So, here is that short list of avoidable mistakes.
Too Much Training
If some moderate amount of volume and long workouts are good, then more of either -- or both! --should be even better, right? Right! Wrong.
Regardless of my explicit instructions to my athletes, a small percentage of them seem to always think that “more is better” and do extra credit – adding more workouts to the weekly schedule or extending multiple workouts because they feel they need to or because they’re “feeling good”. Not only is this added work unnecessary, it also goes against the well-laid out plan and also negatively impacts recovery. While simple in premise it is also the most commonly forgotten fact –- improvement occurs during periods of recovery and not during periods of hard work. Yet, how many endurance athletes completely ignore this?
Do this once or twice, OK (I guess). Do it often, and the result is that you will arrive at your goal race overly fatigued and, thus, not able to bring to bear all of the fitness you spent so many months building. Stresses from training are cumulative and add up over time, so deliberate recovery days and days off are so critical to balancing all that hard work out. Without proper – and enough – rest and recovery, you are doing yourself a disservice.
Planning a Nutrition/Hydration Strategy That Works
Long course athletes need to replenish the calories they burn and the fluids they lose during a race, and at a rate they can absorb. Learning what works and how much of it is required takes a lot of practice over many weeks. It is deliberate work. You would be surprised how many athletes fail to properly prepare in this area as they do in their training. Or, how many use race day to do things completely at odds with what they practiced in training. Failing to dial in your nutrition and hydration strategies can lead to utter disaster on race day.
Depending on how well- trained you are and how hard you are exercising, the body has approximately 60 to 180 minutes of stored muscle glycogen to access as fuel during exercise. So, while you may need very little or no supplemental nutrition during a Sprint or Olympic Distance triathlon (or any athletic event lasting less than a couple hours), supplemental nutrition and hydration should be considered mandatory for longer training sessions and races. Very straightforward and simple guidelines are as follows: 200-300 calories and 16-24 ounces per hour. I'm finding that decoupling nutrition and hydration on the bike leg seems to work best. Drink water (or add a fizzy tab for a little flavor), and then take in your calories via bars or homemade "cakes" or whatever solid food works for you. Worry less about wholesomeness and more about what sits well in your tummy. Then, on the run, switch to gels and liquid calories -- again, whatever works well for you in training replicate in races.
It is important to switch up the nutrition sources because, like a muscle, the receptors which help determine how to best process the calories can get overworked and fatigued, and then they shut down -- they need a break! When this happens, bloating, nausea or worse can set in and your performance will take a nosedive regardless of your fitness. Changing up how you get your calories minimizes this risk to a large degree (I will not say wholly).
Notice the above ranges. They are ranges because every athlete is different and your own requirements can also change one long training weekend to the next. Try different approaches and fuel sources to see what your body likes best, especially in conditions similar to those in which you will be racing. The less you leave race day to chance, the better.
There’s a saying, which I’m sure you’ve heard: “If you don’t do it in practice, you’ll never do it in competition.” Exactly. Putting in enough volume is important, yes. But, if you train slowly and then expect to race quickly, it will never happen. And you will end up disappointed come race day. The whole point of training is to practice what needs to happen on race day so that it actually does happen in the race. Crazy concept, I know. In training, come to understand the correlation between RPE (rate of perceived effort), HR (heart rate) and power (on the bike and, now, even the run) so that you know precisely what your realistic ranges are for each leg come race day. If you train at 15mph on the bike but expect to hold 18mph come race day, that’s just not a realistic “mind over matter” expectation to set. Testing every 4-8 weeks depending on time of year is important to track progress and also reset training zones so that you are training as realistically as you can to achieve positive race day results.
Race Day Hype is a Killer
So, you’ve prepared the best you can and have avoided the first 3 mistakes listed. You’re all set to light the race on fire, right? Not yet. Properly preparing for race day is one thing. Even if your lead-up to your key 70.3 or 140.6 race is spot on and you are a well-oiled (and rested) machine, there is one more, even more nefarious, obstacle standing between you and crossing the finish line in a state of euphoria rather than dejection.
Pre-race hype is arguably the biggest black hole of energy suck on the planet. I’m always amazed at how many athletes walk endless miles through the athlete village or race expo every day to buy more gadgets or the most recent and scientific doo-dad that will ensure a world record performance. It is one thing to casually walk through an expo to burn a small amount of time and take your mind off the upcoming race; it’s completely another to get sucked into the buzz and allow it to leach your focus and energy, which will only serve to de-focus you from the task at hand.
Athletes get so excited about the expo environment and being surrounded by all the other like-minded athletes, that they risk ignoring their race day plans altogether. Sure, go to the expo. But, make one round, buy whatever it is you want and then go ahead and use them in training – after your race is over.
These mistakes may seem obvious and easily avoidable. However, they are not. Even the best athletes in the world have made these or other similar mistakes at some point. We’re human, not infallible. That said, being cognizant that these traps exist and can be relatively easy to fall into, allows us to better identify when we are starting to fall so we can better catch our balance and avoid the spikes at the bottom.
In closing, remain confident in your preparation and stick to the plan you and your coach have put together for race day!