Thursday, July 12, 2018

Should You Be Blurring The Lines Between Training And Racing?

Sometimes it's good to take a look across different sports and see what we can learn, and if there's a different way of doing things.

If you are a distance swimmer or triathlete you might lay out your season with some A races that get you motivated and in which you want your best performance. During the build up you will probably include some B and C races to get yourself "race sharp" and become familiar with the feelings and adrenaline of racing again. But fundamentally you train to get fit and then race for results.

Swim 8 races in 7 days? Yes you certainly get fit fast!
Obviously this works for many swimmers but this way of looking at things isn't universal in sport. In fact in the culture of many endurance sports, athletes use the motivation (and pleasure) of racing to "race themselves fit". In cycling for example many athletes simply ride long base endurance rides in training and then race every weekend (and sometimes midweek too) to develop their top-end speed. These events might be road races, circuit races or a local time-trial series.

Of course a race provides you with instant motivation and the competitive environment helps you to really push yourself. You might well find you are fitter than you thought, breaking you out of a psychological rut that you didn't even realise you are in - "I'm just not that fit yet".

Low key races normally have a fun social side too and having that comparison against other athletes helps you judge your progress and gives you an awareness of where you are at. You will accrue racing experience much more quickly too - developing vital skills such as your pace judgement and tactical awareness.

So there are some huge upsides to this approach. However, it does provide some challenges - mostly psychological:

- You may be used to tapering down to race and feel that you need to do so to race anywhere near your best. Of course you simply can't do that if you are racing frequently, by resting up every week you will lose too much training. Instead you have to get used to the fact you can race with some training fatigue in your system. Interestingly you may well discover you can still perform at a high level without a taper - in fact if you normally (unknowingly) over-taper, you may actually perform better!

- Over the winter and in the early season you also have to get your head around the fact that you are not going to be in peak fitness and that your performances will not be as fast as they will be for your A race. If you are worried what your friends and competitors will think then you need to swallow your pride and get over yourself - nobody cares that much and nor should you. Learn to shrug like Mega Megan Shrug - "whatever" - and get out there and get the benefits of racing!

So what are we saying then? Should everyone look to gain fitness through racing frequently as a mainstay of your preparation? Not quite, we would say that it is a perfectly valid way of getting fit, that is a lot of fun and has a lot of advantages. It's going to depend a bit on your situation and if you have regular racing opportunities on your doorstep. But fundamentally don't overlook this route as a possibility, it could be just the shake-up to your preparation you need.

Paul's Experience At The Best Fest

As an example of this race-to-get-fit approach, our head coach Paul Newsome raced the Best Fest Swim Series in Mallorca in May, comprising 8 races in 7 days.

Hi everyone, here's a quick summary of my swimming week:

Day 1: 5km parallel to one of Europe’s most beautiful beaches, Es Trenc
Day 2: 4.5km (actually 6km given a course change due to rough weather)
Day 3: 1.5km in the morning and 2.5km individual time trial in the afternoon
Day 4: 3km over an extinct Italian volcano, complete with fresh water spring (chilly!)
Day 5: 10km circuit course alongside some of the world’s best open water swimmers (my goal = not to get lapped on the 1.4km circuit - I didn’t…just!)
Day 6: 3.8km Ironman distance swim (see above - I won this event overall 😄)
Day 7: 4 x 500m relay (which I shared 2 legs with another UK based swimmer called Ceri - we won the overall mixed title 😄😄)

I wasn't at peak swim fitness going into this series but despite a complete lack of tapering and very short recoveries between swims, I swam better and better through the week and managed to win one of the races.

It's amazing what you can achieve when your body goes into "race-mode", shrugging off fatigue that would otherwise slow you down. I came away from the week absolutely buzzing and raring to get back into my regular training routine in Perth.

Paul stretching out before the 5km Colonia Classic

Swim Smooth!

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