Between mid October and mid December I felt like I was either tapering down for a race or trying to recover from one. The last two months finally allowed me to get a consistent training block in. I used this period of time to try and prepare for the Australian long course championships in Falls Creek, Victoria. When I was comparing my last two results I had no doubt that my preparation prior to world long course and IM WA played a huge role in the quality of the performance. With that in mind I set out to replicate the meticulous preparation I had for world long course coming into Australia long course. I’m pleased to say that I did manage to get myself to the start ready to race and my result reflected that. With a 12th place overall I took out the 18-24 age group by over 40 minutes and placed up alongside some of the top age groupers in the country and amongst the tail end of the professionals. I really feel that I’m getting an understanding of what it takes to peak for performance and how to arrive at the start line physically and mentally prepared to race.
Peaking for Performance:
I have five key areas that I focus on in order to peak for races. These areas are physical and psychological state as well as nutrition, acclimatisation, and familiarity with the course. The physical part of the equation I’m sure each and every one of you is well acquainted with. Perhaps the only comment I would make is in regards to tapering off training. I like to start backing off 10 days to 2 weeks prior to a major race but that is a very individualistic approach. At risk of stating the obvious the point of tapering is to be fresh come race day. As I finished my final bit of training the morning prior to my race (a cruisy 6k run with a few strides and a short walk) I was passed by three groups of triathletes out training with fully stocked fuel belts and popping gels. Needless to say I was made to feel as though I was bludging out there. But my opinion remains that there is nothing to be gained from working at moderate to hard levels of intensity right up to a race. I really think that if your reaching for your gels in the final few days before an event your still pushing too hard. You really should not be significantly depleting your glycogen stores. Research has shown that halving your training volume does not induce a loss in fitness levels for nearly 4 weeks so don’t let the need to meet certain targets be the reason your still pushing on.
Speaking of glycogen stores I have finally found a carbo-loading strategy or lack thereof which suits me, so here is some food for though. Simply put carbo-loading only requires you to take in 1.5-2g of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight in the final four days before competition in order to be effectively loaded up. A common comment that I have heard (and experienced myself) prior to a race is that all the carbs have been making the person feel a tad sickly and even lethargic. The reality is that our 1.5-2g target is really quite a small target and many athletes consume significantly more than this on an average training day. As such the strategy that suits me, and I believe would suit most people is to not change a thing in their diet in the final days before a race. The idea being that we are already meeting our carbo loading target and the reduction in training load resulting from our taper naturally facilitates the build up of our glycogen stores. So if you ever find yourself feeling like the last Clif bar or extra large bowl of pasta you consumed may have been one food item too many I’d give this go.
The psychological side of things is perhaps the hardest to get right. I think as long as you really want to be there your well on your way to having a great race. The amount of times I arrive pool side for a swim set whilst feeling far more like a nap is an unfortunate thing, but to turn up to race not really wanting to give it your all is an unforgivable thing. That said I have always found race morning different to a standard pool set, the adrenalin is going and I’ve rarely not been ready to put my best foot forward. To be mentally prepared to do this I simply try to keep a few things in mind. I race to challenge myself not others and that I shouldn’t race with expectations. Racing against others, be it professionally, as an age grouper or against your best friend is always good fun... when your winning. But to base achievement on beating others is not always practical as you can have great race and still lose out. As such I think of everyone as competing with me not against me and all I’m concerned with is the effort I get out of myself. The focus on giving the greatest personal effort that I can is the only expectation that I place upon myself. I’m certainly not saying I don’t like to win but I think I race best when my focus is not on just that.
The icing on the cake is acclimation and familiarity with the venue. Acclimation for my recent race in falls creek saw me head up to the venue three weeks prior to race to live and train at altitude. Although only a mile high its certainly enough to notice a difference in performance, particularly up hills. The 3 week duration was chosen as it is commonly sited as the length of time for acclimatisation to take place, however the biggest gains are seen in the first 3-7 days. So whilst a 3 week training and racing venture is impractical for most a far more moderate amount of time at altitude beforehand can really make a difference. But with only one triathlon in Australia at altitude it’s not going to be often that you need to acclimate to such conditions. Far more relevant is the acclimation to heat and cold. In terms of heat, the recommended approach is 10 days of moderate-low intensity exercise in said heat. Dealing with the cold is a bit trickier, whilst it is acknowledged that you can acclimate to cold over a long period of time your probably best of turning up at least a couple of days before to get over the shock and then bring some gloves and a jacket for the bike leg!
Finally familiarising yourself with the course, in particular the bike, is another great thing to do. When I’m out learning a course I experiment with different levels of effort going over rolling hills, perhaps you will discover that by committing on the certain downhills you can just make it over the top of the next incline. I also pick out trees or markings on the road to use as braking markers for corners and turnarounds. And best of all come race day I know exactly how many corners, rises and descents there are to be traversed before I can get into the run.
Nail all of these areas you will be ready to peak for performance.
Australian Long Course, 2xu Falls Creek Triathlon Race Report:
Having spent a prolonged period up at falls creek its a brilliant place for triathlon training. Whilst the closest pool at Mount Beauty is slow 30k drive from falls there is a lake created by the Rocky Valley dam up there which is spectacular, it’s clean and just stretches out for kilometres. Although the overwhelming opinion is that it is a tad too cold (~14-17 degrees) I found it just dandy in a wetsuit and neoprene cap... a lot warmer than Parramatta lake in the winter at any rate. With such a great lake its no wonder the swim feels so good. I had a pretty good swim albeit largely on my own. The swimming splits included about a 250m run up the beach and the road to transition. Although I flew up the hill determined not to waste a moment I quickly found myself unable to find my bike. When you forget exactly which rack its on and then forget what race number you are it can be quite a trying process, luckily a few spectators a bit more coherent that myself pointed me in the right direction.
Getting out onto the bike course I was confident that I knew exactly how to ride the technical bike course, my pre-determined braking markers were very useful. The bike leg saw me to and fro with a few bigger guys who came out of transition just behind me over the duration of the entire bike leg. The uphills were my domain but their power always brought them back to me on the downhills, it made for good motivation. On a rather pleasant note its the only race I’ve ever done where I can say that there was virtually no drafting. I saw the odd instance but for the most part the limited field and hills broke everyone up very nicely and allowed for a clean race.
Going back into T2 I found my rack no problems and then proceeded to fumble with my shoe laces for over a minute whilst being filmed. The cool swim and then bike in 8 degree weather had left my fingers unable to manage the momentous task of doing up my laces, perhaps I will bring back the elastic laces. From there I got moving pretty quick and started to run down guys on the 2 lap course. Whilst there was one brutal 400-500m climb up a ski run each lap the rest of course was about as flat it could be given the mountainous location. With the motivation of a great result and the dominant figure of Melissa Rollinson chasing me I ran a fast but controlled first lap before managing run an ever so slightly quicker second half. My final lap was buoyed by the fact that I was now catching fellow competitors and gapping those behind me. Nevertheless the finish line still seemed to take an age to finally become tangible. It was great crossing the line in 12th and to have mixed it with some of the pro’s. Post race I was pleasantly surprised to see my 76:33 run split over the 20k course had been the second fastest of the day behind overall winner Tim Reed. I had also been the fourth amateur athlete across the line and with a convincing win in the 18-24 age group I was crowned national champion. It was a near perfect race for me with the only downsides being my less than blistering transitions, definitely some work needed there.
As for what is next, I’m looking at my options but there isn’t likely to be anything major in the near future. Train hard and have fun till next time.