With some of the biggest early season races complete or just around the corner, we asked some of the EC coaches to share their thoughts on approaching and reflecting on the first races of the year.
With the race season now underway, a lot of people are starting to think about tapering their training in advance of their first race of the season. What are your thoughts on the proper early season taper (assuming a non-A race)?
Justin Daerr: Every taper is different. How fit an athlete is, how well they respond to reduced training and the time of the season all come into play when deciding how much to back off. If the athlete is very fit and if there is a lot of time between events, I am more likely to extend the taper in hopes of a good performance. If they are building towards another event down the road, then the taper might only be long enough for them to freshen up for a few days during that race week.
Alan Couzens: Most athletes can keep building fitness with one week total for taper and recovery. Two weeks is a maintenance proposition. Three weeks total taper and recovery and some fitness is lost.
In the early season when fitness is a ways from peak and the athlete isn’t really in form to compete, it doesn’t make a lot of sense trading fitness for competing in an event, so I encourage my athletes (where possible) to only take the one week to keep fitness building. This obviously has implications on how fresh the athlete will be for the event, the length of the target event (Olympic Distance or less) and also how hard I want them to go. No 100% effort “kicks” at this point of the year!
Lisa Roberts: I like to think of an early season, non-A race taper as either a practice for the taper for the A race or in some cases there may not be a taper at all. It’s a great no-pressure way to figure out what might work best for you later in the season.
Marilyn Chychota: Some things to consider:
– Is it a “A” race or just a pre season race?
– Is the athlete coming out of winter with not much time on the road, or does he or she live in a place where winter has allowed plenty of outside road time?
– How long is the season ahead?
I do recommend my athletes have at least one preseason “dusting out the cobwebs” race before an A event. Timing and distance of this varies from athlete to athlete. I recommend it to be low stress and easy logistically. Recovery from the first race of the year can typically take longer so plan for that in the programming and build.
Sue Aquila: For small units, 2-3 days pre-race for a non-A race… and some suggested naps! For bigger units, 4-5 days… and some suggested beer! The overall work is similar but the intervals and efforts will have some longer rest. I like to reverse the taper coming out of the race as well. Returning to training healthy and well in a short period of time is the goal.
What should athletes look to get out of their first races of the season?
Alan Couzens: Two things that I like to use early season races for:
1) Going along with my preference for shorter races above, they serve as a good way to “test the curve,” i.e., how does the athletes top end fitness compare to their long fitness? This sort of information is really useful in determining physiological weaknesses and pointing the direction for where we want to place emphases in future training blocks.
2) Low key race practice: Races of any duration really help get the athlete re-familiar with and comfortable in the race environment– the early morning start, the logistics of the transition area, the argey bargey of group swimming, being attentive to legal riding in large groups, etc.
Lisa Roberts: The first race of the season is a chance to shake the cobwebs, get back in the groove, and it should be looked at as a gauge to what additional (or different) work needs to be done to prepare for later races. It is a great learning experience!
Marilyn Chychota: Athletes should remember what it feels like to do all things put together under pressure, such as waking up early, race stress, how to fuel before and during, understanding race intensity, getting a fitness boost, handling transitions, and managing the swim crowd. Use this time for equipment testing if you made any changes or if you haven’t used something since since last season. All these kinks can be worked out in a preseason race.
Sue Aquila: Confidence in ability, awareness of work that needs to be addressed and a hunger to race more.
Justin Daerr: The “first race of the season” can take on a lot of meaning these days. In some cases, we have a long season ahead of us and we are using the first race of the season as more of a fitness benchmark in place of a specific performance goal. However, in some cases, there are only a few races on the calendar and the goals of the “first race” might be quite lofty (Kona Q, Worlds 70.3 Q, PR, etc). If there is a major goal in the “first race,” I will put together more race simulation sessions prior to the race, whereas for someone with a long season, I will likely keep the training a little more balanced and use the race itself to see how the athlete is progressing.
For athletes who have completed an early season race, what are some tips for reviewing performance?
Lisa Roberts: Review your performance in an early season race critically, but gently. Do it as objectively as you can and look at any points where you may have fallen short as building blocks. This is the time that you want to find areas of improvement – when you have the time to work on them and fix them!
Marilyn Chychota: I use this guideline for reviewing all performances:
1) What did we set out to do? What were the expected results? What were the CSI’s (Critical Success Indicators) established prior to the event / competition? These can be objective targets, subjective targets, or both.
2) What were the actual results? Include performance (times), overall rank (placing), and percent of personal best performance (if applicable). Discuss objective results / facts and subjective results / facts.
3) What have we learned (positive and negative)? Focus on what we learned, not on what we will do next. What advice would we give someone starting out now? What strengths and weaknesses have we discovered?
4) What are we going to do? Exactly who will do what and when? Use SMART descriptions (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based). Sustain strengths and develop weaknesses. Be sure to indicate how you are going to move forward.
Sue Aquila: Question everything! Don’t view this as the peak but rather the valley before you climb to the summit. Keep asking yourself to quantify what you can do better in all areas: pre-race, s/b/r, transitions, nutrition, equipment, etc. Come away with specifics for improvement for you to address in the coming months. Celebrate that you are having fun and growing athletically and personally! Keep enjoying the journey.
Justin Daerr: One of the primary components I like to review after the first race of the season is how everything went leading into the event. Did the athlete feel rested and sharp? Did the travel go well? Was the athlete feeling highly motivated in the days leading into the event? The performance in the event itself is obviously the end goal, but I always like to work backwards to try and find out what parts of the race week and taper were successful and which need further tweaking.
Alan Couzens: Most importantly, keep the race in context of where you are in the season. This is something I see at all levels – athletes wanting to be where they were at last year’s peak or this year’s goal fitness right now! It doesn’t work that way. If the athlete is to continue to improve over the long terms, fitness must ebb and flow over the course of a season and goals should be set in that context. Each race in the season is a stepping stone towards the peak fitness of the A race performance goal and as such can give the athlete and coach good information as to whether they are “on the path” to where they want to get to but it needs to be remembered that they are the “pop quizzes” not the “end of year exam.”