Likely your race engine will be rusty! The memory of past events will still live in your body, but racing out of COVID is going to require some specialized preparation to ensure that the first few races are not a complete shock. But with some good planning, it is likely that you will actually come up with some incredible personal performances after such a long period of pure training! Here are 6 tips to help you be a star performer as you come back to racing!
One of the keys to gaining fitness over long periods of time is to blend training consistently with a variety of how you actually train. That means giving yourself a steady diet of swim, bike, run and strength workouts, but at the same time varying the length, intensity and terrain as you do that.
This is the opposite of what a lot of athletes have gotten into over the past year, which is a fairly steady routine that works within the restrictions imposed on gyms, pools and group workouts. Add to that no races to target and things have become sort of monochromatic in terms of the weekly workout schedule.
Racing out of COVID is a call to shake things up in that routine if you have some events coming up in the next 6-20 weeks. Change up the routes you do. Build on your long workouts. Add in some high quality anaerobic work. Get more sleep as you do all of this.
Then most importantly, as you approach your races, build in a taper. This is going to be the toughest part. Humans are creatures of habit, and after a year of only training at a steady level, to cut back in the final weeks before your first big race is going to feel odd. But it’s going to be a big part of actually being ready to have a great performance.
I just mentioned this as a way to start to vary your training diet. Even if you have been doing faster training from time to time, now will be a chance to add in extra motivation to that speed work. Certainly the speed work sessions that you do with your training partners can be pure fun mixed with a bit of pain. Being the champion of your group on any given day is exciting.
But doing speed work targeting the reality of a real race is something quite different. Focus on a few things in each session. One is to maintain good form at higher speeds and output levels than you will ever need to approach in your races. Another is to build throughout each interval set that you do. Make the first interval your slowest and your last one the fastest. Racing out of COVID requires this as a way to remember the fine are of pacing at high speeds.
Without a race to target a lot of training has become a purely meditative process. It’s an escape from whatever might be on your mind. A workout is a chance to daydream or to not think about anything. And with that often comes a slowing down of your turnover rate in all three sports. Let’s face it, 90-95rpms on the bike requires some focused attention. And if that focus is not there, it can slip to 75-80.
The same can happen with running. Your pace can become dictated more by the beat of the music you are listening to than directing your turnover to match what you will need in a race.
Train consistently at the stroke rate, pedal rpms and running cadence you will do in a race to get efficient at those levels. Now is the time to refocus on race cadence and start looking like you are going fast even if your pace is relatively easy.
In the water that can mean a stroke rate of about 25-30 strokes/minute for most guys and anyone with a strong upper body. For women that peak efficiency is going to be around 30-35 strokes/minute as well as for anyone with less upper body strength.
Peak efficiency cycling will depend on the length race you are targeting. For Sprint or Olympic distance events that’s going to be roughly 90-95 rpms. For 70.3 races it’s about 85-90 rpms. And for full IRONMAN races, it’s slightly lower at 80-85 rpms. But regardless of where you are in those targets, make sure to do some of your training higher than the ideal (especially if you are doing an IRONMAN) and some lower to build muscle recruitment.
For running generally the ideal is about 170-180 foot strikes per minute.
Racing out of COVID literally means racing in a couple of events prior to hitting the start line of your first big race. Pick races that are shorter than your eventual A race. That gives your body a speed shock! You go much faster than you will need to go at any point in your key event. This can be from doing shorter triathlons or even short single sport events like running races.
This helps you prep for the big ones that count more. It’ll help shake the bugs out of your racing and expose any areas that you are still in need of fine tuning. It will also remind your body what “fast” feels like and will reset the gauge so that your A race feels more “normal”.
A faster transition is free time, but only if you practice them!
Will you be using a wetsuit in the swim? If so put one on, swim a short distance. Then run a short distance in it and take it off quickly. You might be surprised at the need you have to figure that all out.
Then put on your cycling kit while wet if this is also something you’ll need to do in the race. And try to do it fast. Can you buckle your helmet with grace and speed? Practice that also. Get your cycling shoes on either stationary or rolling on your bike if you are going to do that. Practice until you stop having to think about how you will do it.
What will you need to run in? Any kit change between cycling and running will get faster with practice.
Racing out of COVID will likely present you with more unforeseen things to deal with during the race than you remember or ever had to manage in the past. That’s okay! There are always the little surprises and hiccups.
But now, more than ever, get your mental tool chest ready to deal with the unforeseen. And the best approach to that is to always tell yourself that no matter what comes your way on race day, that you will manage it steadily, calmly and that yes you will be able to manage it all.
A flat tire? I got this. Missed water bottles at aid stations? I’ll just slow a bit until I can get more so that I don’t blow up. Forgot to loosen the laces on your running shoes before putting them in the transition bag? No worries, just do it now as you see your feet will not go into the shoes when you go to put them on in transition!
Celebrate the ability to compete once again. Now more than ever racing will feel like a gift rather than a right. Test yourself and always be grateful of the end result. Know you always gave what you had on the day. And some of those days are going to bring the most empowering surprises of your life!
(This is the 8th in a 9-part series titled Tri 101.)
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.