Fitter, faster, stronger, leaner, more powerful, improved endurance.
These are among the top words that triathletes will often use to describe what needs to happen in training over the course of a season in order to be more athletically successful. While structured, periodized training can help an athlete develop sport specific fitness, it's especially important to have sport specific skills. If proper skills are not practiced regularly in training, you may struggle to reach your athletic potential on race day - despite putting in the physical work.
Most triathletes are great at working out but when it comes to skill specific work, it's either overlooked, pushed aside or not valued. With an infatuation with metrics, distance and intensity, many triathletes overly obsess with gaining fitness only to find that skills don't match fitness. Without a proper skill set, there's a lot left on the table when it comes to performing at your best on race day. This is why it's important for triathletes to appreciate all the little things that can help you excel on race day. It's not just about arriving fit and not always does the fittest athlete win the race.
Earlier this week our athlete Melanie traveled 8 hours for a 2-day private training camp in Greenville, SC. We are lucky to have a perfect playground for outdoor training and suitable weather almost all year long. We have been coaching Melanie for nearly three years and it's been incredible to see her progress. Three years ago she was afraid to ride outside in her aerobars. The bike was major weakness. Now she is impressing us with her great bike handling skills, terrain management and new cycling strength. During her camp we worked out a lot of important bike skills and put those skills to the test with 2 x 2 hour, hill focused, technical rides.
Sadly, for many athletes this is not the case. When was the last time you practiced race specific skills in a training session? For example, let's walk through the skills that you will use on triathlon race day:
- Having experience in race day gear/equipment
- Day before race day nutrition
- Race morning nutrition
- Warming up
- Entering/exiting the water
- Swimming next to other triathletes
- Transitioning from swim to bike
- Mounting/dismounting your bike
- Changing your gears
- Passing other riders
- Taking in sport nutrition throughout the duration of your ride
- Changing a flat tire/dealing with mechanical issues
- Working through the highs and lows of racing
- Riding in the wind
- Climbing/descending skills
- Paying attention to your surroundings on an unfamiliar course
- Transitioning from bike to run
- Pace management
- Terrain management
- Taking in sport nutrition throughout the duration of your run
- Working through GI issues/side stitches
- Being able to maintain good form under fatigue
- Running on different surfaces
- Mental skills used throughout the race
I encourage you to always look for ways that you can work on your race day skills in training (ex. a skills camp). Don't assume that come race day, everything will magically work out. If you have race day worries, fears or anxieties, make the effort to work on your race day skills to gain confidence (and safety) for race day.
When you are in a competitive environment, what should be a simple task such as changing a flat tire, putting on your bike helmet, making a u-turn on the bike, grabbing a sport bottle, sighting in the open water and staying calm around others can be extremely difficult. It's not that these basic skills are difficult to learn but there's a big difference between learning a skill and performing the skill consistently well when you are racing, under fatigue, not thinking at your best, feeling pressure and in a competitive scenario.
Race day readiness is much more than being fit. Checking off workouts or reaching race weight means absolutely nothing if you can't execute sport specific skills in performance situations.
Are you working on your race day skills in training?