In my experience, and from the conversations that I’ve had with triathletes of all levels and performance, a good portion of triathletes tend to fall into two camps, or one of two extremes in terms of preparing for a race during race week. And neither of these extremes is a good way wrap up your pre-race training.
Mistake #1 – Overtraining
When training for a triathlon during that race week, a lot of first-time triathletes will tend to overtrain.
Usually, they innocently think, “Well, since I’ve been training so hard for this race, I need to keep training right up to race day. Since training prepares me for a race, then more training must be even better.”
This is absolutely and completely false.
The last thing that you want to do before a race is increase your training volume or crank up your training effort to some unprecedented level. The time to increase and ramp up your training is well before the week before the race.
As the race draws nearer, some triathletes will begin to get nervous and doubt their abilities to finish the race. So, just to make themselves have less doubt, they’ll try to do a mock race as a training session during the week before their race. If they’re signed up for an Olympic distance triathlon, they’ll pick a day leading up to the race and swim, bike, and run the whole race distance just to make sure they can finish.
It’s natural to be nervous, especially before your first triathlon. Everyone wants to make sure they finish and doubts can attack even those of us that have been racing for years. But doing a mock race before the actual race will only make you needlessly tired. If you’ve been training for a triathlon properly, and following a triathlon training plan, you should have no problem finishing the race.
Trust in your training.
Mistake #2 – Going Lazy
Just like you don’t want to overtrain during the week leading up to a triathlon, you also don’t want to completely sluff off the triathlon training.
In triathlon and other endurance-type sports there’s something called a taper. Basically, a taper is method of decreasing your training efforts leading up to a race-type event. What this does is keep you in top shape while allowing you to retain the energy you need to perform at your highest level.
Where the taper really comes into play is during training for longer distance races. Because your training volume is so great leading up to these types of races, you have to be diligent in lowering those volumes as you get closer to the race, because if you don’t, you’ll wipe yourself out on race day.
With shorter distance races, though, your training volume for the most part is relatively low. You might be running 3 to 6 miles 3 to 4 times a week. You might be biking less than 100 miles a week. Swimming volume will also be relatively low; not usually more than four or five miles during the week. And these are probably on the more aggressive side. For most triathletes training for a triathlon of a sprint distance, training volume is probably going to be lower.
If you haven’t swam, biked, or ran during the whole week leading up to the race, it will be a lot easier for you to lose your focus, because you will have lost a little of that energy and drive and muscle memory you need to race.
And the last thing you want to lose is focus.