Early Season Racing

For northern hemisphere athletes the season is starting up. Half of March’s training plans involved a race. As a rule these early season events aren’t the focus for an athlete. They’re a test of winter training, a progress check and a motivational boost. A bit of fun loosely relate to season goals.

Planning a season I rank races as A, B or C. An administrative convenience as every race should be approached with the same mindset: go as hard as you can for the duration. A race is a race. Categorising them is a reminder of their importance and priority in the whole season. An A race is an all encompassing goal whilst a C race is fun, its outcome less important.

As spring arrives C and the occasional B races appear on the schedule. Low priority in my athletes’ seasons, but after a winter shut inside they are eager to race. It’s a minor conflict of interests. They want consistency in training to build towards their goals, but they’d like to be in a position to perform well. The question is how to taper in these conflicting circumstances.

I follow a simple set of rules. An A race has whatever taper will deliver a good performance; it depends on the athlete and the race. I allow a few days for a B race and at most a day for a C race. Tapering less for minor events allows more training and more consistency.Tapering and recovery can have significant impact on your progress in training under a heavy race schedule.

But there’s also a lot of value in racing hard. Pushing yourself whatever condition your in is good training. The results from these early events show me the potential mental boost from a strong performance. We’re all familiar with the feeling of a good race: the sense of progress and achievement. It’s a confidence builder and can give a lift to an athlete’s training.

Opting out of a taper adds an element of risk. We may not appreciate how much fatigue can affect us. We don’t want to lose consistency through repeated tapers, but there is clear value in tapering for one early season race. Allowing an athlete to perform well and see the results of their hard work uninhibited by fatigue.

Lighter training around the race can be factored into the plan; it won’t hold significance over the entire year. The benefits of a strong race and the confidence that’s carried forward can be immense. If we want that good performance we have to take steps to deliver it.

This is a shift in emphasis for my athletes. I see the benefits to those who have performed well and want to ensure others experience them. Taking an early season event in their schedule and allowing a suitable tapering to help them on their way. They may feel they are slacking, but the lessons learnt can be carried throughout the year. A pause in their fitness growth is trivial in comparison.

The chosen event is approached as a scaled down version of their goal race. A brief, but definite taper; a race plan and an intention to go hard. Practice for future racing: the mindset, the focus and the attitude. The aim is an all out push to test the limits and make them work. It shouldn’t be an easy day.

I might have an inclination as to how an athlete should perform, but can’t predict the outcome. A taper, a plan and good pacing gives them every opportunity to race well. There are no guarantees. Win or lose the result can help guide subsequent months. Sometimes we learn more from a poor performance than a good one.

Whatever the outcome we analyse the performance: how it relates to their training and what it suggests for the future. Were they tired? Was nutrition adequate? Did they pace well? How can we improve on this? Are there weaknesses to address? The answers to these are far more significant than their time or placing on the results sheet.

Keep early season results in perspective. Performance in March is not the same as performance in July. If your A race is a summer Ironman how you do in a local sprint duathlon isn’t too important. You have time to deal with any issues; you aren’t expecting to be at your best for another three months. The value is in the test not the results.

Ironman Training Library

From nutrition to pacing - a collection of CoachCox blog posts focused specifically on Ironman training and racing.