Triathlon Race Preparation Tips: How to master race-specific training

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Team Endurance Nation is deep into the race season and hard at work in the Race Preparation Phase of their training. The Race Prep phase of all of our training plans is 10 to 12 weeks. During this period, training becomes much more race specific on a number of levels. Below are our thoughts, notes, and ideas about the things you should be incorporating into your own Race Prep Phase:

Race Specific Intensity

In general, as you get deeper into Race Prep and closer to your A-race, your opportunities to become faster decrease. Volume goes up in order to prepare you for the demands of the event. As a consequence, intensity is dialed down a bit and we shift our focus away from the “make me faster” intensities. Below are our notes on how we manipulate intensities and volume during the Race Prep phase of our three main flavors of training plans:

Short Course: long bike and long run volume goes up a tick while we don’t really dial down the intensities of these sessions much from what you were doing in the General Preparation Phase. The result is that you get more comfortable with being (very) uncomfortable, which is at the heart of short course racing — the ability to push through that “I’m going fast, working really hard and it REALLY hurts” kinda pain of short course racing.

Half Ironman: we shift the intensity of our sessions to more and more Zone 3 time, which is where you’ll spend the majority of your time on race day. The long runs become especially challenging so that, similar to our Short Course plans, you become comfortable with the uncomfortable…which can often be hung around your neck for an hour or more on the half Ironman® run.

Ironman: For 2013 we’ve shifted our focus on the long rides away from threshold work and more towards “Race Pace Plus.” We have you working just a tick above race effort across a series of intervals within your long rides. The Ironman® long bike, in the Race Prep phase, is your go-to session for learning all manner of things you’ll use on race day — nutrition, hydration, positional fitness, identifying any niggles with bike fit, gearing, gear, etc. But against this learning opportunity, best done at race effort, we also need to balance our requirement to maximize the efficiency of every training minute spent — to accrue an optimal level of training stress for every minute of training time you have on the long bike. Our solution is Race Pace Plus — just enough race specificity to allow you to get your learning on, while hard enough to maximize your time spent on the bike.

Rob Tagher

Race Specific Learning

Our next requirement is that you learn and experiment with lots of stuff at your race specific intensity above. Here is the short list of opportunities and items you should work into your Race Prep phase:

Nutrition and Hydration: fueling yourself properly is a very much a function of your race intensity. That is, you don’t want to bring an Ironman® fueling plan to your Olympic, or even Half Ironman, as the relative intensities create widely varying nutrition and fluid requirements and absorption rates. Therefore, every long bike and long run in the Race Prep Phase of your training plan is an extremely valuable opportunity to experiment, observe, and learn what works for you at your race specific intensity. We have created for our athletes an entire section of members-only resources devoted to teaching them how to fuel themselves on race day.

Positional Fitness: consider the fatigue that accumulates from riding hours and hours in the aerobars, after a swim, and then immediately take that positional fatigue out for a run. We’ve all been there and it becomes a serious consideration as race distance increases. Therefore, the volume and race specificity of the Race Prep Phase is your best opportunity to expose, identify, and improve your positional fitness:

  • Pre-Fatigue: if your logistics allow it, find opportunities to pre-fatigue your neck, shoulders, and lower back before a few of your long rides. Swimming is the best method and our Big Days and Race Rehearsals below are excellent opportunities to build into your training plan.
  • Purposely Stress: lock yourself in the aerobars and then wear sunglasses with a thick upper frame that force you to crane your neck to look over them. Purposely stress your neck and shoulders in this manner on every ride and then wear frameless sunglasses on race day. Your neck and shoulders will thank you!
  • Bike Fit Tweaks: very simply, that bike fit that feels great at the shop and on a 2hr ride might not feel so hot after you’ve pre-fatigue your upper body and locked yourself in the aerobars for over four hours. There can often be a difference between a good short course bike fit and a long course bike fit, and this difference will be exposed through time in the saddle. If this is the case, don’t be afraid to fix it, now. The common issues we see are hamstring and lower back tightness, and possible fixes, in order of preference, are:
    • Bump saddle forward a tick, opening up your hip angle a bit and relieving some of that lower back strain.
    • Drop saddle height down a tick, relieving some of the strain on your hamstring and lower back. That said, some people are very sensitive to saddle height so make small adjustments.
    • Add a spacer or two under your stem raising your aerobars up a bike. This is last because low = aero = fast but even small changes can make a big comfort difference, especially when combined with small, incremental tweaks to saddle height and fore/aft position.

Big Day(s): this is a combination of a swim, bike, and run, all in the same day. Our Ironman® Big Day, for example, is a 1hr swim, a 4hr bike, and a 1hr run. Half Ironman® and Short Course BDs are similar, but shorter. The intent is to force you to solve the problem and give you the experience, feeling, and confidence of putting it all together across a long day.

Race Rehearsals: each of our plans includes two race rehearsals. These are your opportunities to screw it up (the first time), learn, improve, and do it right (the second time). These are without a doubt the single most important workouts of your entire training plan. Look for a more detailed training article on this topic from us later this summer.

Race Specific Mental Strength

Nearly every race will include some quality face time with the Evil Man with the Big Stick who is beating the crap out of you. Sometimes that pain will be very intense but with a relatively short time horizon, as in short course racing. Other times the pain will build and build with seemingly no end in sight, as in long course racing.

Regardless of what flavor of Evil Man you’ll have a heart-to-heart with on game day, every training session during Race Prep should be used an opportunity to experience this discomfort, anticipate what it will feels like, what body / mind conversations you’ll have on race day, and rehearse your debating points. Every training session is an opportunity to project yourself into the Pain of race day and then visualize yourself accepting and overcoming this Pain.

In the end, this is what you’ve signed up — the opportunity take yourself to the edge, answer the call, and see what you’re made of.

After all, if it were easy they’d call it football! 🙂

More Resources:

Endurance Nation Podcast

Training Plans

Looking for a Race Preparation Phase training plan solution that has all of this jazz planned out for you?

Check out our 12 week plans:




Coach P

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