More then just Training

A lot goes into getting ready for a race of any length. Most of the focus is on the training - long days, intervals and other physically tasking workouts. That's where the majority of the time spent and it's also the easiest to talk about. People understand intervals, track workout, long rides and recovery days. Really, the training is only part of preparation for a race. There are other, less noticeable and glamorous areas that have to be addressed with just as much focus. It's the non-training basics that can make or break any race, from a 5k to a 100 mile running event, a sprint triathlon to an iron distance race, and from a 20 minute short track to a 24 hour race. Along with the training, the pre-race preparation should become part of the schedule. It's not something to ignore until the day comes to leave for the venue.

What are some of the bigger areas of pre-race preparation? Gear is one of the biggest in my mind when something as simple as the wrong socks can ruin a race. Everything should be tested and used under similar conditions to the goal race if possible. Showing up to a 100 mile mountain bike race with a rain coat that hasn't seen rain and a pack that still has the tags on it? What happens if that pack doesn't fit quite right or a sudden downpour overwhelms the lightweight coat? It could be a miserable trek to the finish line, if that far. Any gear - from a wetsuit for triathletes, hand held water bottles for runners or packs and gloves for cyclists should be thoroughly tested. Everyone says that running shoes need to be broken in before the goal race - the same goes for everything else. If you are planning on wearing a pack during a mountain bike race, I recommend wearing that same pack for all long rides and even some interval sets. Something that is comfortable at easy speeds might not be as comfortable when riding all out.

Nutrition is another area - and one that's harder to predict. Food that works great in training can be too much for the stomach to handle at speeds or the flavors can get overwhelming over the course of a long day. It's easy to say that you should train with the foods and drinks you plan to eat during a race, but that can only go so far. It's hard to carry a thermos of chicken soup for a long training ride, but that might be just the ticket when it comes to 2:00AM at a 24 hour race. I always recommend having some options on hand in case the nutrition plan isn't sitting well. The long rides and runs are when you should be testing food and drink, but you also need to try eating during longer interval workouts to see what happens and if your stomach can tolerate the food. For some races, relying on the aid stations is fine - requiring extra food and drink outside an aid station during a 5k is unlikely. But during long distance events - especially when there can be 5 hours between aid, being self sufficient is a must. Learn what you like, what you can carry and the balance between enough food for the entire race vs just that one segment.

Speaking of segments. Course knowledge is the key to a successful race. The best preparation is to incorporate some intervals and workouts on the course. For mountain biking, pre-riding can help learn the lines for the descents. For road running, the worst feeling is to have a downhill marathon with a monster hill in the middle that you haven't prepared for. Study the course profile and attempt to match the training with the course. If the goal race is a flat marathon like Chicago, then running lots of rolling trails might be fun, but not the most specific. Take the time to research the distance and times between aid station - there's no need to carry enough water for three hours when it should only take an hour to get between stations. If you can't get out to the course, utilize the information at hand and online. Compare times against people you normal race against to help set up the splits and race plan

Prepare for the races beyond just the workouts. It's a journey from that first day of training to crossing the finish line. Use all the tools at hand to make the entire journey a successful one, which means doing the research required, testing gear and food and being as prepared as possible in all aspects.

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