Objective Training vs Race Day Perspective
When taking an athlete through training, nearly 80% of the plan is based off of objective data such as hours/day they have to train, lactate threshold values for zone development, how much stress is being put on the body each day, how much chronic stress has been put on their body for the month, power targets and run pace goals, send off times in the pool, etc etc etc. This often results in the athlete developing a fantastic mindset for training (extremely dialed in and focused) that is centered around controllables. As a coach, the best thing I can have any athlete achieve is a mindset that only focuses on what they can control. This starts to create an intrinsically motivated athlete and a racer that is aware of their abilities. While this is a blessing in training, this can be the beginning to the end mentally on race day.
What happens when you are supposed to hold 200 watts for Ironman but you can only manage 180. What happens when you should be holding 380 watts in a time trial but your body only says 345. How about working to hold 8:00 pace for a trail marathon but 8:45’s is whats really happening? Is this a bad day or simply just a change to the game plan?
When an athlete goes into a race, there is an optimal performance that we are targeting. However, in my 4 years of coaching I have only seen an optimal performance happen roughly 5-10% of the time. This isn’t because athletes aren’t peaked, or they aren’t as fit as we are suggesting, rather conditions such as heat, wind, rain, competition, tactics, etc can all vary so drastically outside of training. Having to react to the setting and make game-time decisions can often take you away from optimal conditions. However, this is where perspective comes into play. Below are some recent examples of athletes who have won, even when it may appear as a miss on the surface.
Real World Scenarios
Joe S has been on with Dalzell Coaching for 3 years now and recently raced the New England TT Championships. Going into the race we were targeting a power goal of 370-380 watts. On race day though, Joe was only able to sustain 348 NP and 341 AP for the event. On the surface it would appear that Joe hit roughly 90% of his goal. However, upon further analysis of his file you can see that power dipped on downhill sections but he was holding 36-38 mph for those sections (not giving away much at all). So while he may have initially been upset with the overall power file, he still ended up with a great pacing strategy given the course and came away the overall winner. To put that in perspective, Joe came on with Dalzell Coaching 3 years ago as a Cat 3 cyclist who wanted to excel in time trials.
Eric R came on with Dalzell Coaching at the start of 2016. His goal was to break his PR at the Ironman distance and shoot for an 11:30 time. His previous time was 12:31. Going into race day Eric had controlled as much as he could and built his fitness to an all-time high. Going into the race he had a goal of holding 165-175 watts on the bike which would put him in a strong position to run towards his 11:30 goal. As he got on the bike, his power meter died and he rode the 112 miles by perceived effort. Given that it was storming, 20mph winds and a downpour, Eric came in roughly 30 minutes behind his projected split (bestbikesplit.com). Eric had his best run ever at Ironman and finished with a 12:04:xx. While his missed his overall goal at the start of the season, he performed to his best ability under the conditions and took nearly 30 minutes off his PR. This was his 3rd attempt at breaking his PR and he did it with flying colors. Initially he notes it isn’t what he wanted overall, but put in perspective, this is a huge stepping stone for him and his development as a triathlete.
Tyler W is in his first season as a pro/elite mountain biker. He came on in late 2015 with the goal of being competitive in this class. Going into the x100 race we had a goal of shooting for 240-270 NP as mountain biking can vary so much on race day due to tactics and course layout. At the race, his legs started to hurt quite a bit as he had a race the previous weekend. For the overall race, Tyler was able to hold 242 NP which was in the goal range, but he felt as if he may have slightly underperformed personally. When you look at the actual results, Tyler was able to take 4th overall in the race which is a huge result for him in his development as a Pro/Elite racer. Even though it wasn’t his optimal race, he is starting to reach his yearly goal of becoming competitive in the Pro/Elite field. His 90% this year is easily beating his best performances from last year.
I could continue to show examples, but I believe you the reader should have one major take-away from this. You can enter a race with your ideal game plan, but once the race starts, you will have to navigate situations to the best of your ability. Often times you will have to deviate from the plan slightly, but you should be in a much better position to do that given your fitness gains from the year. In the end, its always about making improvements year to year. Yes, we want to see your 100% performance happen, but you also must be extremely proud of yourself as an athlete when your 90% this year easily beats your 100% effort from past years. While there are many things you can control during a race, when races require change, its always a good idea to keep things in perspective.
To hear more on this topic tune in on Wednesday at 10 A.M Eastern as I discuss this topic with Jeremy Brown of MindRight Multisport.
For questions please reach out me at firstname.lastname@example.org