Race day brings about all kinds of jitters and unknowns. You’ve trained hard, you want to do well, and the time has finally arrived. But then those pesky “What if?” thoughts slowly creep into your head. To prepare you for those moments, here are some tips and reminders on the race day variables that you can control. These will help tame those thoughts and keep you in control and confident.
DO NOT try anything new. If you didn’t use it in training don’t use it on race day. This may seem obvious but temptations and anxiety can lure one to break this golden rule over and over again. Situations such as reaching for those event-sponsored eats and drinks on the course when you’ve only been training on water and regular ol’ GU can spell trouble. Don’t do it! Trust your training.
DO consume enough prior to the race especially if it’s an endurance race. The week of the race is not the time to be watching your weight. Distance races like marathons, century rides, and Ironman’s require extraordinary amounts of energy. Don’t worry if you put on a pound or two – you’re gonna need those calories, especially late in the race.
DO practice pre-race routines before your goal race. This could entail signing up for a few practice races beforehand or during training sessions to really nail down those routines. Routines could include laying out clothes the night before, what time you wake up, bathroom stuff, nutrition, and warm-up. Routines help you to focus the morning of and stay calm before the race.
DO sign up for races that are of less priority prior to your goal race. For example, if your goal race is the NYC Triathlon and it’s your first Olympic distance triathlon ever, you should sign up for a couple of practice races beforehand. This will help you identify your limitations and the skills you need to work on which in turn builds confidence for the race that really matters. So, if the goal race (Priority A) is the NYC Triathlon, sign up for a couple sprint distance triathlons (Priority B and C) that are small in size. Smaller races usually means less pressure and less stress. So, if you make a few mistakes you’ll be glad you learned them now instead of the race that you had your heart on, right? Also, if you allow yourself a longer training season leading up to the goal race, you can do even more practice events such as open water swims and 5k runs.
DO NOT give up. Sometimes you have done everything right and you may still not have your best day. It happens to the best of us. Chin up. Short of death try to finish the race. No matter what time you finish in, you’ll still be happy that you did.
In the previous post, I discussed a variety of external methods one can utilize to boost recovery after an intense training session or race. Proper nutrition and supplements in conjunction with these aids can be especially helpful in refueling carbohydrate stores, reducing inflammation, and speeding up muscle recovery. Consumption of a recovery snack is important if your workout lasts 90 minutes or longer. Strive to get the recovery snack or meal within 30 minutes to 2 hours after the workout. Both the quality and timing of this snack is crucial in setting you up properly for the next workout. Aim for .5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight, i.e. 100 lbs = 50 grams of CHO and maybe add some protein and/or sodium. After consuming the snack, continue to eat and restore carbohydrates throughout the day.
So, what to eat and drink? A variety of foods can be consumed to combat inflammation and increase muscle recovery. The antioxidants found in cherry and pomegranate juice have been shown in studies to improve muscle recovery. In 2010, Kristal et al. presented findings to the American Society of Nephrology that detailed the benefits of drinking pomegranate juice in a group of dialysis patients. They found that patients who drank pomegranate juice showed reduced inflammation, less oxidative stress caused by free radicals, and fewer incidents of infections. The results continue to support the wide belief that pomegranates contain potent antioxidant properties.
Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to reduce inflammation. These can be found in a variety of seeds, nuts, and fish. Fish oil capsules are a great Omega-3 supplement. Therefore, while it may be tempting to treat yourself to a beer and burger after a hard workout, try choosing foods that will be conducive to recovery and which will enable you to build upon fitness gains. The exception is of course, when you finish that big race, then I say go for it – you deserve it!
Rehydrating and staying hydrated is also a must in recovery. Drink to thirst throughout the day; urine should be a light yellow color. Also, try to avoid ingesting pain relievers like Advil or Tylenol even if you feel stiff, in pain, and uncomfortable. They can be irritating and even harmful to your digestive system if taken habitually.
In addition to proper nutrition, getting adequate rest and sleep is another important – maybe the most important component in the recovery process. Recovery will suffer if you do not allow your body to rest and repair. Adults should aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night period. But if you’re an athlete in training you will need more! If you’re a runner you should add extra minutes to your sleep. Here is a simple formula: take the amount of miles you run and convert that to minutes. For example, if you run 30 miles per week that is 30 extra minutes to sleep. So, if you normally sleep 7 hours of sleep, add 30 more minutes and you should get about 7.5 hours of sleep. For triathletes, the formula is: hours of weekly training plus one decimal point = extra hours to sleep. For example: 15 hours of training per week = 1.5 hours more of sleep.
