Have you ever used a race day simulation (sim) training strategy to prepare yourself for race day? Here is a story about a strategy I used to prepare for my very first ironman race, EPIC DARTMOUTH.
I found this to be super effective and used it multiple times throughout my training. It helps me discover my strong points and what I need to improve to get ready for the big day.
During the competitive build of my program, I will have several chances to practice my race day simulation. On this big volume day, I obviously will swim, bike and run consecutively but not to the full distance of an actual ironman. A full ironman is 3.9km swim, a 180km bike and a 42.2km run.
For my sim sessions, I have created a big volume session to practice and with each sim session, they get a little bit bigger as I go further into my training. The ultimate goal is to nail down a race day strategy and fine tune my training by assessing the results of the session.
Below is a big list of important considerations. I also divided this blog up into two parts. Part 1 is the list and Part 2 is a bit of insight after my first race day simulation. I hope you find this information useful for your own training. After reading it, before to post your thoughts or share your experience in the comments.
PART ONE – THE CONSIDERATIONS
IS MY CURRENT TRAINING PLAN ENHANCING MY PERFORMANCE?
This is the key question right here. For the race day simulation session, I have specific performance targets to meet. If I meet them, I want to know what were the contributing factors so I can continue working on improving them. However, if I don’t meet the targets, I also want to know the contributing factors so I can also work at improving them.
To be successful on race day, you need to assess your performance and make sure you are hitting those targets set throughout your plan. If things are off, then you revamp the plan.
For some, that sounds like a hassle. For me, it makes sense and is part of smart training.
DID I GET ENOUGH REST THE NIGHT BEFORE?
I will assess how many hours I slept, the quality of sleep, and how it makes me feel when I’m out there doing my race day simulation session. As we all know, sleep can be a performance enhancer or killer.
What time do I need to go to bed? How can I make sure I can fall asleep and stay asleep? In general, I have a hard time falling asleep. I suffer sometimes from bouts of insomnia. I have been experimenting with melatonin and Valerian root but they don’t work well for me. Therefore, I have developed a natural sleepy time routine to help me cope during times like this.
HOIW MUCH REST DO I NEED?
This topic is so hot among coaches and athletes. I have read several of Joe Friel’s books, including ‘The Triathlete’s Training Bible‘ and even he admits there is no one right answer. Every single athlete needs to develop their own strategy.
I have questions I need to find answers to that will help me perform the best on race day. Should I take a full day off right before race day? Do I rest two days before and then do a short active recovery workout the day before? Or instead of an active recovery workout, maybe I do pick-ups instead? My race day simulation sessions will help me figure this out.
AM I PREPARED?
Imagine showing up on Ironman race day without having tested your gear or nutrition. What a crapshoot that would be.
The race day simulation is treated just like a race, giving me the opportunity to test all my gear and nutrition. I can take notes of what works, what didn’t, what other things I need or what do I need to subtract. Triathletes can get really nerdy here as this stuff can make or break your race.
I have created a checklist and after this big day is done, I will update it with everything I need to do, or not do, for the next race day simulation session.
WHAT IS MY NUTRITION AND HYDRATION STRATEGY?
As mentioned, going into a race without practicing your nutrition strategy is a mistake. I will test out what I will be eating and drinking on race day. How often will I eat and drink? The race simulation will give me a chance to see this affects my performance and my belly.
Also, how will I carry food and water with me on the course? I don’t want to be bogged down with packages and containers. Of course, for race simulation, I won’t have people to hand me food and water. However, I can stash this along my training route or I can carry it with me. I will have to decide.
HOW WILL I MANAGE T1 AND T2?
I always joke about transition, as if you look at my races, generally I’m very quick here, even placed in the 2nd or 3rd quickest to transition in some races. I say if I can’t be fast on course, at least I can be fast in transition.
For some reason, I’m very focused on the transitions. I can easily switch from one thing to another. Must be a reflection of how I am cause I’m like that in normal daily life. When I’m focused I can operate really efficiently. It’s just getting focused that’s the key.
While this is my least worried about the area to practice it’s still an important one. If I’m looking to shave some time, here is where I can do it easily. It doesn’t use up much precious energy either so I can save more of that for when I’m on course.
WHAT ARE MY RACE DAY PACE AND HR ZONES?
If you wanna trash your expectations on race day, not knowing or setting your pace and heart rate zones is a great way to do it. I test on a regular basis throughout my training to keep these updated and adjust them as needed so I can hit my training targets.
