Simulate race day to stay fresh and motivated. Just don’t overdo it.
by Charisa Wernick
Training at a variety of intensities helps an athlete build strength, speed and endurance. This is why coaches prescribe easy base miles, hill workouts and pre-race “sharpening.” Training at our specific race pace ensures that, on the big day, the body and mind are ready and prepared to go hard.
How often should you train at race effort? Because it’s harder to recover from these types of efforts, not all workouts should be performed at race pace. Your years of experience will determine how often you will want to train at race effort. This goes for number of times per week, and also duration of the workout. No matter your experience, it’s always a good idea to simulate race nutrition each week in training so that you can learn what works for you when holding race pace.
Beginner triathletes are typically focused on completing the distance. With fewer years of experience, their time goals will inevitably be a little looser. However, for those beginner athletes that do have specific time goals, replicating a race-day pace in all three disciplines is best done once every five weeks. This workout is a good test of where the athlete stands prior to racing.
Ahmed Zaher, coach at Playtri, prescribes this swim set for testing race-day effort:
-4 to 5 x 500 m, swum at either half- or full-distance race pace, with 4 minutes rest between. (The goal is to hold the best possible average for the entire workout).
Experienced athletes (2 to 3 years training and racing)
Athletes who have been racing for several years are often looking to see improved times. A recommendation for the experienced triathlete includes a race-day simulated workout, or weekend, once a month. The above swim example would be performed, but with a minute or two less rest between the intervals. In addition, race-pace efforts should be included in swim, bike and run workouts in small increments.
Here’s an example of a brick workout that incorporates race-day efforts.
-3 x 8 minutes at race pace with 3 minutes easy between. Remainder of riding is steady.
-Run off the bike for 30 minutes with the first 20 minutes at race pace effort.
Advanced athletes (3+ years racing competitively)
Advanced triathletes are often focused on winning their age group, qualifying for a world championship, or breaking a personal record. Because advanced triathletes have more years of training under their belt, their bodies are better conditioned to handle race-day intensities more frequently.
A race-day simulation weekend—often called “Big Day” training—includes swim, bike and run workouts targeted toward race pace. These can be done once every three weeks. It does not mean that the athlete does a full-distance “race” in training, it only means that the efforts are simulated over the course of a larger workout. An important point to keep in mind is that racing takes more time to recover from than training. If you are constantly racing in training, it will be hard for your body to recover from the stress of training and get stronger and faster.
Many advanced athletes shy away from a bigger race-simulation weekend and opt for more race-pace efforts thrown into each week of training in smaller increments. This method allows the athlete to stay sharp through faster paces, while recovering quickly for the next workout.
Regardless of your training level, Zahar also recommends backing off intensity 10 percent every three to five weeks. He says that by starting your training plan well in advance of your A-race, and working backwards, your race-pace workout and intensity will appear very achievable. Building these workouts over time will “make it much easier to set yourself up for a great race physically and mentally while maintaining a good balance of life and recovery.”
Whatever your strategy, keep in mind that stressing the body makes it stronger, but if the body is over-stressed on a regular basis, something will eventually break down. Race-pace efforts are hard and, when spread across a well-planned training schedule, will lead to strength, speed, health and the motivation to chase others down on the race course.
Charisa Wernick is a professional triathlete and online marketing specialist.