Prepping for Early Season Races
By now, hopefully you’ve gotten in some quality training and reached some winter training goals. Your race schedule should be pretty much nailed down and perhaps you’ve even gotten in a race or two or maybe your first race is coming up quick. It takes a lot to be sharp in your first few races. Below are a few pointers to help make sure you are ready for that first important XTERRA of the season.
Perform race specific workouts.
In order to perform well at race intensity, you must do workouts that mimic the intensity that will be required on race day. The workouts do not have to equal the duration of the event but should include intervals at or above race pace and should be long enough to give you confidence you can complete the race distance at your goal intensity. For XTERRA, a go-to workout we like to perform is 6 x 6 minutes @ threshold with 3 minutes of easy pedaling between, followed by 2 x 1 mile @ threshold with 3-4 minutes of easy running between. If there is still snow where you live this might have to be on the trainer, but it’s better if you can simulate race conditions. This is a great workout to do on your mountain bike on a sustained climb.
Winter gains don’t always transfer to race day without help.
All the hard work put in throughout the winter can be shown on paper with an increased FTP, and faster swim and run paces, but races are not held on paper. In order to see the transfer of these gains, especially in XTERRA, you must be comfortable on your mountain bike, in open water, and trail running. Sometimes it’s impossible to find time to consistently get in all three before your first big race because weather, family, and work, but do as much as you can. Set a goal of getting on your mountain bike a certain number of times before that first big race. If you live close to trails go often or plan a couple bike weekends to hone those mountain bike skills.
Don’t make your first big race the first race of the season.
Race specific workouts help, but that first race of the season is always a slap in the face. It takes a few races to fully remember what it requires to compete and suffer on race day. If you have an early season “A” race don’t make it your first race. There may not be an XTERRA before that race, but you can find something to help get your mind and body ready. We often recommend an early season mountain bike race or two. Make it relatively close to your race distance if possible, practice nutrition and don’t be afraid to throw in a transition run after, but don’t save anything for it. This will help with your technical skills and get you used to competing again. Plus, pure mountain bikers will look at you like you’re crazy which is always a little fun.
The first race of the season always hurts.
Just because you trained all winter doesn’t mean your first race of the season is going to be any easier than any of your previous races. Know that going into it and embrace it. Know what you are going to do when the pain comes and expect it to come. Maybe you have a mantra you repeat or tell yourself. Know that the pain will pass. There is no such thing as an easy race. If you think a race was easy, you probably didn’t go hard enough.
Write out a race plan.
Better yet, refer to the race plans you wrote last year and revisit what worked for similar races. Writing a race plan helps you think through and visualize your upcoming race.
Test your equipment.
I hate to admit it, but I’ve shown up for my first XTERRA of the year having just pulled out all my equipment from the year before. Don’t tell anyone, but once I even pulled my bike from the bike box it sat in all winter from my last race in the fall. Needless to say, I spent an entire day I could have spent riding the course trying to get my bike in working order at an out-of-town bike shop. Take out your equipment and test it all at least a month before your first race so that you’re not scrambling race week. It will be less stressful, and you will perform better.
Love the one you’re with.
I’m not recommending you add this old Stephen Stills song to your pre-race play list, but rather embrace the area you live to help you prepare the best you can. It’s easy for me to complain about lack of mountain biking or climbing where I live in Florida. Very few XTERRA courses are like the four-mile loop I typically ride over and over. However, I can ride that section all winter when others are stuck on a trainer so there is no excuse for me not to be on my mountain bike every week. I can also swim open water most of the year if I want to and, in the summer, I can simulate the sweltering heat of Maui. I am truly lucky. Find the resources your area offers and utilize them. There’s probably more available to you than you think.
Take-aways to help prepare for that first race of the season:
● Perform race specific workouts that will help you simulate race day demands.
● You must get on your mountain bike if you want those winter watts to transfer to the trail.
● Find a tune-up race before an early season “A” race.
● No matter how fit you are that first race of the season is going to be painful. Plan for it.
● Write a race plan for how you will attack each leg of the race and for nutrition.
● Pull out all equipment at least one month before your first big race. This way you have time to replace items, get a tune-up, etc.
● Utilize the unique resources your region offers to help prepare for your races. The grass is not always greener on the other side.