If you can’t imagine it, you can’t execute it.
The transition from training to racing has now well and truly begun.
It’s an exciting time of year, you’ve trained hard all winter and now it’s time to put your fitness to the test. Engaging your mind with what you are doing has never been more important.
This is where writing a simple race plan for up and coming races can be worth its weight in gold, it’s time to plan for success. I know many struggle with this so I thought I would outline an approach below.
A couple of weeks prior to an up and coming event I typically ask my athletes how they want to approach their race. It’s so important I hear their view because their instinct and opinion matter. As much as I am there to help mentor and guide I want my athletes to firstly think for themselves.
Usually more experienced athletes will have a clearer idea of how they want to approach a race due to a wealth of race experience. Whereas less experienced athletes tend to need a bit more guidance. This quickly changes from race to race as athletes learn from their experiences and their race plan evolves.
There should be a natural order to your race plan and it can be split into sections:
- Pre race
- Pre swim
A great way to approach this is to sit down for a moment and visualise every stage of the race right from the moment you wake up. This is a form of neurological programming that creates autonomy. This dramatically increases your chances of race day success. Don’t bury your head in the sand and think “it will all just come together on race day” because it rarely does. It’s the things that you choose not to consider that usually come back to bite you.
You don’t need to write an essay; just some simple bullet points that you want to remember that can help guide you to a positive result. It’s all about writing down the thoughts, actions, feelings and emotions of your ‘ideal race’. These anchors will then help you stay engaged during the race so that the mind doesn’t wander. It’s not about getting the job over and done with it’s about squeezing the very best out of each and every moment possible.
As much as we are trying to create the perfect race it’s also important to realise that things can and will go wrong, so it’s best to plan for them. This is hugely important because there is nothing that can throw your race or mindset more than something you didn’t expect to happen. Expect the unexpected; this could be a flat tire, a dropped water bottle, getting kicked in the face in the swim, the list goes on. What you fear you need to prepare for, if you don’t it can overwhelm you when it happens then it’s game over. So think of that moment and ask yourself, how will I react when this happens in the most calm, positive way possible?
Each athlete will have their own way of writing a race plan, some will write more detail others will simplify to just a few simple bullet points. It doesn’t matter which way you do it just write it in the way that works for you. It’s amazing what you can learn from doing this and how it can change from race to race.
I’ve included two terrific examples of race plans written by two of my athletes recently below. Both athletes executed these race plans putting in superb performances. What’s most interesting is how different they are in their approach; one much more detailed and one more simple/no fuss, it’s a very clear reflection of their personalities, the way they think and their attitude to racing.
Race plan 1: Written for a 70.3
- Sleep >7h. Wake up feeling fresh, excited and ready
- Smooth pre-race prep. Feeling nervous but controlled. I’ve done this all before. No flapping.
- Anticipation before the start – can’t wait to get in and start. Feeling strong and prepared
- Get out towards the front of the pack and settle in to a rhythm.
- Not intentionally drafting anyone – focussing on my own race. In my own zone – nobody else disturbing that flow.
- Focussing on swimming hard but smooth, keeping nerves in check and staying just below the point where too much effort leads to bad form.
- Keeping hold of enough reserve to nail the transition and get out onto the bike feeling in control
- Steady at first – let the legs come. The power will build naturally.
- Find rhythm – the course will allow a steady rhythm the whole way
- Pedaling with strength and smoothness – finding the perfect cadence that won’t destroy the legs but will allow the strength from the big gear sessions to come through
- In my zone and not thinking about others too much. Continually checking in with my body, allowing it to find the perfect effort level. It knows where that is and what it feels like
- Break the ride down into 5 sections just like my TTs – each one building in effort
- Steady progression all the way to the turn.
- Staying tucked. Upper body quiet, reflecting quietness of the mind.
- Coming home I’ll really lay it down. That second 45K will be one of the fastest I’ve ever ridden.
- Leaving just enough in the legs for the run – hard but not emptying the tank
- Really smart, quick transition and out onto the run – not wasting any time.