The race day simulation gives me a chance to practice what I have set. When I assess my data afterwards, I will know where I can improve and what I can manage. An ironman is an endurance race, so I will spend most of my time in Z2. However, I need to know how much I can tolerate in the higher zones without burning all my matches too early in the race.
In addition to that, you have to fuel these zones properly. Not eating enough and spending too much in Z3+ is a great fantastic recipe for an early bonk. I want to cross the finish line strong, not suffering.
HOW WILL I TACKLE THE HILLS, UP AND DOWN?
Charging every hill during training is one thing. Charging every hill in a 17-hour race is another. Knowing the total elevation of the entire course and each hill helps me train for those hills.
My race day simulation course will mimic some of these hills. I will have to pay attention to my heart rate while climbing so I don’t ruin myself. Going down needs similar attention. I will have to try and relax but also capitalize off the descent and free speed. It’s not to be taken for granted. Believe it or not, you can wreck yourself both ways.
HOW WILL I DEAL WITH HEADWIND AND CAPITALIZE OFF TAILWINDS?
I hate headwind more than I hate false flats. It’s a mental game. I feel so defeated. So during my race day sim, I need to practice two things here. First, I need to stay out of that negative headspace as it kills my performance. Second, I need to practice better form, which is also mental. I know what good form looks like but when I get cranky, my form goes to shit.
Tailwinds always puts a smile on my face but I tend to spend too much precious energy here. I turn into a complete hammerhead. This is counterproductive even though I’m gaining speed because later in the race, it will come back and bit me in the ass.
With all that said, I will have to put in a solid effort sticking to my race plan and stay in that positive headspace. It’s easier than it sounds. Unfortunately, it is my weakest link.
HOW WILL I DEAL WITH THE WEATHER?
I figure I’ll be cold on the bike to start, coming straight out of the water, and hot by the time I get to the run. Doing an ironman in the summer, it can get super hot on the bike and run.
I mind the cold more than the heat. I can condition myself quite well to handle humid temperatures. However, with high heat comes the risk of heat stroke and dehydration.
And then there’s the wind, rain, and anything else that could happen that day. To help me prepare for various conditions, I train in it. If it’s a crappy day outside, I still go. I look at it as an opportunity to learn something new that will make me a better athlete.
So no matter what the weather brings on my race day sim, I’m completing the session as planned.
HOW DO I KEEP MY MIND STRONG?
As I said earlier, this can be a tough one for me. One thing I keep telling myself is if my mind is strong, my body will be strong. If my mind is weak, my body will be weak. Stay strong!
It’s not easy for me to get out of the negative headspace. For some reason, I get fixated on it. I really have to dig deep to turn this around.
I know on race day sim I’ll be faced with this. Maybe putting a sticker on my handlebars that says “toughen the f@ck up” will help? 🤣
WHAT IS MY RECOVERY ROUTINE?
Recovery is one of my strongest points. If you take too much, you lose too much fitness. If you don’t do it long enough, you hinder progress. This is highly individualistic.
Over the years, I have found that true active recovery, in zone 1, is best for me. I do activities such as walking, slow bike rides on flat terrain, restorative yoga, and so on. I find these types of workouts are great for feeding my soul. I can slow down and know that it is doing me good.
ASSESS TO PROGRESS
Why even bother doing a race day sim is you are not going to analyze your data and performance afterwards, right? That is one of the main reasons to do this session. I will gain incredible insight to help me level up my training for the next block. Ignoring this would be an incredible waste of an opportunity to improve.
PART TWO – THOUGHTS AFTER MY FIRST RACE DAY SIM SESSION
On Saturday, March 30th, 2012, I planned my first race day simulation. This one was time-based using set pace targets to cover a certain distance in the stated time.
I planned a 30 minute swim + 3.5-hour bike + 2-hour run = 6 hour training session, not including the warm up, cool down, and transition (T1 & T2).
WHAT WENT WELL?
To my surprise, I slept well. This helped me to be super motivated to get started. I felt great on the swim and met my targets. That’s pretty much it.
Yup, a lot of lessons where learned on this first race day simulation session.
WHAT DO I NEED TO IMPROVE?
I need new shoes! My feet hurt like hell when I finished and I had blisters. Due to the weather, I could not wear the gear I will wear on race day. I will have to practicing in that starting next sim session.
I should have started hydrating the day before. While on the bike leg, I will need to set a timer to remind me drink as I often day dream and forget.
