On Training: Simulate Race Conditions

John Faith has been with Metro Run and Walk since 2004

John has been with Metro Run and Walk since 2004 and enjoys being active!

As you read this, we’ve all just celebrated our year-end holidays and, hopefully, survived the New Year’s Eve events!

Many of us have also entered the time of post-race season reflections, and some are even feeling the “post-race season blues.”  It’s time to take a look back on our year – what we would have/should have/could have done (or not done, as the case may be) differently this past year.  It’s also time to think about the upcoming year with those same thoughts in mind.

I’d like to take this opportunity to again expound on two of my favorite themes as a prelude to the new year: training the appropriate muscle, and nothing new on race day.

One of my buds recently completed her first Ironman triathlon.  For those of you who aren’t aware, the Ironman is considered one of the most grueling single-day athletic endeavors out there – a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike followed by a marathon, 26.2 miles.  These events are all done consecutively, one after the other, and must be completed in 17 hours or less to be considered an official finish.

(As an aside, many people think of the Ironman distance when they hear the word triathlon, not realizing there are many variations: a “sprint” triathlon generally features a swim in the 200-600 yard range, a bike in the 8-12 mile bike range, and a run in the 3-5 mile range.  An “international” or Olympic distance triathlon is a fixed 1,500 meter swim, 40K bike, and 10K run.  A “half Ironman,” also sometimes referred to as a “70.3 Ironman” is exactly what it would seem – 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run.  There are, of course, countless variations on these.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triathlon.)

My friend was justifiably proud of her accomplishment (as one of my dearest friends said after completing her first, “After Ironman, anything is possible!”), absolutely beaming and grinning ear to ear when she came into the store to buy a “140.6” decal for her car (140.6 = 2.4+112+26.2, the total Ironman distance in miles in case you’re wondering).

We got to talking about her experience, and she said that she’d done much better than she’d anticipated on the swim, about what she expected on the bike (which she was nervous about as it’s her “weakest” event – as if you can use the term “weak” in describing one’s successful Ironman performance!), but that she really struggled on the run.  As she said, “The run proved to be tougher than expected and not because I was tired or hurting, which I was, but because it was dark and lonely.  I’m used to running a marathon in the daylight with crowds cheering – not being in the dark by myself.“

This is something I’ve seen before with another friend, whom I coached through her first Ironman race some years ago.  She put in all the necessary mileage, mastered her nutrition and hydration, and worked out all the logistics.  She had it all figured out – she thought.  Unfortunately, one thing she also hadn’t done is *some* training in the same conditions she’d encounter on race day – in this case, running alone and in the dark.  As a result, she absolutely crushed the swim and bike and was on course for a superb inaugural Ironman.  Unfortunately, she found herself out on the run, alone and in the dark, and couldn’t handle it mentally.  She DNF’ed (Did Not Finish) the run because she’d violated the maxims I think I’ve relayed several times through these articles in the past few years: “nothing new on race day,” and “training the appropriate muscle(s).”

It may be an esoteric point, but by not doing some of their training under “race conditions,” (in their cases, running alone in the dark) they set themselves up – one for failure, the other for a difficult time.  And, while there are absolutely no guarantees in Ironman (or life), preparation is key.  Oh, and that “appropriate muscle?”  In these two cases, it was the one between their ears!  😉

I hope you had a joyous, meaningful holiday season, and wish you a happy, healthy, rewarding New Year.

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