No Such Thing As An Easy Race

July 11, 2016

There no such thing as an easy race.

This week an e-mail landed in my inbox that read along the lines of:

‘So coach, this weekend I am just treating this half marathon as a training race, I’ll just aim to get around’.

It’s a common sentiment amongst age group athletes. The idea that a ‘training race’ means a race in which you don’t have to try very hard and are just going to complete like any other session to build some aerobic capacity. It is a sentiment with which I profoundly disagree.

There are occasions where races are completed in a liaise faire manner, for example if you have entered to keep a friend company, raising money for a good cause (fun runs etc.) or have entered but feel under the weather and don’t want to waste the entry. Outside of these examples ‘training races’ are not easy races, they are training for racing!

Obviously you cannot expect to hit personal bests or win prizes in every race or perform optimally in races which are in the middle of training blocks. But that should not mean these races are meaningless or have no purpose. Every training race should help develop an aspect of your race performance.

For example, Emily, an athlete I coach, recently ran a half marathon in the middle of her preparation phase of training. Initially she wanted to ‘run easy.’ She had had a hard training week, her legs were tired and she didn’t want to disrupt their training routine by taking rest days prior to the event. However, I pointed out this could be used as an opportunity to run at goal pace for a 70.3 event. After all, in a 70.3 you will also have tired legs and if you cannot hit goal pace running in a straight 21km how are you going to do it at the end of the Half Ironman? Yes, it will be hard but races are meant to be! Emily took my advice and actually broke her personal best!

Racing at race intensity, not necessarily your best pace but just the best on that day, will have several key benefits. Not least of these is the confidence gained from enduring the suffering involved in racing hard and finding that you can do it. Ability to endure race effort sensations is an aspect of race preparation that is often neglected and yet it is these same sensations that cause most age group athletes to slow during races, often when they could ‘push on’.

These races are also a great time to practise particular skills or try out equipment. But only if you are actually racing at your race intensity. If you aim at practising whizzing through transition, but cruise the swim beforehand, you will indeed blitz transition. However, come A race day you will be in for a shock when you have battled through a tough swim and arrive at transition expecting it to be as it was in your ‘training race.’

Even going out too hard in your training races can have advantages. When elite athlete Carol Bridge moved up to 70.3 racing learnt to pace herself through training races.

“In my build races up (to A-race) I blasted through the swim and bike and set out on the run at what I thought would be my race pace. By the last 5km I was almost walking, I luckily managed to get to the finish and maintain a podium place but more valuable was the lesson I had learnt about pacing the run for my A race.”

It is better to know what too hard feels like before the big day than finish that A race and curse going out too fast or worse too slow!

Whilst it is my experience that many Triathletes would get far better results if they raced more often, I mean it will be the hardest training session you have, this does come with some caveats. Any races need to be built into the training plan so that there is adequate recovery without adversely reducing the training volume or quality in the medium term. Athletes and coaches also need to manage expectations for these sorts of races. Aiming to break a PB after a 15hr training week is a recipe for disappointment.

Finally, if like me you just love the competition, the personal struggle and sheer thrill of racing then ‘just getting around’ is a pretty boring way to spend the afternoon. So get out there and race!

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