Enhancing Recovery - USA Triathlon Webinar given by Sage Roundtree, USAT Level II Coach on July 22, 2010
Recovery is the most important yet often the most neglected component of training. Yes i said it - THE most important component. Why? Because it is actually during the recovery period when fitness gains are made. After an intense training bout, you have applied an overload to your body. Immediately following this training overload, you will feel fatigued, weak, and even less fit than you were prior to the workout. But approximately, 24-48 hours following this your body recovers, compensates, and rebounds in anticipation of a repeated stimulus. It is during this period called supercompensation that fitness skyrockets, peaks, and you are stronger and faster than your fitness level prior to the original overload. (You know, that invincible feeling, right)? And, it is also during supercompensation when you can capitalize on the fitness gains made from the prior training session and springboard to the next workout to continue to push fitness even higher. Otherwise, if not capitalized upon, the increased fitness achieved starts to taper and fade away 3-7 days later. This is why the elements of proper recovery are crucial to training and to improve performance.
There are a variety of internal and external aids to recovery as well as different methods of measuring recovery be it qualititatively or qualitatively. Some familiar external aids may be cold water and ice. These function as vasoconstrictors (restricting blood flow) and help to reduce inflammation that is brought on by impact sports such as running. After a strenuous workout, try 10-15 cool bath at 50-60 degrees F. There is no need for an ice bath. You can apply ice locally; try an ice slurry which is 3:1 ratio of ice to alcohol. The alcohol reduces the freezing point. You can alternate between hot and cold to get a good pump going of moving waste products/inflammation out and moving blood into tissue. Heat functions as the vasodilator. Try sitting in a sauna, hot tub, or take a warm shower. I recommend cold first then heat then back to cold. I know from experience that a hot shower immediately after a long, hard workout could make your legs cramp pretty badly.
Another type of popular aid to recovery these days is compression sleeves, socks, and garments. They can be used both during the workout and after. They are touted as providing benefits like reducing inflammation, speeding up recovery, and enhancing performance. The jury may still be out on its true benefits but there is a lot to be said about the power of what you believe they will do for you. In the end, if you believe they help you and recover faster then by all means use it. They won't hurt you in anyway except for maybe your wallet. If you do buy compression, buy the socks with graduated compression. Graduated means tighter at the ankle and less as it moves up the calf. You want the sock because it will cover the whole foot and the compression will help pump the waste products out over the ankle. The recommended length of time to wear the socks is twice the length of the workout, i.e. 2 hour run = 4 hour wear time. The socks are good for approximately 40-50 washings and need to be replaced; they'll become loose and stretched out after all the washings.
If you have lots of money to throw around, you can also try the Normatec which costs about $5,000. It's worn as a boot that inflates around your foot and provides peristaltic pressure to pump out byproducts. You can also try self-massage with tools like The Stick, Trigger Point, or foam roller or treat yourself to one from a professional. Just make sure not to get a deep, aggressive massage too close to key workouts or races.
In the previous post on Reversed Periodization, I left off explaining that good technique should be practiced in the beginning stages of training when the workload is small and when the athlete is in a non-fatigued state. Technique, the way in which you run, bike, or swim, is memorized within the motor cortex of the brain and repeated. So the more you do something one particular way the more your brain thinks its the right way of doing something. And it is these mechanics, which may be inefficient, that your body falls back on when you do long distance training.
The traditional model of endurance that emphasizes a huge volume of long, slow distance training in the base period doesn’t really give athletes the chance to focus on performing correct technique because they are perpetually in a fatigued state. Thus, over the course of all that long, slow work the athlete’s brain programs their movement, which at times may be admittingly inefficient. These mechanics are then repeated as they move on to the speed work stage, which in the traditional model is focused on in the latter stages of training. The athlete may still succeed in getting faster but without proper technique will not able to use his or her power to the fullest potential. It has been said that it can take thousands of repetitions to replace what is learned within the motor cortex. Therefore, good mechanics need to be identified and focused on in the early stages of the season to retrain the neuromuscular system out of bad habits. RP is structured so that mechanics is improved first and the adaptations that occur over the course of training are capitalized upon fully come race day.
Improving strength and speed is another focus in the base period of RP. This is opposed to the traditional model that emphasizes strength and speed after heavy loads of aerobic training. In the Finland study (mentioned in previous posts), well-trained endurance runners and skiers reduced some slow, long distance training and replaced it with strength and high speed interval training. The notable improvements were faster 5k times in the runners, which were attributed mostly to neuromuscular adaptations.
Specifically, they observed an increase in motor unit and muscle fiber recruitment as well as the enzymes within the fibers that are associated with anaerobic capacity. In addition, actual muscle size grew slightly and it’s ability to express force improved. Nerve impulse transmission also increased meaning that the muscles were able to fire more often and more powerfully. So, what’s the take home message? The athlete did not do any extra training to see improvements in their 5k time. Rather, the improvements can be attributed to training at intensity levels that were at or above race pace with reduced work load initially that later resulted in higher quality long distance work. This implies that improved endurance performance is really coming from anaerobic and neuromuscular adaptations that as a result improve aerobic capacity.
