3/17/13

What to expect on triathlon race day - course check


This coming weekend is the Ocala HITS triathlon - a distance for everyone from sprint to Ironman. I was scheduled to do this race but with my previous hip issues and the opportunity to speak at an upcoming Oakley Women event, the cards were not in my favor for the race but certainly, the cards didn't mean I wasn't going to come out a winner.

Next weekend I will be able to watch 4 of my 6 athletes who are racing in the HITS Olympic distance triathlon and I am super excited to be there to cheer for everyone. Karel and my other athlete Chris will be racing the half IM on Saturday and although I will be super sad not to be there to support them, I will be flying home from San Diego after my quick 2-day trip to the west coast.

I can't complain about my life when I am in control of my attitude. There are many times in life when we have a choice to say "why now?" or "that's ok". I prefer the later as my worst day may be someones best day. There are so many opportunities in life and I think many times, we get stuck in the moment and forget to be grateful for future opportunities. I am really grateful to be asked by Oakley Women and Shape Magazine to give a nutrition workshop at the upcoming VIP Oakley Progression Sessions in San Diego (this Fri), Denver and Texas (May). Lucky for me, there will be more triathlons.

On Saturday morning, Karel and I made a 2-hour drive to Ocala (leaving at 6:15am) to check out the race course. Karel did his last hard brick on Wednesday (his day off from work this week, along with Saturday) so the race course ride was just steady. Knowing that we would be checking out the course for my athletes as well, there was no planned workout for the day. However, Karel is tapering, is in phenomenal shape and is mentally ready...so my bike ride was challenging...56 miles, sitting on Karel's fast wheel. OUCH!

After the ride, Karel ran one loop (~3 miles) of the run course and took a dip in the water. Throughout the morning, I took a lot of mental notes of the course to give a run-down of the course for my athletes. I typed up a full page of tips from everything I could remember about the course (swim, bike and run).

This got me thinking about how athletes approach race day for as we all know, racing is more than just putting a trained body on a course. There are so many uncontrollables and controllables on race day so it is up to you where you direct your energy. Not everyone has the opportunity to ride/run a course before race day, let alone drive it. Therefore, there are a few things you may want to consider before doing a race so here are my top tips for what to expect on triathlon race day.

-Race venue: parking, distance from transition to race start, bathroom location, layout of transition area.
-Swim: in the water or land start, quality/color of water, weather on race day morning, opportunity for warm-up in the water, location of sun rise (proper goggle lens), swim course, swim exit.
-Bike: condition of roads, elevation, location of aid stations, fuel at aid stations, closed or open course (Safety), wind direction, weather forecast.
-Run: terrain of course, location of aid stations, fuel at aid stations, shade or no shade.

Of course - from start to finish, make sure you have all your necessary gear, gadgets and clothing. Better to have the "just in case" items instead of wishing you had them for the duration of your race. 

Many athletes check out the course ahead of time and stress out. Why freak out when the course is out of your control? If you are worried about running in the sand, cold water, bumpy or hills roads, perhaps it is best to consider a different race? If you have a coach, discuss these concerns so that you can plan the proper race schedule to meet your needs. Better yet, plan for the course by preparing yourself on similar conditions. If you never learn to be comfortable riding "fast/hard" on bumpy roads and trying to drink from your water bottle on your down tube of your bike (let alone switch bottles from rear cage to top tube), how do you expect to stay fueled and confident on race day? If you never wear a wetsuit until race day, how do you plan on swimming efficiently and comfortably if you feel restricted? If you never practice running and drinking, how do you think you will fuel on race day?

A few things I noticed in Ocala (not as detailed as my notes to my athletes);
-The course is bumpy - rough roads. The course is not exciting but not boring. It is not technical, a few false flats and gentle rollers. The course can make it easy to forget to drink/stay fueled and because of the out and back course (which is not a straight shot), it can be easy to feel frustrated for 56 miles if you do not pace yourself properly. If your water bottles are not secured, you will lose them. As in any race, if you don't like what is on the course, bring your own fuel. Lucky for HITS athletes, Hammer Nutrition is on the course.
-The first part of the half IM (and entire Olympic course) is on the sand. Not beachy white sand but dark, trail sand. Some of it is packed, some is loose. My thinking is be prepared, don't stress. Consider wearing socks to avoid sand being caked in the shoes w/ water from the aid stations for cooling. There is little shade on the course, stay cooled with water and ice. This should make it easy to not go out too fast but on the bike, better stretch your hips and not stay aero the entire bike course. You will need your hip flexors to be strong and not fatigued on a changing terrain course.
-For the swim, the morning will be cool. Getting in the water for a warm-up is always a good thing for a nervous swimmer with a wetsuit but I recommend jog/walk warm-up first before getting in the water for the water start.

As you read the athlete guide before your race, check out the course or talk to other athletes (read forums), remind yourself that everyone races on the same course and is trained differently. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. As you know, I LOVE hilly, hard courses. I will take any obstacle that comes my way so I can be smart on race day...not always the "fastest" athlete. 

You have a choice to be the smarter athlete on race day or be the one that wastes energy on things out of your control. Your choice.
Race strong, stick to your plan and  remember, even if the cards are not in your favor, you can still come out a winner by being grateful for the opportunities ahead of you.

Happy Racing!