As a triathlon coach I love to talk about being race ready.  We spend a good portion of our time dedicated to triathlon training, often with a plan to race.  We all have different reasons for racing, but regardless of level of expertise everyone has goals of some sort.  What steps you take during training; both physically and mentally will determine the outcome, for the most part.  There are always some unknowns going in; water conditions, terrain, temperature, how well you sleep the night before.  So let’s take into account some of those uncertainties and really plan for a race that supports your goals.

Start with you gear.  If you are not certain of the conditions, come prepared with options.  Full and sleeveless wetsuits, neoprene cap if you have one, aero helmet and helmet with circulation for warmer temps, goggles for various conditions, and various nutrition options for bike and run. 

As you and/or your coach build a training plan you should have specific goals in mind.  I coach my athletes to set both measurable as well as non-measurable goals; with that we create a training plan and then as we approach race day we revisit those goals, focus in on the areas that need the most work and get very specific about how to set you up on race day to have a successful race.

This coming week I’m racing the Santa Barbara Long Course Triathlon so I am sharing with you my goals for this race.  Some of these goals I’ve modified as training has changed in the last few weeks and I have spoken to some people who have raced the course.  This is my first time on this course.

  • Place in top 20% of my age group (measurable).  Have completed three races this season, this one being the longest, most difficult course.  I feel I have the race specific skills to place a little better than I have earlier this year.  I’ll go into detail later on the race specific skills associated with the swim.
  •  Nail the swim (non-measurable).  For me that means feeling confident at the start, getting to the front for best positioning, and sighting every 6-10 strokes.  Looking as past results I’m expecting some current and choppy conditions.  The posted times have been fairly slow, so not sure what type of conditions to expect.  I’m not going to focus on a particular time here, predicting that might lead to feeling discouraged on the bike. 
  • Hold back on the first half of the bike (measurable).  The course has three major climbs, the last one is the steepest and is quite long.  Will manage my power meter readings in conjunction with cadence throughout, keeping in mind that I’ll need to stay strong for the last third of the course.  I’ll use heart rate averages more so than power averages to manage pacing of the bike.
  • The bike course is best suited for a road bike and I’ll be on a time trial; so I will stay focused on my climbing and not be distracted by those passing me (non-measurable).  I’ll plan to make up time on the four flat sections.  I’ll drive some of the course the day before the race.
  • The run is 10 miles which is a distance I’ve been training for in just the last 6 weeks.  I’m planning for a pace of 10s per mile slower than the half marathon I completed five months ago (measurable).  Primarily using an average target HR for managing my pacing.  Will monitor HR closely during the first 2 miles making sure to stay under the target average HR for those two miles.  The course is quite flat, but it may get quite warm.  Plan to use all the water stations along the way to stay cool and hydrated.

Those are some pretty straight forward goals.  I’m going to go into detail on the swim goals since these are usually the ones that people need to get most specific about in order to address the multitude of variables that are present in an open water swim.  Plus, this is the area many athletes feel somewhat deficient. 

I set non-measurable goals for this swim because I’m quite unsure of a time.  Fine, I’ll set a goal for post-race to finish top 30% in the swim for my AG but I’m not going to look at my time until I get out of T1.  Had I competed in this race before I would be more specific and provided a measurable goal. 

What do I mean by nail the swim then?  It’s a feeling more than anything, knowing that the training that I’ve been doing over the last four months will take me to another level in open water swimming.  I moved from NYC to LA just a year ago.  Until this year, 99% of my training was in a pool, and much of that was solo, occasionally with a masters team.  Over the last four months I’ve committed to improving my swimming by joining Tower 26 triathlon specific swim program as well as swimming with groups in the ocean at least twice a month.  I have not gotten significantly faster in the pool, but I know the skills I’ve worked on in our swim sessions have made me a stronger, smarter open water swimmer. 

These skills include:

Training at various efforts in every workout. 

Performing deck ups within a set, running around the bleachers on deck (elevating HR) and diving back in to complete additional sets.  Repeat a lot.  This is done at different paces as well.  Also helps address dealing with goggles getting fogged or flooded.

Drafting:  Some sets are designed with drafting within a lane of 4-6 swimmers.  Each swimmer getting a chance to lead.

Swimming three abreast in a lane, getting used to body contact.

Sighting built into 80% of our workouts in peak season.  Cannot tell you how much better I’ve gotten with navigation with just this one addition to my training. 

What this all creates is an athlete who is comfortable with being uncomfortable!  That’s what I mean by nailing the swim.  I’m going to exit the water, having stayed on course, moving through holes, drafting off of others, and not being frustrated by the process.   

I’ll get back to you with a recap of my race day results.