I am always urging athletes to slow down on low intensity days, so that they can focus their energy on higher intensity workouts. Running faster does not always make you faster. Varying training intensity is important to developing all the abilities, skills and knowledge needed for great performances. Arms immediately go up with questions, "But how do you KNOW you are getting faster?" and "how do you KNOW you'll be ready to race?". The long answer is based on the science of training and training intensities, the abstract answer is learning to listen to your body and trust your training program, but the practical answer is to have training sessions where you test your raceability.
The majority of our weekly mileage and focus is on building fitness, not on race pace. Close to 80% of my yearly training is dedicated to long-slow runs and rides, and low intensity effort including swimming and weight lifting. My intensity and focus increases when I get ready to race. This period of focused training, usually 4-6 weeks prior to a race, is commonly referred to race-specific training, but will vary between person to person based on ability, prior experience, and race distance. Race-specific training is more stressful on the body, and mind, and if you do too much by extending the period to 4 months, you may increase your risk of burnout, injury, and even a decrease your ability to perform well on race day. Basically, it is a period where you feel tired all the time, and generally sore, which is not pleasant if you did this all the time! All my races in 2013 were on basic fitness, and my performances were still good. Race specific training helps to improve your race fitness and performance. Most elite athletes have a "go to" workout to build their race confidence: they know they are ready if the "nail it". I do not have a "go to" workout for 70.3 races - I am still relatively novice when it comes to racing triathlons - this is a learning process for me.
Race Specific Worout
Warm-up: 20 minutes easy on bike with some drills (1-leg, cadence, etc.)
Main set: 4x [10 minutes race effort on bike, 5 minutes race effort on treadmill] with 5 minutes rest on bike between sets
Cool-down: 10 minutes easy
Total Time: 1hr 50min
I am still learning how to peak for a triathlon race, but with over a decade of experience running, I rely on that to guide my race-specific training. I started my week knowing that Thursday was going to be an important training day: a race effort workout. I did not have the actual workout details planned. This morning I woke up and created a workout that would build my confidence for a 70.3 distance race. This is what it looked like:
Training Benefit: This training increased your anaerobic tolerance, and improved your maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) and efficiency. It also raised the speed you can maintain without building up lactic acid. The training duration was long enough to increase fatigue resistance at the used speed. Carbohydrates are the main energy source that your body uses at this training intensity.
This workout is my version of a tempo run for triathlon. Each set comprised of 10 minutes cycling followed by 5 minutes running at a low-end lactate threshold (LT) level because the entire workout was over 90 minutes long. If I was training for a shorter distance race, I would have chosen to train at a high-end LT level, however the duration of the workout would be shorter with only 20 minutes at the desired effort. This is common rule for determining effort based on race distance. For this workout, my heart rate (HR) was 82-88% of my maximum for the LT sets, which totaled 60 minutes. The focus of this session was to "shake out" the fear that I am not ready to race, paying attention to my mental skills to manage the effort. Because it is difficult for me to work at a high intensity for a long period of time, I broke the workout into 4 parts to focus my attention on form, power and managing pain. Creating smaller goals during a difficult workout helps me to stay focused on the task at hand. I felt great during this session, which surprised me, but now I feel confident about racing in two weeks' time.
What is your "go to" workout to know you are race ready? Please leave a comment to share with others.