May 17, 2014

Digging for Gold: Valuable Lessons From Your First Race

There’s a surprising amount of “gold” buried in your 1st race results of the season.  Miss this and it could cost you big time in the next one you do.

Mining race data to improve your future training plans is a no-brainer.  It’s your first, best opportunity to get solid, objective feedback far beyond any test you can do in training.  Yet it’s surprising just how often it’s neglected.

You almost always go harder in a race than you ever do in training, especially through all three events.  There are plenty of reasons for this, but mostly it’s because the race environment drives you to perform much closer to your true training level.  It’s this aspect that makes your 1st race information so valuable.

Since the only thing you and I can control is how well we train and prepare for our races, when we get quality feedback we need to take full advantage of it.   The key is to take some time after the race is in the bag to step back and objectively look at the big picture.  From this vantage point you can to use your specific race statistics and your internal camera to re-experience the race all over again and to make changes to get faster more quickly.

Be mindful not to beat yourself up over what you SHOULD have done but instead to highlight what you did right so you can repeat it in the future and to identify where you can shore up weaknesses and achieve measurable gains.

One of the best ways to do this is to free write answers to some important questions.  Here are three categories to help you get started.

1.    How do you feel about your race?

Did you enjoy the race?  Was it fun?  Was it overly stressful?  Did you accomplish what you wanted, exceed your expectations, or come up short on your goals?  Were there any specific parts of the race that were particularly memorable?  Did you feel you were adequately prepared for this race?

If you can recall some fun highlights then relive them regularly to motivate you during training.  If you have some overly stressful moments, like bursting into tears as you struggled to change a flat tire or panicking at the swim start, get ahead of this before your next race by visualizing being calm and relaxed in that moment.

2.    How well trained were you for this race distance and course?

Were you able to hold your desired pace throughout the race?  Or did you have to slow down because you were unable to resist fatigue as the day went on?  Is there a particular leg of the race that you did better or worse than you expected?  What can your results teach you about where to focus your training in the future?

If you have specific performance goals this last question is particularly important.  For instance one of my goals is to consistently finish in the top ten in my age group (AG).  When I look at my 1st race results and compare them to the top ten in my AG, my swim and run weren’t too bad but my bike and transitions need serious attention.

3.    How effective were your plans?

If you had to rate yourself on how well you planned your race what would you give yourself?  Did you have a solid blueprint for race week training, nutrition, and travel?  Did you give yourself plenty of time to eat, stretch, and take care of business race morning?  How about race day nutrition and post-race recovery?  Did your transitions go smoothly?

In my 1st race this year, the pavement between T1 and the swim start was very rough and my AG wave didn’t start for an hour after the pros went off.  It was painful (yes I’m a tenderfoot) to walk around waiting for my wave to start!  On top of that, the morning air was very chilly.  One guy I met came prepared.  He went to Goodwill the day before the race and bought a sweatshirt and sandals for a few bucks.  Unlike me, he was quite comfy while waiting his turn to start.  The items were then recycled back to Goodwill after the race by the volunteers.  You can bet I’ll remember that one for the future!

Why This Matters

This basic principle of sport and life was said best by a Navy Seal:

“Your performance doesn’t rise to the demands of the occasion.  Instead your performance will sink to the level of your training.” 

It’s not too late to look back (or ahead) toward your first race of the season, and use the data to adjust your training to get better for the next time around.  It is likely the most valuable metric you can count on to make big gains from race to race.

That’s it for this week.  Until next time train safe, stay healthy, and hope to see you at the races.


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