How to Prepare for Early Season Racing

Wednesday, 11 June 2014 14:39 |
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The 2014 season is here and no matter how many years of racing triathlons, the first few races are never easy. To have a great front end of your race season you must pay attention to your pre race details and the execution of your first discipline.


Pre race anxiety is something we all experience. However, the first race of the year tends to be more intense. Try calming your mind by grounding thoughts of wellness and fun rather than time or placing outcomes.  With results being posted quickly and social media so readily available, it is easy to get caught in all the pressure and hype. Ultimately this high level of pressure and anxiety will inhibit optimal performance. If you are over anxious, remind yourself there are other races in your season, even other seasons and you race for lifestyle and not money. Minimize expectations of your race and even your individual splits. Course distances and conditions are too varied to assess your improvement and be a criteria of satisfaction. You should know when you had a great race based on your execution.

The feelings of being under prepared and body aches are also very common leading into a first race or important peak race. I just raced Honu 70.3 on the Big Island of Hawaii and experienced the taper phenomena.  These symptoms include achy joints, heaviness, fatigue in the legs and overall poor energy. This in turn creates mental doubt and even resentment of racing. Often the hardest aspect of racing is dealing with the last 48 hours before the event. But as the race nears, most of these symptoms disappear and you are ready to rumble. This was exactly what happened to me in Kona and my performance was strong finishing top 10 overall. But to a newbie, experiencing that state can be difficult to understand and accept. Just know that even the most experienced athletes will struggle to manage pre race jitters.

Try to sleep as much as possible three days out and up to the race. Often if my night time sleeps are not good, I schedule a nap midday. I also try to relax as much as possible and do very little other than the schedule taper training sessions. Most of us experience a bad night of sleep, and bed sweats the night before the race. If I know I will be hot when trying to fall asleep,  I use an ice bag on my chest or two frozen gel packs one on each hand. This helps me keep my core temperature low allowing me to fall asleep quicker. Also the starfish sleeping position or at least a position that prevents skin on skin contact helps. Have water or an electrolyte drink such as Ultima near by for those wake up dry mouth, check the clock, make sure your alarm is set, do a quick check of your tires and maybe a light snack wake up periods…

Don’t let your pre race jitters get the best of you!  Make sure all your gear is organize and accounted for the night before.  There should be no organizing in the morning. A classic morning mess up is forgetting your fuel bottles in the fridge.  I did that last year before the Calgary 70.3 and had to race back home to retrieve and found myself putting my wetsuit on in the car. This is not good stress before a race.

The other trend that I see in racing now that tends to add stress, is an increase in gadgets and extra devices to store or manage nutrition. My advice is keep it simple. Again in my last race I had no power meter, no fancy drinking system, no heart rate monitor, no bento box, no spare tube rear mounted bottle carrier.  I did not even wear a watch on my wrist. All I had was a simple cycle computer, 2 water bottles with 350 calories in each, electrical taped spare tube and CO2 to my seat, electrical taped sodium capsules and 2 Honey Stinger Gels. Simple execution that allows me to focus on the task of riding strong and smooth. I posted the 7th fastest overall ride split in Kona with a simple plan and I was ready for, even expecting a flat (to be ready mentally and prepared).

Finally the swim preparation is critical to start your race on the right path. Most early season races are in cold water. Make sure you have cold water education and gear. Long sleeve wetsuits and neoprene scull caps are a must. Sometimes even booties are allowed. Ear plugs prevent cold water to enter the inner ear. Using these plugs can reduce severe dizziness while swimming and likely when exiting the water.

If the water is colder than 15 degrees, I suggest a short jog to warm up the core, lots of dry land swim movements, maybe some surgical tubing pulls. Just before entering the cold water, have someone pour warm water into your wetsuit to reduce the loss of body heat when the wetsuit gets saturated with cold water. 

Finally get into the water to get your hands, feet and most important your face acclimated to the cold. If you skip this step you will likely hyperventilate when you start the race. It only takes a few minutes to reach a point of calm. Do a few fast start simulations and some kicking drills too get fired up. Before the gun goes off, position yourself in a safe starting position.

If you get anxious being in a group of people without quick access to safety, then start on the outside or inside of the group. I have been racing for over 30 years now and to this day you will never see me in the middle of a large group. I always start on the outside and work my way into a smaller group. This allows me to focus only on breathing, stroke technique and tactics rather than battling with others for space. Try to execute a bilateral breathing pattern initially to keep on eye on both sides and minimize the energy required to breath.

I also tell myself to relax and think of my effort like an airplane taking off; strong but smooth acceleration, a slight throttle back after 200-300 meters, then finally reaching cruising effort and calmness at 500m. Don’t over kick at the start of a race and if panic sets in, slow down and mentally fight your way through the moment. Self talk and positive affirmations can help you stay in the race. If you do need to stop, avoid breast stroking and just tread water for a minute. The water safety personal will likely spot you and even verbally ask to see if you are OK.

Wetsuits not only help with warmth but safety as well. Sometimes a panic attack can be caused from a tight fitting wetsuit, so make sure you have swam in it at least 2 times before your race.

So set your self up for a smooth 48 hour lead up and start to your first few races. Document any mistakes you make so that the next few races will be perfect execution. In the next newsletter I will shed some light about transition 1 and cycling portion of a triathlon.

Calvin Zaryski was just named as the 2014 ITU World Triathlon Canada Head Coach by Triathlon Canada. He has won Triathlon Canada Coach of the Year 3X and holds 6 World triathlon World Age Group Titles. Just recently he placed 10th overall at the Honu 70.3 race in Kona Hawaii.

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Calvin Zaryski

CoachCal has been coaching for over 30 years. Not just focusing on athletes, but on individuals whose goals range from climbing Mount Everest to recapturing the power of active living.


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