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.
ONE Week Before
One week before your event and if you haven’t started to taper off your training into the event, do so now - the hard sessions are done, it’s time to let all that work soak in. The following seven days training can be viewed in a couple of different ways.
The first is that having a good taper is not as simple as doing things ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ as both of these take many forms. Instead, things are simply more or less likely to help your race; focus on doing less of the things that will have a negative affect on your performance. Most try to get everything right but it’s much easier to see the things that won’t help your performance than the many things that will. For example, there are loads of foods that could help you race well, so the choice can be hard. However, most of us will realise that a take away, or avoiding meals in the run up to the race is a poor choice, so avoiding these things will help you make better decisions. Get this right by staying mindful about the choices you make.
Secondly, over the coming seven days remember that less is more. It’s hard to under-do your training over these several days, but very easy to over-do it. Remember, you won’t get any fitter in the week before the race without causing so much fatigue that the fitness will be neutralised by tiredness. Discretion is the better part of valour here, so don’t push it in training. Spend the first 3 days of the week training as often as you would but, sessions that are 50-60% shorter and contain 50-60% less work. For the final 4 days, reduce even more taking the day two days before the race off (i.e. Friday, if racing on Sunday). We’ll discuss one day to go in the next article, but across the week before, you can use the extra time to sleep.
The Welsh Super Series contains both sprint and standard distance triathlons and, on the surface, they appear to be very similar events. However, when thinking about what you should eat to achieve your best performance, they are significantly different. Loading up on carbohydrate before a race hasn’t been shown to improve race performance for sprint distance, but it can make a significant difference over standard distance. In the week before all events you should aim to eat a good quality, unprocessed food, but what should you do differently? For sprint distance races, maintain your normal training diet for the first day or two of the week to support recovery from your last hard sessions. Over the next few days, simply reduce portion size slightly, to reflect the fact that you are training less. In the 48hrs before the event, make sure you build your meals round foods such as rice, cous cous, cereals, pasta or other grains as these foods contain carbohydrates which will support your performance – but don’t over eat, keep portions light. For standard distance, you simply want to add a few more carbohydrates in the 2-3 days before the race (i.e. Thursday and Friday before a Sunday race). This doesn’t mean 10 bowls of pasta, add a bit of honey to your cereal, eat a banana instead of nuts for a snack and maybe drink a light energy drink if you don’t feel you can eat more. The other crucial change is that while normally, you want to eat wholegrain carbs, for these few days, more processed cereals, breads, pasta or rice is ok, as it will allow you to get the energy in without the fibre that will leave you feeling full and possibly increase the risk of stomach issues on the day. The key with carb-loading is that its not really loading at all, just a few small tweaks.
In the 7 days before the race simply drink little and often to maintain hydration. Urine colour gives a reasonable representation of how hydrated you are, so make sure you drink enough that it is pale. If you often find that sweating leaves a salty residue on your skin and also the weather the week of the race is hot, then you might want to add some salt to foods while drinking water or add hydration tabs to the water you drink. You don’t need to go crazy with this, just a couple of pinches of salt will be enough for most. If you are a tea or coffee drinker and usually take caffeine to aid perforamance on race day, then you might also want to back off these beverages during the week as this may heighten the effect of the caffeine come the event. Lastly, larger amounts of alcohol can have a dehydrating effect and also stop the body burning carbohydrate and fat, so aim to cut back on this in the day’s before too.
The extra time created by less training is best used for visualisation and preparing your mind for the race ahead. This has been shown to be a powerful tool for enhancing performance and one that you shouldn’t ignore. If you haven’t already, use the week before the race for the following:
- Highlight one or two goals for each part of the race. These could be times, or performances against known rivals or holding a particular pace or power. There’s no right or wrong, just highlight an aspect that you are largely in control of.
- Work out what your motivation is. For some people, achieving the set goal is enough, others will need a reason for chasing the goal. Maybe it’s for your family, yourself, or to raise awareness of a cause, it doesn’t matter what you chose and should be whatever you personally find a powerful motivator.
- For some, you might also want to plan a strategy of what to think about at certain times in the race. This psychological ‘map’ will keep you focussed on the things that you should be thinking about. All this sounds a lot or work, but you should be able to do it quicker than it has taken me to write these words and is the cherry on the cake that you have prepared though your training; it also means you have a structure you can practise…
- …Practise your race mindset! Sitting or lying in a quiet space, close your eyes and run through every aspect of your race. What will you be doing and thinking about at all the key points in your performance? Some elite atheltes will rehearse their race in real time and do this so often they can imagine it taking place at the same pace it will in reality. Doing this means you can race an event you have never done before but feel like you have done it many times.
The week before your race can make or break how you perform on the day, but following the simple tips listed above you can not just break even, but actually enhance your performance. Putting yourself under a little bit of pressure to get things right in the days before can help you to be able to relax when it comes to the race itself.
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) @HartreeJetsTri https://www.facebook.com/hartreejetstri/