Twin Peaks: Getting Fast In Your Final Race of the Season

533 400 Patrick McCrann

Beach Swim Start

The last race of your year represents an opportunity for you to redeem yourself or to confirm that you are truly awesome. Don’t put any undue pressure on yourself other than making sure that you’re doing everything possible to have your best race. You have lessons learned from earlier races and a good sense of what will lead you to be successful on race day. All you have to do now is assemble those elements in such a way that your speed and potential are realized.

Don’t be intimidated. It’s easy to be scared when the pressure is on. But remember you’re not asking yourself to do anything other than you’ve already done – just this time we want to do it better!


The first order of business is to define exactly what “fast” is for you in this race. While everybody wants to be faster, simply looking at a finish time and visualizing a faster finish than you’ve done before will not be sufficient.

Instead, break the race down into each discipline — as well as transitions — and specifically line up where you think the speed will come from. Depending on the progress that you’ve made this year, there could be various places where you will be faster. But the speed will only come when you stack things up incrementally.

The Swim

Some of you may have experienced an improvement in your swimming technique or your overall open water swimming ability. If you fall into this category than focusing on the swim this final race will be a great opportunity for you to assert not only your speed but also your confidence in having this discipline in your race arsenal.

Remember that a faster swim isn’t just about serving harder it’s also about swimming smarter. Use all of your experience from this year regarding your performance, which way you drift in the water, how to sight, etc., to craft a race plan based on this final event that will help make you successful.

The Bike

Inside Endurance Nation we focus the majority of our energy on the bike because it’s the best place to gain speed at the lowest cost. But when you show up to a race with the explicit goal of being faster, it’s very easy to dig a hole from which your race goals will never emerge.

End-of-the-year speed on the bike is built on your fitness as well as your craftiness.

Rather than mapping out the exact wattage at which you will dominate the competition, pull out the bike map and course profile and review how you will ride the course to be the smartest athlete on the race. Look at the terrain to make sure you can leverage every downhill, every roller, and return to your advantage.

Go back and look at past performances to see exactly where your fitness started to fade. What lessons have you learned from your execution this year? What areas of your bike performance is still lacking?

If it’s a fitness related issue, odds are you won’t be able to make any changes. But if it’s strategy or nutrition or pacing or patients, all of these things can easily be implemented and yield free speed without extra work.

Let’s not forget that triathletes are inherently lazy and we want the most gain for the least amount of work. Using this framework, review that plan to make sure that what you set out for yourself is achievable and also ingrained in your brain.

The Run

By the time you get to the run in the final race of your season, you are likely facing a crossroads.

You’ve got the swim and the bike speed is right there on your bike computer – everything looks good! However you still have yet to do the run and at the end of the season if you have fatigue accumulated anywhere it’s going to express itself on the run.

This is why we don’t try and overachieve on the bike or swim because we know fatigue is waiting for you in the final leg of the race.

Early run pacing remains critical as does nutrition. Odds are the number of changes you’ll be able to make on the run will be very slim. Simple things like improving aid station execution (a.k.a. not walking so much!) are easy.

Other options include monitoring your cadence to make sure that your foot speed stays high. Or ensuring that your early heart rate in the first few miles matches what you were doing on the bike. This will also you to continue digesting calories and will help ensure you have the energy to be strong over the final portion of the run.

You may also have some equipment lessons learned from this year regarding the run. The might be a special pair of socks that you’re looking forward to using or new shoes. Perhaps after last race you swore you never get your feet wet again, or that you would always wear a hat. Be sure to review those race reports to make sure that you put the proper changes into place you can be successful here on the run.

What Has Changed Over the Course of the Season?

One of the ways you can determine whether or not you have the right to go faster is to look at the data. Have you seen objective changes in your strength on the swim, the bike, or the run that will allow you to be more aggressive on race day?

The easiest way to do this is to head over to your training log – you do have a training log, don’t you? – and see what the numbers look like.

In the swim… we are looking at your time trial performances across the year. Inside Endurance Nation we ask our athletes to do a 1,000-yard or -meter time trial several times during the year. The performance in these time trials not only set their training pace in the swim, but it also gives us a sense as to whether or not they are improving.

This might not just be fitness, it could also be technique. But have you seen that number change? Have you seen her some performances this season improve over last season? If so, then you have the opportunity to be faster

What about the bike? We look explicitly at power numbers to determine whether or not you can be stronger on race day.

There is always your Functional Threshold Power – the sustained power that you can hold for an hour which is the gold standard of cycling fitness. If according to your test data that number has gone up the season then yes, you have the right to go a little bit faster and you need to adjust your race day zones using our calculators.

Some athletes don’t see an improvement in their high-end threshold number, but rather see it on the enduring side of the equation. So it’s important to head over to your three and four and five hour power numbers to see if they have also moved this year.

