We are about a month into the 2021 season now, and some athletes have already had their first experience back on the starting line, but with some of the bigger events scheduled over June and beyond, many athletes are looking forward to their first race in 18 months with a mix of feelings. What should we all expect? Neuff Red ambassador John Wood of Tri Coaching offers some tips:
by John Wood
With Covid restrictions lifting somewhat, there is a much awaited return to some form of racing. Races may not be quite the same as previous – either in size, or in start format – but the fact that we can finally be competitive again is amazing.
Returning to events, while it can be totally joyous and exciting, can also lead to stress and anxiety.
Top tips for returning to triathlon racing
The biggest obstacle for a large majority of athletes, especially now, is not their physical fitness. Sure, most of us could probably do more in being consistent etc in our training, but actually the bigger sticking point is athlete’s mindset. Dealing with your emotions and brainwaves is key to not only performing well (at any time), but actually enjoying the events that you undertake.
A poor mindset can set you up for a poor day before you even arrive at the event. A lower result than would have been liked is often the outcome. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a failure – but it often gets seen that way. This could be times being slower than hoped, or racing feeling harder than desired, more of a struggle.
Getting your head in the right place for racing this year is probably key, more so than ever. For a large number of athletes, they will have spent quite a lot of the last 15 months training, fitness (bar possibly swimming) shouldn’t be an issue.
This is where it’s important to practise things, (mentally AND physically) to make sure that you’re on top form for your main races.
2. Choose your goal
First up is deciding what you are going to choose to focus on. Many athletes will focus on a time, or a position. The problem with this is that you can’t affect the people around you and what they do, so position is out of your hands. And it might be super windy, or rainy, or other non-self issues might crop up during the race (eg mechanical). All of these will have a bearing on the time that you do, even if you do everything perfectly.
Here, the challenge is to focus on the processes. This is important, regardless of what level of goal your race is – and even applies to all your training. Go into the event with a plan; know what you are intending to do. Whether that is pacing, nutrition strategy, who you plan to keep an eye on, or simply how you want to feel. These are all things that you can control, do something about and as a result you can qualify them as a success or not! This way you can have outcome goals (like time) which you could miss, but the race could still be a success because you did what you planned and to the best of your ability. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be disappointed at missing your target, but you can take far more positives and learn things from the event. It doesn’t have to be completely black or white.
3. Practice first
The next thing to practise is the physical elements. Hopefully training has been going well, but it’s always good to have a couple of tune up races before your big event. With most people not having raced in a very long time, doing a local time trial or sprint triathlon is a perfect time to get used to the adrenaline and how it affects your body. It’s also perfect for practising the little things like your nutrition, pre race prep and even practising your mental strategy!
Whether you can get a race before the main event or not, training sessions are a perfect ground for rehearsing. Whether that is getting a feel for your racing effort, or being able to surge/accelerate and then settle back into a rhythm, or maybe it’s the process getting up at silly o’clock, the more familiar you are with all the feelings, the more confident and comfortable you can be going into your race.
4. Enjoy yourself!
Finally, there are two things to remember when preparing for your A race.
- Enjoy yourself. This is why you do all the training. If you’re not enjoying yourself, why are you doing it?
- This is just one day. Of course we want to race well. By the law of averages some days will be great and some will be awful, and the better prepared that you are, the higher chance there is of being a good day out. But if it’s not quite what you were hoping for that is OK.
Post event, it’s important to review and take 3 positives. 3 things that went well. It could be that you followed your plan, it could be that you felt amazing, it could be that you didn’t feel nervous. There are always good things to celebrate or to pull out of a bad day.
Then it’s about finding 3 things to learn from your race. Some days this will be easier than others, but be objective, and make it about the processes.
Ultimately, it’s fine to feel disappointed in a bad race. But better to take that disappointment and use it to grow and make things better for next time, and keep your focus on the things that you can control.
About John Wood
A former international swimmer, John has been swim coaching for 15 years at all levels. He intended to try a couple of triathlons for fun, but ended up hooked when he placed 4th in the European Age Group Championships in Israel in 2012.
Having caught the triathlon bug, John has competed in every distance from super-sprint to long distance and has been coaching for 6 years, running Tri Coaching. He's now also an active member of the Neuff Red Ambassador team.