Overcoming Race Shock
by Coach Matt Russ
Does this sound familiar? You just finished one of the first short course races of your season, and in the proceeding days you find yourself very fatigued. Your muscles and joints are stiff and sore. Your performance did not meet your expectations. Towards the end of the race your speed faded drastically and you may have experienced muscle cramping. You just wanted to get through it and were no longer racing it. Overall it was a much harder effort than you were used to and a shock to your system.
This should be your wake up call; you are not training at intensities or durations that mimic that of your races. You will always push yourself slightly harder in a race. This is due to the group pressures and scrutiny that competition produces (
If it is an early season race don't fret, you still have plenty of time to prepare and this is somewhat typical to be slightly under prepared for a non goal event. But if the race was a goal or peak event, or closely approaching one, then it is time to reassess your training. Your training should gradually stair step in volume (duration and intensity) leading to the event you want to perform your best at. This is called peaking and it is a delicate process.
Duration increase or endurance is relatively easy to plan for. You add a bit of distance or time to your plan each week then reduce it every third or fourth week to allow full recovery. If timed correctly your last long run or ride should be a few weeks prior to your race depending on distance. If your goal is simply to complete an event with no performance expectations this is the only substrate you really need to target.
Speed is much harder to come by. Intensity requires a fair amount of technical knowledge to properly implement into your training plan. There are a few simple rules to follow though. Rule one is that as intensity increases so should rest. You must build more recovery into your plan as you progress your intensity. Rule two is that the longer the duration of a high intensity effort, the longer the rest period must be to recover from it. Some work outs may require several days of recovery from. Rule three is that you can not train at high intensity every day, or even back to back to a large extent. In the final phases of peaking you may only be able to recover from three to four intense work outs per week, or one per discipline. And rule four is that the most intense work outs should be race like and occur right before your race taper.
Obviously this places a much greater importance on fewer work outs. These "key" work outs will be the ones that get you faster. However, if you are not recovered enough to allow quality training you will not be able to complete them as prescribed. It is very easy to get stale or over reach with multiple days of hard training. It is also hard mentally to cut back on your weekly hours. To peak properly a lot of things have to come together.
One of my favorite work outs for my short course athletes is a race simulation a week or two prior to a goal event. This work out is a shortened version of a race and should mimic a race in every aspect. This includes mental preparation, intensity, course, and fueling and hydration. It is a work out to get all the kinks worked out prior to the race. This work out also gives the athlete confidence and helps them form a pacing strategy.
By following the rules and properly preparing for your races you will have more confident going into them. They will never be easy, and you will always be fatigued, but a race is far more enjoyable if you are properly prepared.Matt Russ has coached and trained elite athletes from around the country and internationally for over ten years. He currently holds expert licenses from