April 25, 2012

Triathlon Training: Is Your Race Pace an Illusion?

If you’re like most triathletes then the idea of testing is about as appealing as getting a root canal on your next vacation.  For self-coached triathletes testing is even more of a challenge because you haven’t been shelling out the equivalent of a monthly car payment to a coach who’s badgering you for the results of that swim, bike, or run field test.  Besides if you’re doing this for fun and fitness (vs. sprinting for the win at your next race) do you really care what your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is on the bike?

Well, what if testing wasn’t about just improving your performance but about cranking up the fun on race day?   You see, by not testing and really getting a good, objective feel for what your race pace should be there’s a high probability you’ll get to experience that all too common ‘death march’ on the run leg because you pushed too hard earlier in the race.  And guess what?  That’s normal and here’s why.

Psychologists use the term “positive illusions” to describe having an optimistic outlook on future outcomes.  We all do this in life and it’s not all bad; actually it’s quite healthy.   Trouble occurs when being overly optimistic about your athletic ability comes up against an objective measure like a triathlon race course.  This is where testing can help.

Testing gives you objective feedback, something self-coached triathletes desperately need.  This feedback helps you adjust your training and, ultimately, makes sure you don’t overplay your hand too early out on the course.  Testing doesn’t have to be overly complicated to be effective.  In fact, the best tests are practice races because there’s no substitute for the real thing… you’re more motivated in a race than at any other time.  If a practice race isn’t an option then all you need are a couple of data points like heart rate and distance and you’re good to go.

Here are a few ways and places to perform some tests.  I don’t really get into the HOW here because this is really specific to an individual, but would be happy to chat about it with you if you’d like my help:

  1. Local Races:  Build some short local races into your training plan.  5K runs and sprint and international distance triathlons are a great place to test your current fitness and gather real data under race conditions, besides getting you into the all-too-often overlooked racing mindset.
  2. Measured Courses:  Timed 600-2000 yard swim tests, bike time trials on a measured course, and track runs all will give you the objective feedback you need to make progress without over-stressing your body and risking injury.
  3. Trainers and Treadmills:  Indoor trainers and treadmills are some of the best and safest tools for testing your current fitness.  Whether it’s a Vasa Trainer with an Ergo meter for swimming, a bike trainer (which every triathlete should have), or a treadmill just measure heart rate and distance or time and distance and you can easily do some short field test that will give you the feedback you need to have your best race yet.

So where does the fun come in?  Go to your next race confident that you know how to pace yourself throughout the race all the way from swim start to a strong finish on the run and you’ll know exactly what triathlon racing fun is all about.

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

P.S.  Feel free to shoot me an email at Jay@Triathlonexperts.com for some ideas on setting up a test that will work for you.



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