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It might be better to trust instead of test.
On race day, you’re going to be asking a lot of your body. Is it ready? For many athletes, race-day simulations are a way to find out—after all, logic dictates that if you can do it in training, you can do it in a race.
But it’s not that simple, says professional triathlete and coach Matt Lieto. Those test sets may actually be keeping you from performing to your potential on race day.
“It feels good to go fast. I get that,” Lieto says. “But there is nothing to ‘prove’ in training. That is what many athletes look for when they hit these test sessions. They are thinking less about the adaptations necessary for the race and more to prove to themselves that they can.”
Lieto reminds athletes that good training is set up in a strategic fashion to help the body build up to the demands of race day. Placing those demands on the body too soon can leave an athlete too tired, too injured, or too ill to hit other key sessions for race prep. These setbacks can undo your fitness gains on the way to race day.
Though Lieto doesn’t prescribe these common test sets to his athletes, he says that something like a 10k running time trial should be done less often than the popular monthly 200 swimming test set or 20-minute all-out bike sets. Running time trials “take much more out of your body, and you will need much more recovery before the next one,” he says.
So what to do when you feel yourself itching to test race readiness? Lieto says ask yourself one question: Why?
“Are you doing this test for your head or your body?” Lieto says. “We all have doubts, and when a big race is looming, it takes a lot of self-control to not ‘make sure’ you can do what you are asking of your body before race day. There is a lot of work to be done in between the ears to keep yourself in check here, and I don’t underestimate that. The challenge of these races is getting to the start line 100-percent healthy. That should always be the highest priority.”
Crossing the Line
How do you know when you’re doing too much? Some key signs:
– It takes more than a day to recover from the workout or test set.
– You do a race simulation workout without the other components of race day: taper, sleep, prehab, nutrition, and recovery.
– You schedule the set based on an arbitrary time (for example, the first of every month) instead of when your body’s ready.