The food you eat, how you physically prepare your body and your mindset are all major contributors to your race day performance. In this series, we will take a brief look at what you should be focusing on in each area ONE month before, ONE week before, ONE day before and ONE hour before. Put these together and you’ll increase your chances of racing well on the big day.
If you’ve got to one hour before your event and you haven’t started to train yet, I think we can all agree that you may have left it a little too late to start! However, you can still make a huge difference to how you race in this last hour, so let’s look about how you can physically prepare your body to race to it’s best.
Unlike many other endurance events, effort level in triathlons doesn’t build from the gun, instead, race starts can be frenetic with many athletes going from static to over threshold in a matter of seconds. Despite this, too few triathletes have a structured, warm-up routine, planned to fit in around the timings for the event and with the aim of priming the body to perform optimally as soon as the race starts.
To use a motoring analogy, a rigorous warm-up is important because at rest the body is essentially in park mode and needs exercise to switch it over into drive. An hour before the race, your brain is sending signals to you heart to slow it down; it does this all the time. Your resting HR might be 60-70, but this is because your body reduces it to what it needs, a warm-up will firstly, alter these signals so that that heart rate can increase - you could think of it as taking the handbreak off. Now the warm-up can really kick in as the heart is then able to pump more blood around the body, increasing the flow of oxygen and sugars (glucose) to the muscles to power your performance. Muscle temperature will increase allowing better energy production and tissue elasticity which will reduce the risk of injury. Also, a warm-up will allow your brain to start sending electric impulses to your muscles, activating them to work more powerfully and precisely. Finally, a warm-up gives you the opportunity to get into a race mindset, but more on that later.
So, with ONE hour to go, what does a good warm-up routine look like? While it can take many forms and will be individual any good warm-up should contain the following elements:
- Increasingly intense sport specific movements with the aim of rising heart rate gradually and increasing body temperature, breathing rate and blood flow. This can be as simple as a jog round the car park at the event. However, it would be better to combine this with increasingly effortful running drills. Using only running drills can also be a good tactic at race venues that are short of space. Heel flicks, high knees, straight leg runs and skipping are all exercise that are useful in this first phase.
- You should then move onto work designed to activate your muscles. Glute bridges, lunge to high knee, gorilla walks, balance work for fine motor activation and core stability exercises to make sure your postural muscles are switched on.
- You should then move onto higher intensity movements designed to mimic the intensity that your body will be asked to work at in the race. Plyometric movements such as squat jumps or bounds, short acceleration runs above race pace and longer runs of 2-3mins at race intensity will all prime your body for the race.
It should be possible to fit all of this into about 20mins and this is the minimum time needed to warm-up effectively. However, you are a triathlete and will start with a swim not a run. Therefore a warm-up such as that described above will work to generally ready your body for action. However, you should then allow 5-10mins to do an upper body version of this to move the blood into your upper body and get it ready for the swim start.
After all this, allow 5-10mins to relax before the race begins. This can be the time where you do the upper half of your wetsuit up, check your goggles, or just relax and get ready for the race ahead.
ONE hour before a race seems to be a popular time for triathletes to take on board nutrition. In actual fact, it’s quite a poor time to load the body with carbohydrate. In our last article, we looked at what you should eat with ONE day to go. If you have followed these guidelines, then you’re well hydrated and your energy stores are nearly full. So, what else can you do to help you perform at your best? Caffeine is a supplement that has been shown to increase sporting performance. It takes about 20mins to start to work and peaks after about an hour, therefore, the best time to take caffeine before a race (if you have practised with it in training) is 45-60mins before the gun goes off. Caffeine supplements come in many forms such as gels, drinks, tablets, or gum. Some atheltes find (and research suggests) that a small amount of carbohydrate (usually simple carbohydrate such as CLIF Gels or Blocks) before the start can help performance in the early stages of the race. This should be taken in the 10-15mins before the race starts, therefore, of the caffeine options listed above, the tablets and gum might be optimal (with carbs from a separate gel/Bloks) as then you are able to take caffeine one hour before and carbs 10-15mins before.
Getting eating and drinking right is largely about doing it early, therefore, much like the last section you should be hydrated and ready to go. In the ONE Hour before a race, it’s largely about not drinking too much rather than drinking a specific amount. Just because it’s in you, doesn’t mean that it’s hydrating you and your gut can only utilise about 200mls of fluid every 20mins or so, therefore, necking 500ml of water 20mins before the event isn’t going to help you much. For both sprint and standard, don’t over drink during this hour, simply sip to stay hydrated rather than with the aim of getting hydrated, and add sodium to your drinks so that it is better absorbed by your body.
Results between you and athletes of a similar ability will be split on who gets their nutrition and mindset right on the day. Having looked that the first of these, we also need to turn our attention to thinking correctly.
How you do this will be highly individual, but the key for all is often to a) stay calm and b) find one focus point (an anchor) that you can keep coming back to. Finding this, is often the way to stay calm. By now the physical and mental work is done, you have trained for months and you should have made and practised you race plan many times over the last 7 days, becoming too distracted and worried will not help you to perform at your best, or enjoy the experience.
You have two brains, one more primal and one a more rational, thoughtful brain. The key is to use a plan or an anchor to keep the more considered brain in control. Anchors can come in many forms; some will focus on their overall goal – why they are racing. Others may shrink into themselves and focus on their preparation moment by moment. Some will focus on physical sensations like breathing, while others will want to follow a strict plan. The key is to know that your brain will naturally want to run away with thoughts, feeling and worries, and you need a tactic to manage this, so that you do prepare in the way you need to without distraction.
With the ONE hour to go, make a decision to not allow this more impulsive brain to take charge, from now on, this is the race and you will manage your mindset by finding an anchor and keeping your goals and motivation in the forefront of you mind. This should allow you to feel in control and in so doing, reduce your feelings of worry and stress.
If all else fails, remember that when we boil it down, it’s a swim, bike and run, you’ve probably done a fair bit of all of these, so how bad can it be!?
You can see that the ONE Hour before a race is a busy time. Make sure you manage this by planning and working from pre-written timelines and lists on the big day. Doing this will reduce anxiety by reducing the need to think about that you have to do when and the worry associated with remembering everything you need to.
The ideas and suggestions written below are the opinions of Joel Enoch, an award winning triathlon coach for the Hartree JETS, 9-time GB Age-group triathlete, 2 x Great Swim/Run winner and CLIF Bar’s paid nutritional ambassador in the UK. This article is provided for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or care. The contents of this article are not intended to make health or nutrition claims about Clif Bar & Company products. Always seek the advice of a Doctor or other qualified health provider before beginning any physical fitness or health and nutrition related activity. @ClifBar #feedyouradventure @joel_enoch (twitter) @tricoachjoel (Instagram) @HartreeJetsTrihttps://www.facebook.com/hartreejetstri/