Chapter 2: Hammer Out The Details
Race day performance is about far more than who is the fittest or the fastest. It is about who is the most prepared. It is like forging a sword; the strength of the metal plays a role but how you hammer it shapes its functionality. We want to find the right balance between being sleek and being strong. Our preparation shapes us, molds us, for race day.
Therefore, we need to hammer out the details. Even though the race is still seven weeks away and it’s not my “A” race, I’ve begun to start hammering the details for Florida 70.3, which you can find below.
While there is not a perfect race plan or training plan, we can come close by using all the tools available to us. We can prepare for future races by estimating from past data. We can extrapolate weather patterns (an awesome feature of best bike split) while we keep the possibility of extremes in mind (like Boulder 140.6 heat last year).
Race day includes a multitude of variabilities, but let’s start with the basics: effort and pace.
The swim is the hardest to control pace wise since we can’t look at our Garmin every five seconds. Still, there is plenty we can do to prepare.
The first is about breaking the swim down. In my experience, the swim is the shortest event but feels the longest because we don’t get splits and estimating distance is tough unless you are amazing at sighting. Setting an alarm on your watch to buzz every 200-300 y/m or every 3-5 minutes ideal. This breaks the swim down into manageable chunks and when your mind starts to lose focus the buzz brings you back. You can practice this in the weeks leading up to the race by doing a series of 300s or 250s getting faster every interval with the same rest.
The second is about understanding the course. For example, Florida 70.3 looks like a capital “W”. This will likely cause it to feel less like a long continuous swim and more like a series of intervals or a pyramid workout which we can mimic in training. Sighting is important for every race except for Lake placid with it’s giant underwater line marking the course! It doesn’t matter if you're the fastest swimmer if you swim farther than your competitors.
The third most important thing to remember is that you still have two more disciplines to go after you get out of the water. Swimming has hard as you can, while valiant, is foolish. Start conservative and pick up the pace as you get towards the finish. Mimic this in training as well with those descending intervals and deck-ups to remind you not to leave it all in the water.
The bike offers the best control if you've invested in power, but there is always a chance that your power meter dies (it’s happened to an athlete of mine!). Train with both power and heart rate and pay attention to feel. This can be hard to do while training indoors, especially while using ERG mode. Getting ready for the bike is more about being able to sustain the correct amount of watts and limit your surges than it is anything else. This is where fitness plays a role, but we want to be specific in how we use it. It’s not about having the highest FTP, but being able to hold an efficient amount of watts while in aero, and using the course to our advantage.
For the Florida 70.3 course this means being able to handle several steep hills in the back half of the race. We want to hold back just a little in the first 25ish miles so that the hills don’t sap our legs. Again, we can mimic this in training really well with intervals focused on power. Riding for 60-90 minutes at 80-82% (most 70.3 races should be around 85% FTP) with a 5 hard intervals over threshold and equal rest as we “coast” down the hill will help us get a feel for how we might handle the course. The last 5ish miles includes some gradual hills as well, so we need to prepare for that as well. The workout I will design to prepare will be based on my Best Bike Split profile but be highly simplified.
Just like the swim, maintaining focus is challenging. I set two alarms for the swim. The first is one for every 5 miles that also appears on my Garmin with average power for the interval duration. This helps me break the race down mentally and I can focus on keeping my power right for that block of time instead of trying to think in terms of the entirety of the bike course. The second alarm is a time based interval for my nutrition, set at every 10 minutes. This is where I play around a bit in training. For most of the time I use my custom Infinit blend. However, I also know that race day brings the chance that I drop my bottles and have to rely on the course, so I attempt to prepare my stomach by changing it up every now and again.
If the swim and bike go according to plan, the run should take care of itself. Still, we fall to the level of our training so lets dive into the details. The run feels awkward off the bike no matter how many brick workouts you’ve done, so mentally prepare for that. For the most part, my bricks are short and sweet to practice transitioning quickly. There are a handful of longer bricks that I do to zone in on my paces. Again, progression is best. Start conservative to finish strong. Every mile or half mile notch down the pace.
The Florida 70.3 run is actually fairly hilly with 540 ft elevation gain over the 13.1 miles. There are full marathons with less than that. It is three loops around a lake on paved trails, so if you have access to these types of trail in your area it might be worth running on similar surface. I like to recommend checking the elevation gain of all run workouts so you get a feel for it if you don’t have a chance to get on the course before hand. If you're like me and your race is in a warm climate but your training is not, then the treadmill is your best friend. Hill intervals at a few minutes at 3-5% incline are fantastic preparation, plus you don’t have the damage of going downhill.
However, one of the biggest factors I haven't mentioned is heat. Florida is hot and humid all year round, and while you might get lucky with a cool day chances are you’ll baking in the sunshine state. Unfortunately, I am training in frigid temperatures in Iowa. Therefore, my heat preparation is primarily in the sauna. If you're interested because you have a race that might be hot here are some great resources:
My heat protocol is vastly similar to the bad water prep article by ramping it up 4 weeks prior to race day. The exception I made is that bad water is a dry heat, Florida and Chattanooga will by humid, so most of my sessions will be in the steam room. I like the added value that Lionel Sanders brings to this regimen finishing workouts by sitting in the sauna. The core temperature needs to be elevated prior to sitting in the sauna for it to be physically effective, however, it can be mentally beneficial to get to the sauna daily. Hydration is key during and after the sauna! Really, hydration is key always, but especially during times when you’re losing water rapidly. I also use hot yoga as a slightly less hot version of heat training since it tops out around 100 degrees.
The last part of the details has nothing to do with race day and everything to do with every day preparation. Constantly evaluating and improving your daily routines is part of what makes a good athlete. Be a student of your craft, be a student of yourself. Take time to review the past week and preview for the week ahead. Get your workout gear out the night before, set up your hydration bottles, set your coffee maker to be ready when you wake up. Make healthy snacks to munch on to keep your energy levels up throughout the day and meal prep food on the weekend so each meal is intentional. Have 20g of protein immediately following workouts. Identify where you can make it easier to work hard and easier to work hard consistently. Keep the ball rolling.