August and September often mark the point in the season where athletes are starting to gear up for their most important race or races of the season
These “championship” races are often the ones you have been planning for all season using the first half of your race season as stepping stones towards that end goal. If you’re an XTERRA athlete in the US that often means you are eyeing the Pan Am Championship in Ogden, the XTERRA World Championships in Maui, or both. Whatever your “Championship” race is it deserves greater attention than previous races. We have put together a few pointers that will help you reach the start line with a little more confidence.
Know the course
XTERRA is known for their epic courses that traverse all sorts of challenging terrain. No two courses are the same. This often means you are training for multiple types and lengths of courses, but at this point in the season that should change. If you’re not sure how long a race might take, look up the last two year’s results for your division. This will give you a general idea of how long you might expect to be out on the course. Pre-riding or running the course if possible is always recommended, but if you can’t see it you can look at the race profile and description. Check out XTERRA TV for highlight videos, or full length broadcasts at Amazon Prime Video.
Narrow your training focus
Start building training sessions that address the demands of your big race. Both the Pan Am Champs and the World Championship races have massive amounts of sustained climbing on both the bike and run. This means you need to have workouts that mimic these demands as specifically as possible. Climbing on the mountain bike takes power and skill so maybe you need to get off the trainer and do your threshold session on a repeated climb instead. Be as specific as you can. Is most of the climbing steep or gradual? If the race is a non-wetsuit ocean swim then swimming in your wetsuit in Flat Lake is not going to help you that much on race day. The more specific you can be, the more prepared and confident you will be.
Nothing more, nothing less
One thing that separates many top performers from the rest is both the ability to put in the quality work and the discipline to hold back on easier or shorter days. Time and time again the athletes I coach who make the most progress are those that follow the workouts to the “T.” This doesn’t mean blindly following the workouts, but also logging the training, giving feedback, and being engaged in the process. Key workouts are challenging and one way to tell if someone is overreaching is whether or not the workouts can be completed at the proper intensity. If you are always carrying around a hefty load of cumulative fatigue and the thought of a structured threshold makes you feel ill, then you might be overreaching with too much unnecessary volume. Nail your workouts, but don’t try to pack in six months of training in the last six weeks before your big race.
Race to YOUR potential
A race decides who is the best on that one day. I used to think that I needed an extraordinary performance to reach my race goal, or I needed to go beyond my potential. If your expectations reside somewhere in reality, then you are actually just looking for a performance that you are already capable of. You want to get the most out of yourself on this one day.
Start planning and packing well before race week so that you can focus on your race. This includes accommodations, flights, child care, nutrition, bike maintenance, etc. The more you take care of the weeks leading up to a big race the more you can focus on the race itself. The last thing you want to be doing is running around Maui trying to get a bike tune up and find mud tires instead of pre-riding the course.
It’s supposed to be hard
One of my favorite sayings is, “It doesn’t get any easier, you just go faster.” Sometimes athletes believe that if they put in the work the race will be easy. That is never the case. You need to expect it to hurt and have a plan for when it does. Mental toughness is forged through adversity. You will push through in a race in the way you have (or have not) prepared to do in your training. Stay present and focus on the things you can control. Having a phrase or mantra that you repeat really helps even it is a very simple one. If you don’t have a plan that you’ve practiced during tough workouts you tend to dwell on how bad it hurts and negative thoughts. Reminding yourself that the pain will come and embracing it when it does is a mental strategy called “association.” With this strategy you monitor bodily sensations such as your breathing, muscle tension, and assess pain/discomfort levels. To cope you may focus on technique cues (high elbow catch, pedal cadence, lifting your knees), relaxing parts of the body (drop your shoulders, release tension), or quantify discomfort (am I going hard enough, is the pace sustainable). This strategy has been proven better for performance than disassociation, thinking distracting thoughts to take your mind off the pain. The sensations you feel during the race should be familiar because you have experienced the same discomfort during training.
Write a race plan now
You should have a race plan for each race you do. For XTERRA is it more about how you plan to attack each section and how you will deal with its unique challenges. How much energy will you exert in each section? Where can you pass or make moves on your competitors? Where can you drink and take in calories? These are questions you should be able to answer before starting a race. Your race plan should include pacing and nutrition/hydration strategies. Since this is your big race, be more specific and write your plan sooner. If the course consists of three main sustained climbs of 8-10 minutes with technical downhills, then plan for how you will ride those. Your race plan may change the days before the race, but this initial plan will make it easier.
Plan a proper taper
Tapering for your final event of the season should be different than your mid-season races. The ultimate goal of a taper is to 1) decrease cumulative fatigue 2) maintain and sharpen fitness. For your final race, decreasing cumulative fatigue is more important than ever because there is nothing afterward to build fitness for. This takes confidence in the work you have done all season and your abilities. Sabotaging a race by training too hard in the final weeks is due to a lack of confidence. Endurance has the longest training residual of all of your abilities so plan your longest workouts far out from the final event. Polarize your training in your final weeks with easy days. For more information on tapering, check out this article:
Knowing the course and writing your plan early makes visualizing the race much easier. You should rehearse the race and possible pitfalls you may encounter and how you plan to deal with them. See yourself being successful, but also go through adverse scenarios. Rarely do you race an XTERRA with plan A, so be mentally prepared for overcoming adversity.