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The fog of a nearly 18-month-long pandemic is finally starting to lift and races are beginning to make a cautious return. For triathletes, this means that after a year of laying dormant, you once again may have a chance to toe the start line soon. But it’s been awhile. Besides swimming, biking, and running, do you remember all the other little parts that make up a race day?
Athletes are dusting off the TT bikes and practicing race fueling—and maybe finding that they’re a little rusty. That’s OK; the pros are too. That’s why you need to practice before race day (finally) sneaks up on you!
Coach Joy Miles has worked with over 500 athletes and competed at every distance. She shares with us the things she’s having her athletes practice—along with the usual training—to nail their upcoming races.
Without races, most of us haven’t been regularly gulping down as many gels and chews over the past year. But not only do gels and sport-specific foods require some getting used to, they can also cause race-ruining GI distress if you’re stomach isn’t accustomed.
“Practice with whatever nutrition you’re going to use on race day,” said Miles. “That is the biggest thing to note when preparing for a race.”
She suggests starting to incorporate your race-day nutrition a couple months out (at the very least) from the big dance—ie. restock your cupboards and start filling your bento boxes now.
And take it seriously, too. If you wouldn’t skip a gel or chew in a race, don’t pass over it during a long training ride. Map out a nutrition plan with your coach or on your own and begin to incorporate the fuel, timing, and hydration tactics into longer key workouts. Come race day, your mind and gut will be on board to slurp down whatever gel tickles your fancy.
As multi-time Ironman World Champ Jan Frodeno knows all too well: a bad transition can cost you the race. At Ironman Lanzarote in 2016, a helmet malfunction in T1 cost him two minutes and he ultimately lost the day by the same margin. While you may not be competing for the win, you don’t want the same thing to happen to you.
Miles suggests setting up a transition rehearsal as part of your training in the weeks leading up to a race—especially if you haven’t done a transition in a long time.
Create a T2 (bike-to-run) spot either in a driveway or parking lot (just make sure your gear won’t get stolen!), then complete a series of short bike rides, transitioning into run gear, running a little bit, and then hopping back on the bike to repeat the process a few times. The repetition and shorter rides and runs puts the focus on acing the transition. She also suggested making this practice as close to race day as possible.
“You can even go so far as to create a dismount line for yourself,” said Miles. “This way you can estimate how and when you need to dismount your bike and can begin the process of spinning out your legs to prepare to run off the bike.”
Practicing swim-to-bike transitions can be a bit more challenging, but if you are able, setting up your bike on a trainer on the pool deck (check with your swim facility to see if this is allowed) or in the pool parking lot can be a great opportunity to remember the feeling of moving from being horizontal to suddenly being vertical and needing to pedal.
Although wetsuit technology has greatly improved in the past decade to allow for easy on/off access and better range of motion, it can still be a gnarly task to wiggle into and out of your neoprene. After a year away from open water swimming, start with the basics.
“Number one: get the wetsuit out of the closet,” joked Miles. “In all seriousness, make sure your wetsuit still fits and is not overly constrictive.”
Once you’re sure the wetsuit still fits appropriately, take it to the pool (or if you’re lucky, a local swim hole) and practice a few laps in the wetsuit.
Then comes the real challenge: hopping out of the water and remembering how to do a quick and efficient unzip and strip of your wetsuit. This may feel awkward and difficult at first, but hey, that’s why we practice.
Open Water Skills
One of the most intimidating aspects of triathlon is the open water swim. The water can be murky, generally quite cold, and you’re making physical contact with others while trying to stay afloat. Like with anything else, becoming more confident in open water requires deliberate attention and practice.
If you’re one of those lucky souls who lives somewhere temperate and you can practice in actual open water, do so! Test the waters, literally, by practicing a run-in in your wetsuit to simulate a race start. Then, practicing running out of the water in the same fashion, simulating a jog to T1.
Many of us, though, are relegated to the pool for at least a few more months. In that case, Miles offered up some alternatives.
“If you have access to a deeper pool, jump in to the deep end,” she said. “Then practice calming yourself down and treading water to replicate both the feeling of not being able to touch the bottom of an open water location, while also reminding yourself what those start line nerves feel like.”
Another option to bolster your open water skills includes rehearsing swim starts by treading water at a pool wall alongside three to four other swimmers and then trying to swim a lap together. The closeness and inevitable physical contact will quickly bring back those jarring yet exhilarating swim-start memories.
If you master these little things, alongside the swim, bike, and run, then you’ll be ready to enjoy the return to racing after far too long of a hiatus.