Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Race plans and reports

Back in college I had a piano teacher who had this advice for memorizing music: Take your music to bed. If you are like most people you enjoy a bit of reading at bedtime. You probably see it as a way to relax. A psychologist might be more interested in how being engrossed in a story allows your mind to transition from wakefulness to drowsiness without tripping over replay after replay of the day's stressors. What my teacher had discovered was that this also aided in memorization. How? Does it matter? The point is, it works, almost as if by magic. The deeper a piece of music is memorized, the less stressful the performance. The music just seems to flow out. This is not to say the performance will be flawless. There will always be unexpected challenges. But, the better the preparation, the smoother the result.

There is a valuable lesson here for endurance athletes. A lot can happen in the course of a long event. It goes without saying that the longer the event, the more unpredictable it will be. We tend to think of preparation in terms of the workouts we have done to prepare for the event. Triathletes love to throw down the word "specificity" to show that they understand the importance of adjusting their training to match the physical challenges a particular event poses. A well executed build and peak are essential to a successful race, but a comprehensive race plan is equally essential in achieving a successful outcome. You can wing it when it comes to a one hour bike ride, but that kind of casual approach to endurance racing is a recipe for disaster. In fact, a long, strenuous workout will benefit from careful planning just as much as a race. It is no fun heading into a third hour on a bike ride having packed a two hour supply of fluids and no source of water in sight.

An effective race plan is more than a few notes scribbled down the day before the race. The plan will begin to come into focus as the training progresses through the build period. Workouts in this period will be increasingly like the efforts required in the race. If the bike course is hilly, bike workouts must include similar climbs. If the run will spend significant time on grass, as does the Ironman 70.3 Hawaii, the athlete must practice running on grass, in the mid-day heat. It is at this time that realistic performance numbers will appear.

At around one week out from race day the act of writing a race plan should feel more like documenting what has been taking place the last few weeks. The simple act of writing it down works the same kind of magic as reading at bedtime by organizing what feels like a swarming cloud of disjunct thoughts and fears. Details come into focus. Contingencies are considered -- what if the day is rainy, what if I flat a second time, what if my heart rate is higher than expected, what if ... The more you plan for, the less stressful the situation will be should it happen to you, and, more important, the less you will worry about it.

Writing out a race plan goes a long way towards reducing stress on race day. Reviewing and tweaking the plan will do even more. Use the process to visualize the event, beginning with your plan for how to get you and all your stuff to the start line. A good plan will include pacing along with expected values for heart rate and power. Tricky turns, places where wind can be an issue, location of aid stations. The details depend on the nature of the course. Reviewing and improving your plan will allow you to internalize the details so that during the race it will flow like the lyrics of a favorite song.

Equally important to a good plan is a thoughtful race report. It is here that you document what went well and what did not. The successes and failures, large and small, will become input to your next race plan.

Here are a couple examples, my race plan and report for this year's Hapalua Half Marathon, and for Ironman 70.3 Hawaii last year. I am not saying they are perfect, but they can serve as a starting point for your own plans and reports.

My 2017 Hapalua Half Marathon race plan

My 2017 Hapalua Half Marathon race report

My 2016 Honu race plan

My 2016 Honu race report

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