Race day preparation - swimming through the riff-raff

I just checked - Gered and I are now only 10 weeks out from our first race - the Max Performance Season Opener in Hopkinton. Exciting! Now is an important time of the season, where training transitions from a focus of building aerobic fitness to developing speed - simultaneously the most exciting, and most painful part of the training process. Our bodies have been working with mostly slower heart rates, and moderate stress. Now they have to refamiliarize with heart pounding, muscle burning workouts, which is bad enough when your body is used to it - but the start of that transition is just ... ouchies.  (You've been warned in the past that I'm not good with words.)

On the other hand, it's a great time in the training cycle, because as much is it hurts, you start to see your paces coming back down toward race paces - and hopefully those new paces are faster than last year! Race day starts to get on the mind more and more frequently, and you start preparing mentally for the same things that your body has been working toward for months already. For a lot of sports the mental component is largely focused on keeping things positive and making sure that you can control and focus your excitement and adrenaline into the rote motor movements you've been practicing all season long. Triathlon is unique insofar as what people experience on race day in transition areas and the swim start, are things that they are not entirely prepared for. I mean how many times have you practiced wiggling out of your wetsuit with sore shoulders, shaky hands, and a HR of 180? How about clipping your helmet tight? Slipping into your running shoes with wet grassy feet? Making sure you didn't forget anything on your way out of transition? Probably not too many times. I suggest that you get on that. Set up a transition area in your driveway (or a parking lot if you don't have a driveway), and practice that stuff just like all the rest of the movements you've practiced over and over again.

The other one people don't think of is the swim start. Gered probably has more experience with this than I do, but that start can be brutal. Elbows and feet flying everywhere - usually by accident, but I think you'll find that as you get into more competitive fields (as I'm starting to find), this starts to get intentional. As a strong swimmer I used to be able to escape the riff-raff pretty quickly, and usually completely unscathed. Not last year - and it made a difference in my finish too. I got stuck in a pack of swimmers that were slightly slower than I was capable of, but ever time I tried to pull away, I'd get grabbed elbowed or something (that was Chicago in case you're wondering - fast swimmers there!). There are two things you should practice to prepare for this.

  • The first, is an obstructed swim start (behold the funniest video my sister has ever found on triathlon). This is usually hard to practice because you need open water, and enough people of similar swim abilities to crowd you. (i.e. I could not practice this with Gered because I would just dominate him - though I could help him prepare.) Another option is to convince the swim team you practice with to have a few water polo or water basketball games. This will develop your scrappy side like you wouldn't believe. Of course, if neither of those are available to you, you should seriously consider renting a couple of boats, some extra oars (padding optional) and some friends who would really enjoy beating the pulp out of you. :-)
  • This second is to incorporate a lot of pace changing into your workouts. Here's an example of a workout you could do.
    • 5x500 mostly aerobic pace, but each with 100 fast somewhere in there.
    • Rotate the fast 100 through the set. So the first is 100 fast, 400 aerobic pace. The second would be 100 aerobic, 100 fast, 300 aerobic pace. Then move the fast 100 to the third 100, and so on.
    • Make sure that both before and after the 100 fast, your pace doesn't drop any lower than the rest of the 500. The key here is similar to a cycling attack. You have to be able to break free from the pack, and then maintain your distance.
And that's all folks! Enjoy that video one more time. :-)