Building up for a big race? Got a great training plan? Fitness looking good? What about the “rest of the picture” in terms of prep? What are you talking about you say? I am killing it on Strava, my power numbers are through the roof! What else could there possibly be?
You could have the greatest fitness of all time, but have your race ruined by not paying attention to other preparation and logistical details. The fun and frustrating part of racing is the outcome is unpredictable, and there is only so much you have control over (my kingdom for a horse anyone?). The name of the game is increasing your odds of success by preparing as best as you can in all areas that you can influence.
Over the next couple of weeks I am dedicating the blog to tips you should consider for your pre-event planning. While some of these will be sport specific, most of them apply universally or the basic idea can be adapted for different disciplines. The intent is to make you think critically about key aspects of your prep and adapt it to your situation. Have questions or additional ideas or thoughts? Please feel free to post them on the blog or Facebook comments!
Know the Course: Duh, right? Of course you need to know the course, but you would be surprised how many people I have run into running, cycling and in multisport that morning of the race are asking questions about key course details or are complaining afterwards about how they misjudged this or that. In today’s day and age, unless there is a last minute change, just about any course detail can be figure out in advance and leave you with less stress on race morning and better results at the end of the day.
A few of the many factors to consider include: how long is the race, is it hilly, flat, climbing, lots of corners, loops etc., when do the key “features” appear on the course, what are the road surfaces like, where are the key tactical points, potential bottlenecks, points where you are at an advantage or disadvantage based on your strengths. Prevailing environmental conditions are also important and we will expand on that in an upcoming entry. For cycling races, where tactics are more at play, what has the history of the event been, sprint? break? does the race blow apart on a particular “course feature”? based on you and your team’s strengths and weaknesses, where do you make your “move” or defend and how does the course factor into your tactical planning? For triathlon, what about transition areas and how they are routed, entrances and exits etc.? All great factors to consider, and ideally you know as much of this as possible as far in advance so it can be factored into training, your mental preparations, and race nutrition and equipment selection which we will go over in an upcoming entry.
So how do you figure it all out? If feasible, taking a look for yourself and reviewing the course or sections of it firsthand is ideal. For complicated or technical courses, this is a HUGE advantage. If a pre ride is not practical, another option is to just use various online tools to plot out the course as closely as possible and at least study the profile. Training Peaks, Strava and Ride with GPS all have cycling specific mapping tools and may have “hot spots” or even the whole course marked so you can study profiles, section distances, turns etc. and see how fast other riders have done sections.
Race websites often have extensive overviews of course nowadays many bigger races even have dedicated forums or social media outlets where you can chat with race officials or participants who have done the event before and ask questions about the event. Don’t be afraid to talk to anyone you may know or run into who has done the event in the past. Most people are happy share their past race experiences (I don’t know an endurance athlete who doesn’t like to talk about a past race) to get a sense of how certain sections may go down.
If there are key course sections such as climbs, you can figure out the parameters and hunt down similar features locally to duplicate the terrain in training. If you want to get really high tech and have the cash, for cyclists, you can use tools such as a Computrainer to reproduce the course and virtually ride it at home indoors.
Basically all is fair in love and war on this front. The longer, more varied and technical the course is, the more value there is in gathering intelligence and being familiar and comfortable. Knowledge is power and course knowledge can give you confidence, calm your nerves and give you a strategic advantage over you competitors.
Next time. Equipment Prep. Thanks for reading. Questions or additional ideas or thoughts? Please feel free to post them on the blog or Facebook comments!