The racing season has begun and we are barely one month into it and our new group of pros and age groupers alike are making every mistake in the book.
As this is a constant theme for most triathletes I thought I’d jot down five points to help:
a) Using your race as a family holiday.
I personally love this approach, however to travel the week before the race not only diminishes your performance but dampens the holiday as mum or dad (usually dad) are continually putting what they think they need in terms of rest, food and preparatory training first. I would suggest instead going into the race late as possible, and then spending the following week or days enjoying the down time by doing fun things without the anxiety of having the race on your mind.
b) Flying to close destinations instead of driving.
If the race is less than 500km away I encourage all our athletes who can to drive to the destination. It is much less stressful than pulling your bike apart and putting it back together. The risk of bike damage on the voyage also tends to be greater on flights than in the car.
Secondly, while the flight might be only an hour, you put great stress on your immune system. You are in a different environment in the best case and at the worst you walk off the plane with the sickness of the guy 5 rows behind you!
Another rookie mistake is thinking ‘I need to acclimatize as it’s very humid… Or hot… Or at altitude.’ So you have most people arriving 5-7 days early.
This is the worst possible time frame you can do. Yes, the body does start to acclimatise, but it only starts after 48-72 hours.
So you feel OK the first two days, then the body starts to say ‘Whoa, it’s gonna stay hot or humid so I better get used to this’ and the process begins. The 5-7 day range is often when people are at their flattest in the acclimatisation process. 72 hours later you see people climbing out of it shaking their heads ‘What went wrong? I feel great. I did everything right!’
No you didn’t. This is a recurring problem each season and continues to be ignored.
At home do you normally use an air conditioner? If not, this is dynamite. One must adapt to that type of cooling system. And if not it can kill your race by hour 4 of your first night there.
Is your hotel in a quiet area or is it above a pub that has a disco that finished ‘early’ at 2am?
Finally, If you come from a quiet household to staying in a three star hotel with 400 athletes – simple things like going to the buffet can be a stressful new experience. ‘Oh don’t be ridiculous’ I hear you say. But I can tell you having 35 athletes walking past your food looking at what you’re eating can create anxiety for even the coolest of ‘cool cats’ if you’re not used to it.
4) Pre-Race Food
Away from home we at restaurants. I’m sorry to all restauranteurs who are triathletes, but eating out in a new country is inevitably going to cause a greater incidence of let’s say food ‘problems’. I’m not calling it for food poisoning because normally it’s not, but something as little as a different spice on something can send you to the toilet more times than is good for you pre race.
We see many carbo loading with pizza making sure they are completely dehydrated for the next day’s race.
But no! We fight that with about 5 litres of water to make sure they are ‘extra’ hydrated.
This phenomenon usually starts three days before the race. Every race expo is like a competition of who can carry more water bottles, through the day. Meanwhile if it’s just water you are inadvertently washing all the minerals out, so by race day you’re depleted of potassium, magnesium and salt. Here comes the cramps!
We advise all our athletes that from 72 hours keep the food very bland indeed. Nothing spicy, nothing leafy and that waters bottle should have electrolytes in the water!
5) Course Inspection
Most races set out their swim course and make it a point to tell all to enjoy this great venue.
Sickness on race day often doesn’t come from the food but the open water swimming the last two days.
People think that the water is clean and crystal clear then it must be clear of germs. As a cleaner of many pools in my life, I can tell you I’ve seen pools that are crystal clear full of bacteria and I’ve seen pools that you can’t see the bottom of relatively safe. My advice as a coach is to avoid the open water until the day of the race. So then if there is something in it, it takes a day to incubate.
You will have heard many race directors say ‘the locals swim here and are never sick.’ That can be true. But it misses the point. The locals get used to it.
Now of course I’m going to get criticism from this article, but before you send in angry emails about how much I don’t know – consider how many times you have heard ‘I ate something that didn’t agree with me.’ It’s totally common in the Ironman finisher tent.
We call these five points invisible – as all your hard work can be brought undone by falling for one of the above problems that most in triathlon don’t even see coming. Hope it helps.