Race Day strategy: Are you planning right?
We're about to get all Type A up in here.
Let me open up by saying I am typically very type B oriented, (shocking, to those that know me, I'm sure) but when it comes to race day and race prep I do my best to flip that switch from "go with the flow" to "I own the flow". Many athletes out there either consciously or subconsciously map out their race day in advance. How that map is made, when, and how much detail goes into it, is what separates a detailed road atlas from the maze on the back of the kids menu I solved with a crayon last week.
So what exactly is a Race plan?
The race day plan is your guide to how your race is going to go. A successful training plan is thought out, purpose built, and structured. Your race day plan should be the same. Depending on how important, and what type of race it is, this can be as long as a 3 day schedule all the way down to a 3 hour plan of attack. If you are planning on a Kona qualifying full Iron you want to consider being on the longer side, and if it's a last minute local sprint your friend (who secretly is hoping to take you down) talked you into; it might be adequate to go with a shorter plan. Just like your training plan, you should aim for 95% completions of your Race plan, of course with a race comes variables. In a sport with 3 disciplines and 2 transitions to worry about, there is a lot of variables that can affect your plan.
Dealing with variables
This is where attention to detail plays MVP. The more specific you become in your race plan, the less room you leave for variables to throw you off your groove on race day. You obviously won't want to sit down and list every possible outcome during the race (as much as I love racing that sounds miserable) but you can write down things that will help you mentally be ready for almost anything. For example you can write in your plan how you will react to getting a flat tire, getting kicked in the face in the water, getting distracted by the attractive brunette who is now chicking you, and other somewhat common mishaps. The more detail you put in your plan, the less variables there will be to interfere with your race.
Structuring your plan
If starting days in advance, write out what and when your nutrition will be for the days leading into the race. Consider what your workouts are, when you are dropping off your bike, and when you a picking up your packet. This seems excessive but when all planned out you can eliminate unnecessary stress that can effect your performance. Factor in bed time, wake up time, and drive times. If there are special circumstances like a split transition, be detailed on your process of organizing your set ups. Race day is where it all comes together. This is where you start inputing strategies. Be thorough in all elements of the race, how you plan on attacking (or holding back) how your body is going to feel and what is going through your head.
- Swim exit/T1: swimming till my fingers touch, out of breath from pushing the last 200m to the shore trying to put some distance on the guy leaching onto my toes. Standing up and slow jog while I lift my goggles and then unzip my wetsuit. Cap and goggles off, pulling wetsuit down to half mask as I run, I am briefly disoriented but pick up the pace passing a few competitors as I make my way to T1- facing my bike I slip on my sunglasses first, followed by my helmet and step out of my wetsuit simultaneously. Once helmets clipped, grab bike and pull through rack. *Shoes pre-mounted.
- Bike: Putting that flying mount I have been practicing to good use. Head looking forward, hand on saddle, then both hands on the handle bars, a hop and I am off! Made sure bike is in a good gear for the hill out of T1 during set up. I ride up the hill with my feet on my shoes, taking care to not push too hard with the excitement of being on the bike. After cresting the hill I slide my feet into my shoes one at a time. Once I am in, I pick up to race pace. Feeling the effort. Legs are starting to warm up and feel "good." Controlling my breathing and pace, I hunker down for the 25 mile ride.....
As you can see there is detail in whats going on in the race, how I am feeling, and some input to competitors around me. If you are writing a plan for a race you have done in the past, or one whose course you know, you can be more conscious of how the course will play a part in the race.
Putting your plan to use
After you have figured out your plan, and have it all written down, it's time to put it to use. My recommendation, put this plan together at least a week in advance. Use this plan as a tool to mentally prepare you for your race. Read it. Love it. Put it on your fridge. Show it to your dog *can substitute neighbors dog if you don't have one. Reading your race plan should take your mind into race mode, and subsequently your body. When done right you should feel your heart rate climb and your muscles start to fire.
Sometimes things don't go according to plan, this is where you need to incorporate a little bit-o type B into your life. If you fumble in transition, don't stress. Do what Franky says, relax, and execute your plan to the best of your ability. Aim for 95% plan completion but be willing to work with unknowns, and be adaptable.
There you have it. You can put your pencil down know. If you have a coach, and they are not asking for race plans, write one anyways. Send it to them so they can make sure they are in line with what your plan is, and see if they have anything they would like to adjust. Then get out there and execute!