Depending on the training log or software you’re using, it’s easy to compare the first half of the season to the second and look at those two numbers in graphical format to see if you have improved.

As for the run… we are looking specifically at your long run pace. In the winter months we use Jack Daniels the.number as a score to represent your run fitness across a 5K. But unless you’re racing a sprint distance triathlon, moving this number does not necessarily mean you will still run fast at the end of the day.

Instead we have seen that athletes long-run performance over the final 10 weeks into the race is the best indicator of race day speed. So taking your last 10 long runs – good and bad – adding them up and dividing them by the total number of miles will give you an average pace.
That pace is pretty much what you should expect to run on race day. If that average pace is faster than you have run earlier the season or previously, then you have the potential to run faster on race day assuming that you execute the swim and the bike accordingly.

The final piece of the data improvement puzzle actually has very little to do with fitness. It’s your body composition. By the time we get to the end of our season most of us have been working out consistently for a long time. We have been eating properly and focusing on daily workouts. As a result our body composition is typically the best it has been all year.

If you have been able to lose some weight between the first race of the season and this, your penultimate race, you may be faster simply by virtue of carrying less of you around the race course. The healthier the course or the hotter the conditions the more likely this is to be true. Body composition helps you in both areas.

How Can You Peak at the End of Your Season?

If we are intentionally trying to be faster at the end of the year, then our final weeks of training must prepare us for this type of effort. We call this your “peak” phase where critical workouts will mimic what you will do on race day.

In order to make these workouts successful we have to set up your body to be able to not only execute but absorb the work that you’ve done. In order to do this, we give our athletes free license to add in as much recovery as possible. They use our workout ranking criteria, which indicate the most important down to the least important workouts, to determine which sessions they have to hit each week in which sessions they can easily skip or dial down to be very light and easy. In doing this, our athletes are now free to push when it’s important and to rest when it is critical.

These race pace efforts over the final peak of your season will be the best possible indicator of whether or not you’ll be able to sustain your goal efforts and paces on race day. Don’t wait until the gun goes off to roll the dice on a new strategy. You can test it incrementally over the course of the peak to see how your body responds.

  • What does your heart rate look like?
  • How did your legs feel?
  • Are you able to sustain the pace for the full run?

The more you’re trying to achieve from speed and the later in the year it becomes…the more important execution and recovery become.

No one has ever said on race day that they are too rested!

How to Taper?

Figuring out how to taper at the end of the year is also very challenging. This is partly because you have so much fatigue in your body from the full season that the minute that you start resting your body will switch into recovery mode. So while earlier in the year you needed a good taper from the hard work you’ve done, later in the year you still need to rest — but we can’t back off as much. So for this second key race we recommend you taper a little differently.

If you are looking at the last two weeks to your race, the normal paper as you reduce volume incrementally in week two and then even lower in week one heading into your race. So if week three was 100% of volume, we too might be 70%, in week three would be 40%. Just an example.

For this final race of the year, we recommend that you frontload the recovery into that second week and then be a little steadier in the third. It would look something like this:

  • Four weeks to go – 100% of training.
  • Three weeks to go – 80% of training.
  • Two weeks to go – 40% of training.
  • Last week to go – 50 to 60% of training.

In other words, we’d like you to rest a little more on the early side and then bring that effort backup as you head into your race. This will prevent you from switching your entire body into recovery mode and then having to dig yourself out of that phase before your race. If you have more questions about this process feel free to either become a team member or ask us on our Facebook page.

Before you do any guesswork, take a good look at your current state of fatigue. Depending on your training log, you may very well have accessible metrics that show you exactly how tired you are today versus where you were early in the season.

Statistically speaking you should be more tired, but the data will tell you the truth and help you cut through any emotional or irrational decisions you make about your current state of fitness and fatigue.

Don’t Forget to Plan

One of the biggest mistakes that athletes make heading into the final race of the season is that they don’t write down their race plan. This is a cornerstone of the endurance nation experience and remains true for you even in this final race of the year.

It’s easy to be confident and think that you know exactly what you doing. But writing out your race plan forces you to commit to specific zones and strategies that will yield your success on race day.

The simple exercise of going through and writing down what you plan on doing will highlight any areas which you are missing key steps. You will remember during this exercise small decisions that you had previously made either embracing or entraining that you will be able to adjust.

Being able to adapt on race day to the evolving conditions of the race is critical. But failing to plan and simply relying on your intuition to be successful is shortsighted. Do yourself as a favor and write everything out so that you are prepared to execute to your utmost potential.

Whether or not you achieve the speedy race of your dreams, you will have a focused training block with a specific race plan against which you can compare your performance and making notes for the future.

At the end of the day this race is just another step in your overall progression and evolution towards being your best. Failing to plan and capture what happens on race day is the best way to make sure that you never improve.

Use the fitness you developed the over the course of this year, but let’s not just focus on being faster but smarter as well.

Best of luck to you on race day!

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