- Steady at first. Not looking at the watch, just listening to the legs and how they feel: light and controlled, with plenty of spring – a sense of reassurance that they’re ready for a half marathon. I could go harder but I’ll hold back. The first lap is all about staying within myself, controlled and with good form.
- Second lap: sticking with that pace or slightly faster – no major shifts in gear, but subtly pushing the effort. All the time staying focussed on form and flow.
- It will start to hurt on the second half of the second lap. This is reassuring – this is exactly where we want to be.
- Last lap: nothing held back. This is where a mantra has helped me in the past – words/ phrases like “infinite”, to help me feel like I have no limits, have lost the sense of self and can transcend my discomfort, or: “you’re a long time dead” (Scottish proverb), to remind me that life is short and the pain will mean nothing when I’m dead.
- Although I don’t want to let other runners distract me, this is the point where I can use those ahead of me to my advantage – trying to pick them off.
- I will completely empty the tank. I want to have nothing left on the finish line.
- Pain at the end means I’m doing it right – embrace it
What could go wrong?
Having mechanical or logistical issues pre-race
– Planning and executing logistical tasks is not my strength, and I’ve often forgotten to take things to the bike area in the past, or had to improvise/ borrow things. If this happens I’ll deal with it by calmly thinking it through and not getting in a flap. Sometimes it requires creativity and changing the plan, but that is ok. Nothing ever goes to plan, and making the best of imperfection is what determines success
Having no rhythm in the water
– This can happen – sometimes the arms just feel heavy like you’re swimming in treacle. Doesn’t necessarily mean you’re swimming slowly, so I’ll stay positive and focus on relaxing and flowing – not thrashing the arms or losing heart
Goggles coming off
– Never happened, but it could. If this happens I’ll just keep relaxing and keep breathing, and sight as best I can. No reason at all that this should make for a bad race. I won’t even break my rhythm
Going off course in the swim
– If this happens, I won’t panic and try to compensate by going harder – that’s counterproductive. I’ll just stay in the zone and concentrate on getting back on course
Bike – getting a flat.
– I’ve changed a tyre in around 5mins before – it’s easy. Just jump off, stay calm, and change it. I’ll be back on track in no time. Plus my legs will get a little rest! Harness the rested legs and mental frustration by riding strong after the tyre’s fixed, but don’t waste it with an anaerobic sprint to catch up.
Legs feel weak on the bike
– I know that some of the best can feel like this and still have the race of their life. Feeling rough doesn’t mean you’re having a bad race.
Windy bike course
– Just relax and don’t fight it. Keep the body quiet and loose, working hard but not tightening up. This is very different from giving up.
Run legs not there
– This is my biggest worry – that my run legs just wont be there. Again, This doesn’t mean I’m having a bad race. Stay positive – if I have to “run ugly” for the whole 21K then so be it. I’ve done it several times before – where my legs felt so weak or painful I wasn’t sure I could stay upright – and still had a good race. That past experience will set me in good stead for this eventuality. I’ve nothing to lose. The aim is to have nothing left at the finish. If I manage that I’ll be happy.
Race plan 2: Written for an Ironman
Anyway… I’ve got this bubbly feeling that this is going to be a really good week! I haven’t thought too much about the race but I guess this is a good opportunity to start. Over the last two weeks in training I have felt so incredibly tired leading in to most sessions but towards the back end of the session I have felt stronger and stronger. I have drawn huge amounts of confidence from this. The longer I go, the stronger I will get this Saturday. Particularly on the run leg. I want to bring it home so strong.
I love race morning and I hope I wake as excited as ever. Not too nervous just 100% in control and calm. Happy and not overwhelmed. It’s just another race. A fun day out!
I want to go with the front ‘ish’ of the swim but stay relaxed and push the second half a bit harder.
I really have no idea how I am performing on the bike but this doesn’t scare me. I just want to ride my own race. A two-lap course … I want to push that second half.
For some reason I’m feeling confident about the run. I’m not going to be scared of it as I usually am. I am going to relish in the distance and just get stronger and stronger.
I’m happy with things going wrong. Whatever it is I know I will calmly deal with it… be it a flat, chain, cramp, crash…
I will eat and hydrate regularly.
No watch, all by feel.
A big smile, head and heart.
It’s simple really…