March is the time of the year when a lot of us triathletes are getting closer to the first races. Some of us start with training races; for others the first A races (primary target races for the year) are approaching quickly. This means it’s time for some changes—time to focus.
My main rule is that, depending on the distance of the race, this increased focus should begin eight to 12 weeks before the main target race. Focus on very targeted training for a specific race or goal.
So, what does “focus” mean? What kind of changes do we need to make?
1) Some changes affect your training and workouts, and
2) There are “lifestyle changes.” Keep in mind that 80-90 percent of the day we work, sleep, eat, sit, etc. How we handle this “other 80-90” percent of our life will have a significant effect on training and racing.
First, let’s look at changes to training as we get closer to A races. Workouts are now specifically set up toward dialing in and getting comfortable at target race paces. Long workout distances are getting close to race-day distance.
Here are some of my favorite intensity workouts to get ready for long-distance triathlon races:
4 rounds of 8–10×100, with decreasing rest each round, all at race pace
10×400 at target race pace
4–6×20 minutes at slightly above target race effort (hold 10–15 watts higher if you train with power)
3×40 minutes at target race pace with five-ten minutes rest in between
controlled tempo runs at or slightly faster than triathlon race pace of 5–10 miles
wmile repeats: 8–10×1-mile with short rest (45–60 seconds) at sub race pace
The idea here is to do the long distance workouts (often on weekends), combined with a mix of longer intervals or tempo sessions at target race efforts, and slightly shorter intervals at efforts above race effort. The combination of these types of workouts over the last eight-to-12 weeks before the A race helps to feel comfortable at race pace on race day.
The second area of focus is changes outside of your training that will help improve your race performance. Most of these are good to keep in mind all throughout the year, but it makes sense to pay extra attention and be more disciplined as the important race approaches.
Hydration: Always, always, always make sure you are hydrated. It will improve your workouts, help you recover faster, and often take care of other issues (like headaches). As the heat comes back to Austin in the spring, this is extra important.
Cut out any junk food and stay away from too many sweets and sugar.
Get to (and stay at) your race weight. Less is not always better. For example, I found that my cycling and overall race performance is negatively affected if my weight drops below a certain amount. So, as the hardest training weeks kick in, maintaining the right body weight is important to stay healthy and strong.
Pay attention to timing of meals.
For triathletes, a lot of days have two, sometimes even three, workouts. Refueling and rehydrating within 30 minutes after a workout will significantly help with recovery and allow our bodies to handle continuous days of multiple workouts.
Finalize race day nutrition.
Especially for events of three hours or longer, what you take in during a race will have a high impact on race performance. During these last eight-to-12 weeks before an A race, it’s time to use exactly the same type and amount of fuel in training to get comfortable with it. Don’t just try this out on longer workouts. It’s important to also use race nutrition during interval work to see if and how your body takes it at high intensities (like on race day).
When the training volume and intensity increase, we put a lot of extra load on our bodies. This often weakens the immune system temporarily. In order to make sure that I stay healthy, I usually take extra supplements (vitamins and minerals) to strengthen my immune system during this time.
Get sleep, and a lot of it.
Sleep is the best recovery. Occasionally, it is better to skip a morning workout to get a few extra hours of sleep. As I get close to an important race, I try to consistently get seven to eight hours of sleep per night. More would be even better, but with a full-time job and a family, this is not feasible. Key during this phase is to cut out the nights with only four or five hours of sleep, which over time have a negative effect on training, and eventually on the race outcome.
Take care of your body.
These final weeks and months before the main race(s) are times when we put the most stress our bodies. Therefore, this is also the time to do extra maintenance work. Scheduling massages or Active Release Therapy (ART) appointments and spending a little bit of extra time every day on stretching will help lower the risk of injuries and improve the quality of workouts and races.