As we come into 2 of the biggest triathlon events in Australia, in Western Sydney 70.3 and the Busselton Ironman and 70.3 I notice or see the same mistakes made time and again by athletes, simple and avoidable things that can sabotage a performance and throw away 3 – 4 months of solid gains. So in The Art of Tapering, here are some tried and true strategies in preparedness to apply to taper successfully and race to your potential.
1. BACK YOURSELF – The age old saying in endurance racing: it’s better to be 10% underdone than 1% overdone! It is normal to be nervous in race week, but I see too many people cramming or doing too much intensity in race week. Physiologically, you cannot improve fitness towards your race, but you can certainly ruin it. If you have done the work, hit your key sessions, then relax and let the body do its thing. There is a great confidence in knowing that the work is done, the sacrifices have been made. Drop the volume, hit a few smaller race-paced efforts, make sure your equipment is running seamlessly, and keep some feel for the water. Recovery is one of the 3 cornerstones of endurance training. Honour this commandment. Rest and hydration trump everything in race week – focus on sleeping well in the week leading up and accept that you won’t sleep well the night before. Accept the nerves, just sit with them, don’t try and shut them out.
2. USE A RACE PLANNER – fail to plan, plan to fail. THIS STEP IS CRUCIAL! Ideally, your race plan should be indicative of the target times you have been hitting during the specificity of the sessions you have been doing over the last few weeks. If this is the case, then it is a matter of just getting it out of your head and on the page. This is a necessary, powerful and cathartic experience that goes a long way towards a calm and prepared lead in. It doesn’t really matter what you use to get it down, a piece of paper is great but make it as detailed as possible and make it process focused vs outcome based. Don’t worry about goal times, instead break the race down into bite size chunks with key points to focus on. For example, I like my athletes to break each leg into thirds and have a specific focus for just that third. You might focus the first part of the swim just on breathing technique, or sighting or a high elbow action. The key is to focus on that, then move on and forget about it. Writing notes on your top tube (power averages, nutrition tips) are great reminders as another example. On the run is where it all happens – you ride for show but run for dough, so it is crucial you establish some clear markers early on. Break the run into 5km segments, with the first 5km almost always being SLOW DOWN, BREATHE DEEPLY, RELAX SHOULDERS. Unless you are a pro, almost everyone goes out too hard. You are stoked to be off the bike, your supporters are right there with cameras, and before you know it you are through the first kilometre 30 seconds faster than planned. That WILL COME BACK to haunt you! Your second 5km can be about technique and establishing a better rhythm, and so it goes. Your plan should be specific to what you need to focus on and should be highly detailed, so you are clear. Review your training diary, all the answers are there.
3. LIFT YOUR MENTAL GAME – once you have your race down on paper it is time to sharpen your most powerful weapon, your mind. Getting to a state of self-belief where the athlete is highly motivated to perform at their best is a highly personal thing whether it be meditating, listen to podcasts of your heroes, or spending some quiet time before the race envisioning a successful performance. Having a key motivational phrase or even one word is often an excellent way to get the mind ready, avoiding any negative words. Using your minds eye to go through each part of the race is one of the most successful approaches particularly focusing on positive outcomes. Again, breaking down each section into smaller areas, envisioning the minutest detail really helps solidify the impression on your mind of YOU as a successful athlete. Ask yourself, how will you deal with difficulties on the day? A rough patch? Successful endurance racing is accepting that rough patches will happen, and you are prepared mentally for them. Your head will play tricks with you on the day, telling you that its getting a bit too tough, you should probably slow down, and this is where the mental work done leading in comes to the fore, knowing that you can push through and you will be fine. Focus on your body, check in with it and go back to breathing.
AND 3 QUICK FINAL THOUGHTS
1. Always train the day before – far better off taking the day before the day before off, and on the day before just going through a light and easy session. It sharpens you both mentally and physically and will bring confidence to your final touches. If you can, do all of your final training on the course ensuring a trip through transition to familiarise yourself with the layout and the route that you will take in T1 and T2.
2. GIVE BACK – your incredibly long suffering friends and family have put up with you for the past 3 – 4 months, so one of the best ways to get rid of nerves is to get over yourself already. You have the time now to do some extra stuff around the house or take that coffee or lunch date with a friend, cook the dinner for the family, whatever! Just spend time letting those you love, know how much it means that you have been ludicrously self-centred for the past few months.
Make sure you warm up in the swim before you start. Don’t stand around in shallow water weeing on each other, making nervous small talk. You needlessly give away your energy to others by doing this. If you don’t warm up, the start of the swim can often really red line your body, particularly weaker swimmers. With a taper + anxiety, everyone goes out too hard. The good swimmers adjust quickly and can handle this, poor swimmers lose volumes of time recovering from the first 200m. A swim warm up involving 200m, chucking in 3 x 30 strokes up-tempo is all you need to get your mind and body ready.
Good luck! See you out there!
Chris Hanrahan is a Nationally Accredited Performance Coach who runs PB3, a bespoke triathlon service suited to driven and motivated athletes looking to train towards goal events with likeminded people. Programming and squad sessions are specifically tailored towards athletes that are training towards upcoming goal events.