As the summer racing season approaches, there are some things that all athletes need to remember while training. The biggest is to train for your course - not for convenience. Sure, it's easy to go out and put in the hours on the local big ride loops. In Colorado Springs, the favored ride is the Fountain loop, a nice 40 mile loop on gently rolling terrain. The chance of head winds are higher then of any significant, sustained climbing and the farm dogs are usually more of a hazard then other vehicles. But are those loops an accurate simulation of the terrain faced on race day? The bike paths around town are nice and flat - perfect for speed and turnover work. How many marathons are actually as flat as the Santa Fe Trail here in Colorado Springs? Not many. Yet every day, hundreds of runners turn to the greenway as the go-to workout and long run training grounds. It's close, convenient and safe. For triathletes, finding open water that is truly open for swimming is a major challenge. Despite Colorado's hotbed status for triathletes, most lakes and reservoirs are closed to swimming or the swimming is limited to a tiny beach area. It's really much more convenient to hit the local masters program and not deal with the logistics of open water.
All of the above are training for convenience, not training specifically for the goal race. For time limited athletes, that can sometimes be the only way to get the training done between work and family responsibilities. But always training for convenience will limit performance on race day. Sometimes, simulating the course is more important then convenience depending on the goals. From the runner who finds that the goal marathon has some bigger then expected hills in the last few miles to the mountain biker faced with miles of hike-a-bike and the triathlete forced to tackle the tricky open water conditions, the unexpected course conditions can both physically and mentally break even the strongest athletes. A great race can be derailed by not knowing and understanding that the specific course entails. The smartest athletes study the course, looking for areas that they can simulate even while training for convenience. That flat marathon with some hills at the end? Get a training partner and do some point to point long runs, ending on the hilliest sections of trail. A race like the Breck 100 where there is going to be some hike-a-bike? Make it a point to practice both pushing and carrying the bike so it's easier on race day.
How can someone train for a destination race or when there is no way to actually get on the course to practice? That question was a lot harder to answer years ago, but now it's easy. There is a wealth of knowledge available online for nearly every race out there - from the official race website to race reports and individual blogs. The official websites have course maps, course profiles and sometimes even turn by turn descriptions. If the race is in a popular riding area like St George or Park City, there are bound to be blogs about the different trails from riders of all levels. Big city marathons always have plenty of third party reports and commentary and even some of the smaller marathons will have runners race reports. Google is the traveling athlete's best friend when it comes to finding information about different events and friends who have done the target event are an even better resource. Doing the research and then trying to match the training toward the goal course when possible will pay dividends. It might take some time upfront, but it will be time well spent.
With all the information out there, there's no excuse for always training for convenience. Train for success, not just convenience. Training for success means giving up some things as it isn't always time-effective. Runners need to balance heading out the door before work with long runs that mimic the target race. Cyclists should balance the trainer time with riding on dirt or in groups with other cyclists. Just how much to balance convenience over success is up to you as the athlete and what your goals are.
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