RACE TIPS FOR TRIATHLON – PART 1
You’ve done the training, you’re injury-free and fired up to compete in the race that’s coming up in the next couple days. What could possibly go wrong? Well, the experts’ answers to that question can be summed up in one word – LOTS. Fortunately, we have a small army of elite champion triathletes representing 2XU around the world, so we’ve called upon them to help you out. In the first part of this series, we look at what you can do in the last days and hours before the event to increase your chances of a strong performance.
KNOW THE COURSE AS BEST YOU CAN
Good knowledge of the course will help you with your equipment choice, race tactics, gear selection on the bike and your racing line.
“If you can train on the course be sure to take note of the terrain, weather conditions and any points that may be problematic during a race such as water currents, sharp corners on the bike, and rough footing on the run, says Australian ITU pro triathlete Brendan Sexton. “If that’s not possible, drive over the bike and run legs or at least gather as much information as you can from previous competitors and race website descriptions and maps.”
“For me, I like to look at the entry and exits points in the transition area, the technical parts on the bike and the final 1km of the run, adds Aaron Royle, the 2012 ITU Under 23 World Champion. Several of the 2XU triathletes talk about the need to know that last section of the run so well that you can picture it in your head – that will help you pick exactly when and how to make your final sprint.
However, it’s not just a matter of checking the course itself.
“Try to remember distinctive landmarks which you can visualise and use to your advantage,” says American pro Ironman racer Thomas Gerlach.
EAT & DRINK CORRECTLY BEFORE THE RACE
“So many times I hear complaints from athletes that they had GI distress or bowel problems in the morning,” says Gerlach. “Keep it simple and make it a routine. For me that means having three sweet potatoes the night before a race and that’s about it. Since I always do that, if something goes wrong I know it wasn’t the sweet potatoes. As for drinking, keep a bottle handy with you throughout the day and make sure to take in some electrolytes, too. At the Ironman Arizona I actually drank five 8oz boxes (225ml) of coconut water, which is a natural source of electrolytes, but if you can’t get them naturally then take some salt pills. I stop the heavy fluid intake around dinner as I don’t want to be getting up to go to the bathroom all night long.”
Our triathletes all have a common theme to eating the day before the race – “Don’t start eating new things, stick with the foods you know and usually eat” – even if what they actually eat varies from one athlete to the next.
“The day or night before the race I like to eat a mix of carbs and lean proteins, since the real carb-loading has already been done in the days before,” says champion Italian triathlete Edith Niederfriniger. “So this could be some rice with lean meat such as chicken or turkey, without dressings!”
“I try to eat some protein, a little healthy fat (avocados, nuts, olives) and a lot of carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans),” says Sam Ward, New Zealand sprint triathlete. “This diet can begin anywhere from 3-7 days before the race.
“On race day, eat something similar to the previous night’s meal and eat at least two hours before the race so the food can digest. Oats, pasta, baked potatoes, pancakes and muffins are good choices. A drink high in carbohydrates is a good alternative if you have problems with eating and digesting foods before a race,” Ward says.
If you cover the sprint and Olympic distance, as Aussie ITU triathlete Dylan Evans does, you don’t need the strong emphasis on carbohydrates that someone competing for an Ironman does.
“Because I don’t need so many carbs, a healthy noodle stir-fry dish can the night before a race can be more beneficial,” he says. “What is still really important is to stay hydrated 24 hours prior to racing. You can do this by sipping on water and electrolytes the morning of the race, but it’s advisable to stop drinking an hour before racing so that you don’t need to pee during the race.”
Race day conditions are not always perfect, so you need to have the solutions up your sleeve. Here’s a couple rising Australian star Grace Musgrove knows well.
“I tend to race better if I’ve had a decent bike warm-up, but sometimes there are no roads available for this, like at the London World Championships this year. I was staying in the middle of the city and there were other races on the course (in Hyde Park). I knew there was a chance this could happen, so I asked for the Australian Team to bring some rollers so I could complete a suitable warm-up in the hotel before heading off to race site.”
Another issue sometimes is that the water is too cold for your normal swim warm-up.
“If the water is on the borderline of a wetsuit swim, it can be a good idea to warm up in your wetsuit even if you are not going to race in it,” Grace says. “This allows you to get the feel of the water, but reduces the chance of your body wasting valuable energy to keep warm before the race.
“There’s also a chance the water is too cold even with a wetsuit – in a few French Grand Prix races it’s been 12°C! (54°F). That’s when it’s good to activate your swimming muscles by doing some exercises with a resistance cord.”
New Zealand’s Graham O’Grady often faces the opposite problem. Coming from Taupo, he’s used to icy conditions and sub-zero temperatures, but going straight from this into the heat of the northern summer can be a shock for the body.
“It’s beneficial to get to your race location days before the event – that won’t put you totally in-sync with the weather, but it gives your body more of a chance rather than showing up the day before and being swamped by a heat wave.
“Hydration is another key area, especially for hot races. I like to start hydrating a week out, having lots of smoothies as meal replacements and drinking low calorie electrolyte drinks.”
“Race day should be a performance of actions you’ve rehearsed in training many times,” says Brendan Sexton. “Make sure you’ve tested any nutrition, equipment, clothing and tactical methods beforehand. I’ve made the mistake of using brand new tyres on race day that I had not tried beforehand. They were fast but far too slippery, I was forced to ride less aggressively to avoid crashing and this affected my overall result.”
A big task on race day is organising your transition.
“Triathlon has so many moving pieces that it definitely favours the organized,” says Thomas Gerlach. “List everything you will you need to do to prep your transition and have the points in the order you will do them.”
“Keep it simple and know where your bike is in relation to the transition entries and exits,” adds Adam Royle. “It’s easy to get lost in transition, so give yourself reference points or landmarks that line up with your area – it could be a sponsor’s sign or a tree.”
Sometimes an afternoon start can be blessing – or a curse. How do you fill in all that time? Grace Musgrove always makes sure she has a timetable laid out for race day:
MADRID, SPAIN ITU WORLD SERIES (OLYMPIC DISTANCE):
7:30 Wake up
8:30-9:00 Easy swim
9:00-12:00 RELAX (put on numbers, stickers and two gels on bike)
12:15 Light lunch
13:30 Ride to race site
13:50 – 14:10 Ride warm up
14:20 Run warm up
14:45 Set up transition
15:00 – 15:15: Swim Warm up
15:20: Athlete line up (Jacket to keep warm)
15:31: RACE START