (although that could also be a condition in some situations). The bottom line here is that the normal procedures will take more time. “Patience” is the word of the day for managing this.
There will be lots of signs explaining protocol that will posted everywhere around the race venue. They won’t be put there for decoration! You will be required to comply with all of them. There will likely be time slots for everything from packet pickup to bike check in to when you can access your gear race morning. This is all with the purpose of reducing the athlete density at any one time around the race venue. Stick to the schedule!
This starts with making sure all your gear is in top working condition before you arrive. The times of crowding into a bike tent to get a last minute brake adjustment the day before a race are out. Other changes? You will have to carry your own bike pump to get air into your tires race morning. There won’t be volunteers to help strip your wetsuit off. You may need to grab your own transition bag and special needs bottles from a table. And the list goes on.
Forget about mass starts or even wave starts. Most races will be doing equally spaced time starts. Then once you are out on the bike and run course, that is where a few other changes will be noticed. “Self-reliance” from the race directors standpoint means putting more of the onus on the athletes to carry most of their nutritional needs. Yes, there will be aid stations, but probably not as many. There could be more special needs stops where you will be able to gather your own pre-filled bottles of nutrition and water. Again the goal is to reduce the number of touch points between things the athlete needs and what the volunteers have to provide them with.
Now will not be the time to say you didn’t see the announcement about something or the rule about another thing. Read up. Look at the race website. Read the signs when you get to the venue. Learn where your family and friends can and cannot be and have them adhere to the guidelines as well.
Expect to go through some sort of health screening at every race. This may be a simple questionnaire. It could be having your temperature taken a million times as you enter different areas of the race venue. Make sure to pack a few masks and some disposable gloves. You’ll likely need them just about everywhere.
Here are a few tips with an emphasis on self-reliance. Since there will likely not even be wave starts, expect to be swimming more on your own than ever before. For most this will be a bonus! It means less jostling and body contact with your fellow competitors. But it also means you will not have as much opportunity to catch a draft off of someone.
Be ready to cover the total swim distance confidently. That also means doing some open water swim practice to make sure you can site buoys well. There won’t be huge packs to follow like in the past. You will be your own pilot. Make sure you can swim straight on your own!
Add an extra bottle cage or two. Have more fluid and calories on you and your bike from the start. Drink what’s in your bottles all the way down to the bottom. Don’t chuck a half emptied bottle at each aid station and get a new full one.
In your training try increasing what you carry. Reduce the number of stops at a convenience store to reload. Not only will this make you more prepared to manage racing in a COVID world, it will help you to get higher quality rides in. Even eliminating one stop in a long ride means you spend more time in constant motion, which is ideal for getting ready to race.
Solo riding is only partial a way to teach you to be able to cover your race distance without any kind of draft. But more importantly, with the space of athletes at the start in a triathlon, there will be a lot less folks around you on the bike to key off of. You will be doing more of the mental work of staying on pace than every before. Solo riding will prepare you to be able to hold that kind of focus and understand how to keep your body engaged in a solo paced effort.
It will feel much less like a side by side foot race. You will have to be able to hold pace yourself. There will be less density so less racers directly around you to motivate you.
Separation on the run will become one of the rules that races will implement. So for example, if you are within a few feet of the athlete in front of you, there may be guidelines that you have to run at a 45 degree angle to them to avoid being in their air stream and breathing their exhaled air.
So do runs on your own without others around you so that you learn how to tune into your body to set the pace and sustain the effort. This is something that many of you did in the past. But now going forward it will be even more key. This doesn’t mean you need to train alone every single session. It’s just a heads up to incorporate some solo sessions regularly into your weekly training schedule.
In the early years of the sport there were mass starts where you were surrounded by the entire field of athletes. What will be different about racing in a COVID World is that the entire field is going to be an “on your own” experience. It will be tougher to figure out where you stand in your age group during the race. Everyone is going to have to wait for the results to be posted.
This is where learning to play some mental tricks with yourself can help. If you are an athlete who is motivated to chase or hold pace by looking at someone around them, you can still be able to do this to a certain extent. You’ve likely done it in your training when you saw someone running or cycling ahead of you up the road that was a total stranger. Suddenly you put yourself into your own private race with that person. You want to catch them! Or maybe they just passed you and you don’t want to let them go!
Use those simple cues in training to get you ready to take advantage of the fact that, yes, there will be others in the race with you but they may not be very close to you. You may not know what age group they are in or where any of you stand in your respective age groups. But nonetheless use each other as motivation!
We’ve already seen how triathlons have evolved and still hold incredible drama and exciting racing. Just look at the IRONMAN World Championship. In the early years everyone started together in the swim. That was super exciting and dramatic. Now the race starts in a bunch of waves. That too is exciting and the drama lasts longer because with different start times for athletes. iI takes a bit to figure out everyone’s placing at the end of the day.
Going forward in a COVID environment being physically close to your competitors is going to be dramatically reduced. But what will remain the same is that everyone there is going to cover the same distance. Everyone will have to manage the same basic logistics and circumstances. And everyone who crosses the finish line will be happy that we are finally able to be back at it. We will all be happy and make the most of racing in a COVID world!
Join us at Mark Allen Coaching as we get ready to come back to racing!
I am the Founder and CEO at Mark Allen Coaching. I am proud to have been voted in an ESPN global poll "The Greatest Endurance Athlete Of All Time." During my multi-sport career I won the Ironman Triathlon World Championship six time, the inaugural Triathlon World Championship at the Olympic Distance in Avignon, France, and at one point in my career I won 21 straight races across every derivation and distance. It was a great career, but that's all it would ever be unless I was able to share all of the experience and methodology we invented long before smart watches, power meters, and flashy uniforms. That's why I started Mark Allen Coaching, as a way to return to others at least the part of the gifts I received.