After months and months of training, it can be easy to take for granted that by race day, everything is in hand and will just happen. But the reality is, especially for endurance events, that race day is something you only do a few times a year and is nothing like training. You can become complacent and miss important aspects that will make or break your day. So to avoid that, writing out a race day plan should be just as important as getting through your training load. I start writing mine roughly 3-4 weeks out from race day and then review and refine it up to about a week out. I don’t make any changes to it within a week of the race unless something drastic has happened (weather, event format change, illness or injury) as these are most likely emotional or panic driven decisions which rarely end well!
So to get started I use several sections to help guide my plan. As a triathlete my day is broken down into 5 structured sections that include swim, transition 1, bike, transition 2 and run. That’s my starting point and then each of those have a number of sub sections or headings including the theme or mantra, goals – usually 3 for each section, times, nutrition and the breakdown.
An example of this might be for an Ironman bike I might have as my theme something like “wind it up” which infers I start out controlled and slower than race pace but as the distance goes by, I unleash some speed to come home strong. It will be the saying I’ll use throughout the ride and I may even have it written on tape on my bike bars to remind me. My goals will usually include something technique related, something effort related and something speed related. That way if the day has any hiccups, which the longer you go the more likely is to occur, I have a number of measures of success rather than just one. For example if it is raining then my speed goal might be unachievable but rather than see the bike as failure, if I can stick the other two goals then that is success. Effort might be something like spin up the hills and accelerate on the flats and technique might be stay aero with head down but eyes up.
When it comes to time goals I try to have a range – top end and bottom end that I will be happy with and then a target time. Again if the day has some curveballs I have scope for making changes on the day as I need to without feeling like a failure.
My nutrition is broken down by time points or sections depending on the course and usually has the combinations or rotations I am looking to hit in order to consume the calories I need.
The breakdown then details that particular leg and is directly related to the particular course. For example, the ride might be:
0-15km - Easy spinning through the first rolling hills, light gears, settle the pace
16-45km - Hit the gas along the flats and find your pace to the first turnaround; focus on nutrition
46-75km - Hold that pace and keep up the nutrition
75-90km - Back it off through the hills and enjoy the change of position
I do this for each section of the race and then top and tail it with pre-race rituals and post-race recovery. Once I am happy with the plan, I use it to ensure I have packed my gear to meet these goals and then begin the visualization process. About a week out I take some time each day to quietly visualize my way through my day, reinforcing the messages and processes I am going to use during the race.
By the time race day comes, I know exactly what needs to be done and I can avoid having to make difficult decisions at a time when I am anxious or pre-occupied. It is comforting to know I can just work my way through the day and let the plan unfold.