We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success. ~Thoreau
It’s time to start thinking about race day and what you can do in the next two weeks to be as ready as you can be. It’s easy to fall into panic mode now. Panic leads in one of two directions. One road is frantic over training, somehow trying to make up for months of missed sessions. Athletes try to cram in long sessions of intense workouts that leave them exhausted, sore, and sometimes injured. A second road is quitting. Out of fear, athletes simply give up and quit training all-together, essentially ensuring that they will underperform as a means to find something to control.
Neither of these roads leads to the successful conclusion you are hoping for in these final weeks. There is a right way to prepare for this race in the final couple of weeks, and if you do these last two weeks well, you will perform at your peak. The process you are going to begin this week is called tapering. The idea is to slowly dial back the length of workouts while maintaining intensity. If you have been training regularly and consistently through the triathlon season, then this week it is time to start the process.
A good benchmark might be to train through this week completing 70-80% of your total workout time, dedicating about 60-90 minutes of this time to high intensity workouts, riding, running, or swimming at race pace. Thus if you train five hours per week, you can drop the total time to four hours this week. Ten hours per week dials back to 7-8 hours this week. You might try training 15 minutes per day at very high intensity, near your maximum effort or do a couple of longer high intensity sessions interspersed with more moderate efforts. The point is to maintain your current levels of fitness without creating more physical breakdown.
Next week is race week, and it is then that you really need to reduce your training load. Training sessions should be brief with very short periods of high intensity, 5-10 minutes. You should feel physically strong, well-rested, and frankly restless. At the end of each workout you might ask yourself, is that it? You should want to do more. If you do not, you are not rested enough. You must allow this restlessness to build, allow your body to feel good, to be fully recovered. You will want to do something, go play, burn up some of your extra energy. Resist this impulse.
Tapering is a tricky business, and it may take you a few races to determine what routine works best for you. The level at which you have prepared determines the number of days you will need. Honestly assess your level of exhaustion. If you have really been pushing hard during this season, then it is time to cut back. If your workouts have been hit or miss all along, then you probably need cut back for only a few days and can maintain levels this week.
You can also go a long way toward making this work by eating well, hydrating effectively, and getting plenty of rest. These last two weeks are more about what’s going on in your head and less about physical training. You have put in hundreds of physical miles over the past few months. You have a thousand miles to go, but most of them are in your head. Run this race in your head over and over and see yourself finish. See the race go exactly the way you want it to go. Do this every day.
As your body rests, your mind takes over and controlling your fear and visualizing your way to success remains the final long road. When the panic sets in, see it for what it is and take control. Don’t over train. See yourself finishing the race, crossing the finish line a triathlete! It’s the finish that counts.
The major reason for setting a goal is for what it makes of you to accomplish it. What it makes of you will always be the far greater value than what you get. ~Jim Rohn
As a side note, many of you know that I badly injured my knee this week on a run. I so appreciate all of your good wishes and support. I have received a shot of cortisone to reduce the inflammation, and it is my hope that this temporary measure will provide enough relief so that I can meet my own goals in the race. But regardless of the outcome of this treatment, I want you to know that I will be there with you at the Danskin. Just like you, on that day I will do what I can with what I have been given. As I do every year, I will throw my heart to the finish line and then go retrieve it. And no matter the outcome, I will find the lesson in the day and the strength of my teammates. This Danskin, like all the others before it, will be a day filled with love and pride, dirt and sweat, hugs and tears, and most importantly, dear friends old and new. Thank you for being there for me this week and for joining me on race day. I will need you there, as you do so much to lift my heart and speed me home. I could not do this without you.
Train safety, hydrate, stretch, eat well, sleep.
Safe journey. Wind at your back.