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Journey 20 – Training Specificity: Training to a Course to Maximise Performance

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ETPA Journey

Want to maximise your training benefits and race faster with no extra effort? Want to train smart?

You train for countless hours, early in the morning and late at night for your upcoming race… Surely, you want to maximise the specificity of these training hours to ensure optimal performance come race day? One sure fire way to do this is to consider the course you’re training for and plan your training accordingly. Greater training specificity equals increased chance of a good outcome on race day…

All race websites publish a description of the course that you can access and then use to your advantage.

There are lots of factors you might consider when choosing which races you aim for and if you can pick a course that plays to your strengths, then you’re already on a winner. Regardless of why you choose one race over another, you should work with your coach to ensure that your program is designed to prepare you for what you will face on race day.

So, what are some of the factors you should consider?

  • Climate – Consider the likely weather conditions and temperatures – this will often be determined by the season in which you are racing
  • Altitude – Is the race at, below or above sea level? Is there a big difference in the altitude compared to where you live and train?
  • Acclimation -Think about what you can do in terms of travel arrangements to acclimatise to the conditions at the race venue and on race day.
  • Terrain -What is the nature of the course and what is the course profile for each of the legs?
  • Surfaces – You should consider the surface on which you will be racing for the bike and run and then train accordingly.
  • Number of laps per leg – How many laps on the bike? How many on the run? Can you train in a way that means you can replicate the lap layout and frequency?
 
Climate – including likely weather conditions and temperature

Do your research: find out the likely temperature and climate of the race destination. Is it summer? Is it a dry heat? Is it humid and sticky? Once you know this information you can then start to plan around it. Consider your nutrition and hydration strategy and adjust according to the climate. If it’s a cool climate you may be able to reduce your fluid intake, but will have to consider how you will get the required amount of carbohydrate/calories in… Do you make a more concentrated solution, or do you perhaps utilise solid/gel options? If it is a warmer climate than you’re used to you will have to increase fluid intake and overall nutritional intake (because your body is working harder!). Work with your coach and ensure you experiment with options so you know your body will cope with the changes. Consider you clothing –do you need to wear more or less than usual? If it is a colder climate you may need to pack arm warmers and/or a jacket. If it is hot maybe consider a cap with a neck shade, or a lighter coloured race suit. Consider sunscreen - Sunscreen generally comes with a chemical named PABA. PABA inhibits perspiration, therefore affecting body temperature. Use a sunscreen without the chemical PABA in it. You will find it at most chemists; a common brand in Australia is Sun Sense. Put sunscreen on after numbering over all exposed body parts. It is important to note that this may have a very big affect come race day, especially in warmer climates.

Hot Weather Running

Training… How can you train to best prepare for the climate of race day.

You can and should train for a warmer climate and hot race conditions because the heat creates greater stress on the body. You should note that naturally your heart rate, breathing rate and perceived exertion will be higher than on a similar course in cool conditions.

Heat acclimation training – set up your mag trainer in a small room or shed and use small heaters/urns to heat the room to 30-35degrees Celsius. Practice riding in the hot conditions. Humid conditions may be replicated by using a bathroom and turning on the shower to make it steamy, for example.

When using heat acclimation start from about 8weeks out from the race date and include 2-3 sessions each week in the heated environment. Start with a 40 minute ride on a stationary bike at an easy pace. The body will adapt over time and produce more capillaries (capillarisation) to allow you to sweat more and cool the body. Once this initial adaptation takes place after 3-4 weeks you can add some race type intensity to these sessions as well.

Get, used to riding and running in the hottest part of the day where possible as well.

Doing both these things will allow you to see how your body responds in the conditions and allow you to tweak your nutrition and hydration strategy accordingly.

If it is likely to be cold or wet, experiment with clothing options, and get used to riding on wet roads!

Altitude

You can also train for a race at high altitude and enforce similar stresses on the body. Racing at altitude will naturally create greater overall stress on the body including higher heart rate at any given intensity.

Is the race above sea level? How does that compare to where you live?

Altitude is a tough one, as it is very expensive and often time consuming to replicate a change in altitude without actually moving to higher altitude. Here are a few options for dealing with changes in altitude:

