Words by Taylor Thomas at Thomas Endurance Coaching
For a lot of athletes, racing is the ultimate goal and focus. It’s what inspires many to train and devote themselves to the time necessary to prepare their body and mind. If you’ve yet to embark on your journey as a racer it can daunting and challenging to think critically about what’s actually involved in both the planning and preparation. Racing should be exciting and motivating, but it should also be something that, for athletes new to it, be approached methodically and appropriately. Setting yourself up for success for your first race will set the tone for what’s to come, and help to form good habits that will lead to longevity and success in your discipline.
Give Yourself Time
If you’re thinking about starting to race, or have already singled out the race(s) you’re interested in, it’s important to give yourself time to prepare. Pick and plan your races as far in advance as possible. The “off-season” is a good time to think through what races you’d like to do, and how these potential events will interact with your schedule and other responsibilities. Take work travel, family vacations, and other responsibilities into consideration at the onset of your race planning. The more details you take into consideration, the more likely you are to set yourself up for success. Once you’ve identified your events work backward to figure out how much time you’ll need to prepare, keeping in mind that there’s no such thing as too much time for preparation. At a minimum 16-weeks of “base” building followed by 12-weeks of race-specific focus will help to ensure all of the proper pieces are in place. If you can make more time in the early “base phase” that’s never a bad thing. When beginning your training be sure to add training stress slowly to give your body ample time to adapt and build fitness. It takes many training cycles to become race ready, so don’t rush it. Committing to your first race is exciting, but don’t dive in too quickly. Take the time early to make sure all of the pieces are in place and that you tackle your training correctly.
Don’t Overdo It
The excitement of committing to your first race can leave you vulnerable to being swept up in wanting to sign up for as many events as possible. If you feel this urge, do your best to resist it. Don’t overload your calendar with too many events. Give yourself space between races to focus on individualized training, as well as time to apply lessons learned from past events to improve your future training. All too often athletes new to racing take the “more is better” approach to signing up for races as well as in their training approach. Keep intensity in check. Many athlete’s first inclinations are to “sprint” as much as possible and to make every workout a high-intensity interval session. Leave plenty of time for endurance (Zones 2-3) work, and keep high-intensity sessions focused and spaced accordingly. More training hours and/or intensity doesn’t necessarily equal greater fitness. Just because you can do more doesn’t mean you should. Keep quality high, and rest frequently. This approach will lead to longevity vs. burnout, overtraining, and possible injury.
- Consistency – Consistency is most important! Develop a training approach that allows for consistency above all else. It’s better to have a few productive workouts per week than trying to force more and being inconsistent. Be realistic regarding your training. This is often the biggest indicator of an athletes success on race day.
- Strength – Before embarking on any race preparation it’s critical that you start from a place of strength. Foundational strength is paramount from both an aerobic and muscular perspective. Make sure that you’ve done the appropriate amount of aerobic training before any race-specific intensity is included. Supplemental strength training is also important to make sure your body can handle the eventual increase in training load and/or training stress.
- Metrics – Individualized training metrics are also important. In order to track progress and understand how your body is handling race preparation, it’s important that you take advantage of power and/or heart rate training zones. Establishing Thresholds for both at the onset of your training, and calculating your subsequent training zones, will unlock performance metrics that shed light on fitness and fatigue. You’ll use these metrics year-round to monitor your fitness and race readiness at any given time.
- Specificity – Specificity is key! Make sure that the work you’re doing is preparing your body specifically for the demands of the race(s) you’ve targeted. Duration and intensity should align with your discipline and the demands of each event.
- Periodization – A periodized approach to training is a cornerstone of a successful and sustainable training plan. Think critically about your goals and ensure that the workouts are building properly towards them. Training should be progressive and paced such that fitness, fatigue, and adaptation are gained at the right times in relation to races.
- Say No – It’s okay to say no. You don’t have to make every group ride, race, or charity event just because it’s offered. Remain focused on what you can do to improve individually and move you closer to your goals. The first few seasons of racing are fundamental and set the tone for long term goals.
Racing can add both excitements and focus to your training that brings tremendous value. However, it’s important to use this excitement and motivation properly. If at all possible, start planning early to give yourself ample time for preparation. Plan your preparation and training such that duration, frequency, and intensity are ramped up methodically. Use individualized training metrics to monitor your progress and ensure that you’re preparing specifically for your race(s). At the onset focus on training fundamentals to lay the groundwork for more dynamic and progressive training in the seasons to come. Most importantly make sure you enjoy the process and learn from every experience. Racing can be the highlight of your training if approached properly.
Taylor Thomas is the founder and head coach of Thomas Endurance Coaching (TEC) and has more than a decade of experience in the endurance sports industry as an athlete, coach, race promoter, and team organizer. TEC provides expert level coaching to athletes of all ability levels and specializes in both a scientific and metrics-based approach to endurance sports. They guide athletes in all disciplines of both running and cycling. For more information on their personal coaching and training plan options visit http://www.