Breakfast was eaten too close to my start time, so I’ll have to do that as soon as I get out of bed for the next session.
Fueling my run needs work, specifically on getting more quick easy-to-digest carbs into my system.
In trying to keep pace, my heart rate was too high on the run and really struggled with getting it down. I ended up walking a few times to bring it down but then it went up again once I started running. This doesn’t surprise me as it’s something that I have been trying to work on outside of triathlon training.
My transition times could not be considered due to the fact that I was doing this session in March, when we still have snow in Nova Scotia. Therefore, T1 (swim to bike) was about 20 minutes because I had to blow dry my hair. It was cold out side and I didn’t want to go with a wet head. I also had a nice visit from Tim and Eli in transition, which was awesome as they came down to see me off.
My T2 (bike to run) was also slow, about 10 minutes. I’ll be honest here, I had several pauses about going out the door, even sat at the kitchen table for about 4 minutes with head in hands thinking, “What the f^&k am I doing.” A real “fail” moment. Remember when I previously mentioned about that negative headspace. Well here it is!
But I quickly remembered what it is I’m trying to do here with this journey and out the door I went. It blows my mind how powerful the mind is and effects you at every level. Training is definitely not just physical. It’s just as much mental. I know that if I work on improving my mindset, I will accomplish what I want.
WHAT SHOULD I OMIT?
I taught an aqua running class the night before which I feel negatively impacted my performance. It was just too much. The cool thing is I learned that I need to keep an activity I do the day before light and short.
Apricots on the run do not work for me. Wow, I ended up with a super gassy stomach. One of the things I am trying to do for this race is eat only whole foods. I might have to sway on this a bit. Fueling my body is more important than this statement I’m trying to make. Before I give up on it though, I will try some other alternatives.
THE DAYS AFTER?
I was very tired and took a complete rest day. Surpringly, I was a bit sore too. The second day after, I ran a bit in a my fundraiser ‘April Fool’s Fun Run’. I am doing my ironman to raise money for PRO Kids Lunenburg County.
For the rest of the week, I found myself tired but it was more than the session. It’s was also my menstrual cycle, so I decided to turn it into a recovery week. I had a fun group ride for Good Friday around Apsotogan and Saturday morning was an easy run with the ladies through Riverport.
WHAT CAN I DO BETTER FOR MY NEXT SIM SESSION?
I shall not get dressed in the ladies room out of the pool as it’s too hot. I was soaked with sweat by the time I got on my bike. Then I froze as the wind was cold and sharp, blowing through my clothes. I biked from Lunenburg to Riverport and ended up stopping by my house to change my clothes. I should also mention that I had two of my cycling buddies joining me on the ride, Steve and Bruce. I am forever thankful for their support.
Setting up aid stations along my running route ahead of time will help me fuel better. I don’t want to carry anything as I run more efficiently that way. I started to slow down at the 8km mark due to being underfuelled. The last few steps to my driveway were tough.
Putting more emphasis on getting organized will help me to improve these sessions. I thought I had everything prepared but as the session unfolded, it become apparent I dropped the ball.
I had all my food but none of my water bottles. When I changed my clothes I grabbed my bottles. I also stopped on the bike more times than I had planned to pee but a few other times it was to eat and just to have a 5 minute break. Probably about 10-15 minutes of time was wasted. I do not include all this time as riding time either, so a 3.5 hour ride ended up being almost 4 hours. All of this is time and energy wasted.
MY PERSONAL ASSESSMENT
Because I didn’t complete my 2-hour run and the sim session was not fully completed. I also did not meet my pace targets except on the swim. I dragged my ass on the bike and struggled physically and mentally with the never-ending cold headwind which ripped right through me.
To sum it up, I was unhappy with the way I handled myself. I already know that my weakest link is my mind. It needs to be a top priority from hereonin.
Maybe I’m like this because I doubt myself. My man constantly tells me that I have the physically ability but my mind is my biggest obstacle. It trickles down to everything, even things such as giving myself excuses to stop for a 5-minute break on the bike. That is not effective.
The biggest lesson I learned was I need to strengthen my mind. Unfortunately, that’s probably the most difficult thing to improve. I can train harder. I can push the distance. For some reason, when I get in that negative space, I become trapped.
On a positive note, this is my first race day sim session for an ironman. I have several more opportunities to practice. Each one will teach me something new. I know what I have to do. Hopefully by July 1st, 2012 I’ll have it all down pat.
I have to keep telling myself that this is not just about the race…it’s really about the journey.