  • Train at altitude – it is no secret that many pros flock to Boulder, Colorado (or similar venue) for 3-4 months a year, to spend time training and racing in thinner air. This may not be achievable for you, but a 3-4 day camp at a higher location will at least give you an idea of what it feels like to operate at altitude. The general view in the latest research is it takes 10-14 days of exposure at altitude to induce any long term performance benefits.There are many ways to improve your chances of a good outcome on race day – specificity in training is the most important of them all. So train to the course and environment of your next race and reap the reward on the day… Train smart, race hard. Laps – Take some time to note the number of laps in each leg. Not only is this good for peace of mind, but again, you can increase the specificity of training by teaching your body to operate in that number of laps… Anecdotal evidence suggests this can have great positive impact on your race outcome.
  • Altitude masks/tents – These seem to be more prominent in the world of professional triathlon… A mask or tent that can be set at higher altitudes and replicate these conditions so you can ‘train at altitude’
  • Hypoxic work – Whilst not specifically ‘altitude’ training this can help teach the body to work with lower amounts of oxygen and increase the strength and efficiency of the lungs and respiratory system. It is only really relevant in swimming. Try breathing less each lap for example: if you usually breathe every 4 strokes do sets where you breathe every 8-10 strokes.
  • Manage your intensity – When you’re actually racing at altitude your heart rate and breathing rate will naturally be higher, so manage your intensity appropriately and scale it back 5-10% so you are more comfortable, try not to get caught up in the fact that your numbers are different to what they ‘should’ be.
Acclimation theories – when should you get there? Jet lag and long haul flights (>6-8hrs) can have a massive affect on how you feel when you get off the plan and these effects can last up to 7-10 days. What can you do to help minimise these effects and help ensure they don’t affect your performance come race day? Ideally you would arrive up to 2 weeks prior to race day, but this isn’t always possible, especially for the age group athlete… So what can you do? Anecdotally, there are a couple of theories around when you should arrive at race location:

  1. Arrive and race within 48 hours. This is based around the idea that it doesn’t give your body enough time to realise what has happened in terms of the time difference and travel time/jet lag.
  2. Allow 7-10 days at the race location (or at least in the same climate/time zone). This allows your body ample time to adjust and recover from the travel, and also allows time for some training sessions in that climate.
  3. Allow one day for every hour of time difference between ‘home’/where you are leaving from and the time at the race venue.
 
There are things you can do when you fly to allow you the best opportunity of arriving at the race venue fresh and ready to race. 
Wear compression on the flight
Compression will improve your blood flow and circulation and help prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis and blood pooling. This will, in turn, help prevent heavy dead legs for the day or two following your flight.
 
Stay hydrated – drink water, juice and electrolyte drinks regularly
The circulated air in aircraft cabins is not very nice… It will leave you dehydrated, so make sure you’re regularly drinking so you’re not dehydrated and lethargic when you get off the plane… Not a good place to be when you’re flying to race!
 
Plan your food intake
Plan to eat as you would at home, you may have to pack familiar food sources or at least source them once you arrive. Pack food for the duration of the travel period and then plan a supermarket visit as soon as possible after you settle at your destination. Further to this, plan your main meals – you wouldn’t eat out each night leading into a local race! Plan snacks throughout the day, especially if you are sightseeing during the days prior to race day.
 
Try to get onto local time ASAP
If you can’t plan your flights conveniently, plan the day you land so you can get onto local time and your body clock can adjust. Try to resist sleeping during the day if you land in the morning for example. The sooner you adapt to local/race time the better!
 
Try a short run or swim on the day you arrive to increase blood flow and get you going.
This will help wake you up and feel like normal again. It will also loosen you up after sitting in cramped conditions and at high altitude.
 
Ride up hill Terrain – Course Profile You need to consider the course profile of the race. Is it a flat course or a hilly course?  A hilly 90km has a different affect on the legs compared to a flat 90km. It might be a hilly ride and flat run, or flat ride and hilly run. Your race day prep should reflect this. Don’t live around any hills? Ensure you have an adequate strength program and you are completing strength efforts with lower cadence <80rpm on flat rides or on the mag trainer… Better still; try to elevate the front wheel when on the mag trainer to increase load on the glutes, for example.
 
Sample strength session on the bike:  
Ride – Mag trainer – Elevate front wheel 15+cm then complete:
15mins warm up slowly building intensity then complete:
4 x 10mins efforts at 70rpm in TT position/5mins spin float at >90rpm
4 x 5mins efforts at 90rpm in TT position/5mins spin float at >90rpm
15mins spin down

 
Surface – A sub consideration of the course profile is the nature of the road surfaces. Are you riding on coarse country roads or smooth hot mix through a major city? You should pick training venues and also your race wheels accordingly. Furthermore, the run surface – is it gravel, road, mown grass? Again, pick your training venues and race shoes accordingly.

Laps – Take some time to note the number of laps in each leg. Not only is this good for peace of mind, but again, you can increase the specificity of training by teaching your body to operate in that number of laps… Anecdotal evidence suggests this can have great positive impact on your race outcome.
 
There are many ways to improve your chances of a good outcome on race day – specificity in training is the most important of them all. So train to the course and environment of your next race and reap the reward on the day… Train smart, race hard.

Talk to your coach about how you can best capitialise on course knowledge. If you’re self coached think about these things, when planning your sessions.

Having an experienced coach is going to help you ensure you’re training is specific. If you’re considering taking your training and racing to another level visit ETPA to see what we can offer.

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One thought on “Journey 20 – Training Specificity: Training to a Course to Maximise Performance

  1. Pingback: The Final Countdown... Finalising your Ironman prep! - Ironman Coaching

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