Training Habits Determine Race Day Success
How you deal with adversity in your training will set you up with the coping skills to get through adversity during race week and on race day. You never go into a race or workout completely fresh and you shouldn’t expect to. Yes, you will taper for your most important events and go into them fresh, but something always happens to throw a wrench into your planning. Your ability to battle through workouts in training when no one is watching often determines how successful you are when the chips are down.
Learn to get through tough training sessions
What you do in your training is probably what you will do when it comes to race day. Are you constantly cutting workouts short or skipping tough interval sessions? Look back over your last few months of training. Do you see a pattern in the types of missed or incomplete workouts? If a workout calls for 4 x 8 minutes at 100% of your FTP and you always struggle to get through the third interval and end up completely dropping the fourth, you likely will not be able to finish your bike portion at your goal pace. A threshold workout like the one above likely has a window that will still give you the needed stimulus. Don’t be afraid to drop a few watts so that you can finish the workout, and still stay within the proper window needed to get the workout’s benefit. Tough training sessions are meant to prepare you for both the mental and physical rigors of your race, but they are only effective if you do them and do them correctly. A great time to apply mental strategies is during these key sessions.
Perform benchmark tests when they are planned
Benchmark testing should be done periodically so that you can gauge where you’re at and make sure you are on the right track, but this is not the only reason it should be done. The extra stress of these workouts also helps mentally prepare you for race day. You will likely go into these tests more rested than usual, but you still will not be 100% because of cumulative training fatigue and other life stressors. Getting up for a hard run, bike or swim test and finishing it even if you don’t show huge improvement is still extremely valuable in preparing for the mental and physical effort required on race day. We often see athletes keep pushing these tests back because they don’t feel completely ready for them for a multitude of reasons. There are reasons to reschedule these tests, but in general try to keep them locked in place and perform them to the best of your ability when they are planned. You can’t call the race director the day before a race and ask them to postpone the race because you’re not feeling your best.
Be prepared for possible weather conditions
Weather is another variable that can wreak havoc on your training schedule or totally psych you out on race day. With all of the technology these days it’s easy to dodge bad weather for the comfort of your trainer or treadmill. Just be conscious to not always dodge inclement weather that you may encounter on race day. An athlete that is prepared for and can deal with adverse conditions can often beat a faster athlete that is not ready or willing to cope with inclement weather. Don’t be the athlete that says, “ I just don’t race well in ________ conditions.” Instead look at a bad weather race as an opportunity for you to buckle down and show your grit and mental fortitude. Remember that grit is the determination and perseverance that can only be forged through adversity.
Don’t let travel be an excuse
Travel is one of the biggest obstacles athletes struggle to overcome. Planning ahead, knowing where you are going be and what is available before you leave will help you come up with a plan. It also ensures you don’t spend the 60 minute window you have for training searching for a pool ending up with no time for any workout at all. It is totally fine to make big travel stints your recovery week, but don’t shy away from some hard efforts. Most of your races will be out of town and you will be required to perform in unfamiliar surroundings. So don’t save all your hard workouts for your own backyard. For travel it’s always good to have a plan B as well. Remember, a 30 minute run with a few strides is so much better than nothing!
A word on race day and race week
This article is not meant to focus on race day and week however your habits developed during training has great carry over. Did you buckle down and fight through tough sessions? If so expect to be resilient during your race.
Leading up to an important race your volume is cut back giving you more time to think about how you feel. Athletes become hypersensitive to every little ache and pain they might have ignored in the middle of a tough build week. This is similar to the feeling you might have leading up to a benchmark test. If you consistently performed those benchmarks and key interval sessions when scheduled despite not feeling your best, it will give you confidence.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Will Durant