Race to Improve

We are at the time of year when athletes are looking ahead and planning races. So let’s have a look at how we plan a race season and why we at Racesnake argue most athletes should be racing more.

Too much Racing

A common conversation I have with athletes is around planning their race season. It’s always useful to have a sounding board for your thoughts about your racing plans and it is part of the job I enjoy, suggesting exciting races or possible distances etc. But something has struck me recently, many athletes express anxiety over the volume of racing they plan. There is a huge worry about ‘too much racing’ and that what they see as extraneous or auxiliary races will have negative impact on their chosen A races. Hopefully, in this piece I can persuade that, en-contraire to these worries, racing regularly is a huge benefit to your A races!

“You will never do a better training session than a race” says ex elite athlete Carol Bridge. The physiological benefits of racing are undeniable, you will be going all out and training almost all aspects of your physical performance markers. Indeed studies with cyclists have shown that athletes will push themselves harder when racing with others than when racing alone- let alone training alone. So any race over almost any distance, will deliver a good boost to almost all aspects of your physical fitness.

Racing Is The Best Training

But it goes further than just the physical benefits of putting yourself through the ringer for a few hours. Most of the things you learn about yourself in a race have nothing to do with your power output or pacing strategy. Rather you learn about the subtle things, the things that are very personal to you and can’t be worked out in a room pre-event or even on training rides or runs. They are the little things, what breakfast do you race on best, can you take in 75g of carbs an hour or is your stomach simply not up for that, do you go better in the hot or cold, can you stay on your aero bars in the pouring rain, do you run better off high cadence or low, what do you do when the plan is in tatters and there is still 3hrs of racing left and a never ending list of other variables that can only really be addressed on race day.

The more you race the more you learn about yourself and how you respond to different things. It means you can be more prepared both physically, in the case of nutrition or clothing , and mentally for things like bad weather or a bad nights sleep for example. This type of race experience takes a long time to develop and it’s an area that is usually lacking in amateur athletes, particularly those who have taken up sport later in life. But the more racing you do the greater the well of experience you will have to draw on and it’s never too late to start.

It Doesn’t Have To Be An Ironman

I can here you Ironmen screaming, ‘But I can’t do ten 140.6’s a year!’. Of course for middle and long distance athletes it’s not possible to do your race distance with much regularity, but the benefits of racing shorter distances and single discipline events are still considerable. Cyclocross, 5km run’s, a cycle sportive, long distance swims all develop a familiarity with preparation, dealing with setbacks, pushing through discomfort, finding your physical limits, optimum nutrition strategies and all the rest. For triathletes, cycling Time Trials are particularly useful events in preparing for triathlon races but seem to widely overlooked, check out Cycling Time Trials association to find events near you.

Equally, many athletes see the cost of even local triathlons as a barrier to competing in more races. This is where augmenting your racing calendar with local, shorter run, bike or swim only events can be useful. Single discipline events are often much cheaper (a fell/mountain race is £8 for example or Time Trial around £15) than triathlons and so regular racing need not be excessively expensive or time consuming.

It’ll Mess Up My Training

I hear this a lot, the concern that racing too much will wreak havoc on a training schedule. Now while this may, in extremis, be true, it is not true if racing is thoughtfully integrated into your plan. Integrating racing into a training plan should not be that hard for most athletes and can in most cases be done relatively last minute. For racing in the early or off season you may need to ‘train through’ the race. In other words you treat the race as one of your hard interval sessions and maybe take an extra day rest after the race, but the bulk of your planned schedule remains intact. If the race is longer than an hour you may need to add a little more recovery before resuming training- be led by your body if it feels like 3 days are required then take 3 days. The benefit of the race will more than make up for the lost training hours.

You have to accept that you wont be racing in peak condition, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be fun or that you can’t chase down those podium spots. But remember you still need to give it 100% or there is nothing learned (see this article for why there is no such thing as an easy race)!

Finally, racing is what we enjoy as athletes, right? So, why not do more of it and get better prepared for those big A races as a happy bi-product? It’s a win/win!

If you have any questions about the topics raised here, please get in touch
For training plans visit our trainingPeaks store or Our Ironman page at FinalSurge

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