There are several things that come up during a triathlon that can equate to a slower performance than anticipated or a particularly unpleasant experience. Although these can be diverse, there is an underlying commonality: lack of training in ways that truly align to the race experience. Here are several examples demonstrating how lack of race-specific training can undermine your performance on the day:
- Cramping or nausea on the run: GI upset can hit at any point on race day, but it is most common during the run. Guided by quality advice on adequate nutrition, athletes will often consume a variety of sports drinks and gels during the bike leg. They will then be caught off-guard by feeling unwell relatively early into the run. The challenge is that most of us train most of our time with water only. To be honest, it isn’t particularly financially feasible to be consuming gels on each and every single training session. Therefore, there is a lack of correspondence between race day nutrition and what the body is accustomed to. Therefore, either change your race day nutrition plan or start training with what you plan to eat/drink on race day.
- Blistered, bleeding feet: Racing sockless is a distinct advantage through transition as you can skip the struggle of putting socks onto wet feet as well as pre-mounting your shoes on the bike and running to the mount line. However, it absolutely takes some time for your feet to become accustomed to your cycling shoes and your running shoes without socks. You will want at least a couple of weeks to develop callouses or find and address hot spots. Going sockless for the first time ever on race day is a recipe for misery.
- Sore back/neck/knees on the bike: So you have worked hard at spending time on your tri bike, or whatever bike you race on, yet on race day you still find yourself suddenly uncomfortable. The question is, have you actually been riding your race day bike in the position and to the power you use in the race? Pushing 185 watts sitting up tall is an awful lot different than pushing 235 watts hunched in your most aero position. If riding a road bike, being down in the drops is different than sitting up on the hoods. Even the difference between training pace and race pace can push you to different spots on the saddle. Now, this isn’t to say that you need to always be riding at race pace, but you need to do enough efforts in your race position to help the body adapt.
- Swim panic: It’s amazing how many athletes will do their first open water swim on race day. You can be a 1:20 per 100m swimmer but you are not going to have a good swim if you have never sighted, swam in a pack, swam with sun in your eyes, swam with a wetsuit, experienced waves and currents, or swam in water that isn’t clear. You absolutely need experience with these if you hope to have a good swim. This can be tough in cold weather regions where race season starts shortly after water is warm enough to be swimable, so be sure to prioritize time in the open water as soon as possible in the spring.
There is good advice out there that states, “nothing new on race day”. This is absolutely correct, but only part of the story. The other is race specificity, meaning spending enough time with the equipment, pace, nutrition, and environment as you will actually face during a race.