A race plan and executing it well is just as important as turning up to the start line with a body that is fit, healthy and ready to race. Your race plan should be appropriate in detail to the race you are competing in. If it’s your ‘A’ race for the year, the plan should be sufficiently detailed to ensure nothing is left to chance; use checklists, pace, nutrition, strategy, clothing, race day schedule, etc. If you’re turning up to the local duathlon as a training day, the plan might be just to go out and have fun or test a new nutrition product for example.
Checklists – ever turned up at the event without your goggles, trainers or even bike?? A simple but effective way to ensure you have all your kit is to draw up a couple of checklists. A Packing Checklist can be used at home when getting kit together before travelling to the race venue. Things like sunglasses/cap can be easily forgotten if it’s pouring down the day you leave home but come race day the sun may be beating down on you. A Race Day Checklist can help identify exactly what kit you need race morning, from race number to gels, socks, salt tablets etc. These are more easily remembered when you can tick them off a list as you lay your equipment out in transition or pack your swim/bike/run bags for an Ironman event. Have a look at http://triathlon.racechecklist.com/legacy/ for some pointers.
Schedule – your race day (and even weekend for big events) should be planned out and written down after consulting the event schedule/handbook. What time are you going to bed? What time are you getting up? Is breakfast organised? What time is registration? How long will the drive take? What time do you rack up? When’s the briefing? When will you eat? Are you taking food with you? If not where will you buy it? Thinking about these logistics days/weeks in advance will reduce stress in the build-up to the race. Getting stressed an hour before the start because you didn’t realise it was a split transition will definitely have a negative effect on your race...
Race Strategy/Pacing – there are many variables that you can make a decision on prior to race day. Where are you going to line up for the swim start? Will you wear socks for the bike/run? Heart rate cap for the bike? Pace zone for the run? Where are you going to carry bike tools/spares? What is the race goal (time/position etc)? Write down how you are going to act/feel during the race and you are more likely to follow the plan.
Race Nutrition – many a fit athlete has been left crawling along the side of the road due to poor nutritional choices on race day. Make sure you know what you will be eating and when. Where are the aid stations? What will they stock? Have you tested that brand before? Will you carry your own nutrition? How will you carry it? Have you practiced your nutrition during training at race intensities? Writing all this down and even carrying it with you may help to make good decisions late in a race when your mental state may be questionable.
STICK TO THE PLAN
Unless you are in the mix for a podium spot, the risk of not sticking to the plan usually outweighs the benefits. Fair enough if there’s 1km to go and you’re shoulder to shoulder with your arch rival, go for it! But the decision to cycle at 10bpm faster than your planned heart rate halfway around the bike because you feel ‘great’ is always going to bite you in the arse later in the race! Executing the plan is easier said than done but ensuring your plan is well thought out in advance, practised during training sessions and based on your own ability, will ensure you reach the finish line in the fastest possible time. Next time you are overtaken and decide ‘not to let that old bugger past me’, just try and remember that he may be sticking to his plan and you would be wise to do the same...