For athletes that already have a developed aerobic system but may be struggling with a plateau and not seeing improvements in performance perhaps it is time for change in training protocol, such as reversed periodization. It should be reiterated that for athletes just starting out utilizing the traditional model of developing an aerobic base first is most appropriate. To recap: RP is structured in a way that calls for low weekly volumes initially, slowly increases, culminates in desired load, and then tapers at the end. The traditional model is structured that calls for high weekly workloads initially, progressively decreases as speed work is initiated, and then tapers at the end.
Reversed periodization is the concept of aligning one’s training regimen to focus on developing speed, power, and technique first at low weekly volumes of work and progressively increasing the load as muscle economy is developed. This is in contrast to the traditional endurance model that stresses developing cardiovascular fitness with large volumes of long, slow work in the beginning base period of training. An RP training program is appropriate for athletes who are well trained but not for individuals who are just starting out and have not yet developed a strong aerobic system.
RP is based on the idea that when a well trained athlete improves maximal velocity (e.g. A runner going from a 6:00 min/mile to a 5:50 min/mile) and then learns to carry power over increasingly longer distances, the aerobic work done at lower intensity/power levels becomes easier and more efficient. Further, the athlete is able to perform at a higher quality during long distance training. This then increases aerobic capacity because larger amounts of time are spent training at very high qualities.
Just think about all those “junk miles “ you done - all those runs that downright sucked because you were just trudging through it just to get through it. Now just think if you are able to become more powerful and efficient and are able to train at higher qualities when you go to do those long runs or bike rides. I’d suspect on race day you would be able to sustain your race pace for longer periods of time which really is the whole point of training anyway, isn’t it?
The macro-cycles of RP include power, anaerobic endurance, aerobic intervals, tempo intervals, and steady state. The skills are hierarchical – power and anaerobic endurance need to be developed first in order to perform aerobic intervals and so on efficiently. Training sessions should be guided by pace and power which are a function of the target time you are trying to achieve. E.g. mile intervals performed at 7:14 pace if target 10k pace is 45 min. Also, because the purpose is to tax the muscles you need to be able to assess how the muscles feel during training. You can guide your training by utilizing the rate of perceived effort (i.e. how does the muscle feel?).
RP is characterized by significantly training the anaerobic system through various methods, notably high speed interval training and explosive strength training. These anaerobic training methods are aimed at technique, power, neuromuscular adaptation, and muscle capacity.
Developing good technique is important in allowing the athlete to utilize his/her power effectively. You could be really strong and fast but poor mechanics would inhibit its proper application. Good technique also minimizes fatigue when the athlete attempts to generate power over and over again. Therefore, technique must be practiced and it must be performed in a non-fatigued state, which is why RP calls for low workloads in the beginning macro-cycles.
I have discussed in previous blog entries (check out muscle factor pt. 1-3) the idea that it is the muscle that is driving endurance performance and that if athletes want to become faster and more economical it must come from an increased capacity of the muscle to do work. Research has shown that the anaerobic system plays an important role in enhancing endurance performance by improving maximal velocity, economy, and fractional utilization (the amount of oxygen and muscle fibers necessary to perform work).
Two methods of anaerobic training involve resistance strength training and high intensity interval training which research has linked to increase anaerobic power and neuromuscular capacity. It is these specific adaptations that impact maximal velocity, economy, and fractional utilization, the three primary determinants of endurance performance.
An increase in anaerobic power and capacity improves anaerobic glycolysis (the ability to use carbohydrates and lactic acid as a fuel source), the ability to buffer lactic acid, and the storage of PCr (phosphocreatine) within the muscle. An increase in neuromuscular capacity improves neural control by developing pathways within the brain that teach muscles to contract and memorize running technique. Muscle force and elasticity is also improved through increased motor unit and muscle fiber recruitment. These adaptations are important because the application of power is dependent on good running mechanics and muscle elasticity.
Researchers from Finland explored the utilization of explosive strength and power training for both runners and skiers. They found that 5K performance improved in runners when slow, long distance training was reduced in exchange for explosive strength and power training. An improvement in time trial performance was also shown in skiers. The group of athletes that utilized strength and power training reported that the quality of their workouts improved at the slow, long distance levels. The study also found that the athletes improved lactate threshold and maximal velocity, became more economical, and required less oxygen to perform the long distance workouts. Researchers attributed many of these improvements to neuromuscular adaptations and increased anaerobic capacity. This study provides a very interesting implication that it is actually the anaerobic system that improves the aerobic system and doing high volumes of long, slow distance aerobic training may not be necessary in improving endurance performance.
In fact, the long, slow distance miles can often wear an athlete down and put a toll on the body. This study from Finland suggests that if we reduce the mileage in the beginning and focus on increasing our maximal velocity, improving technique, and power we will become more economical when we run at the lower intensity levels and running the longer distances won’t feel as hard. In addition, we will be able to exercise at a higher quality and won’t fatigue as soon therefore sustaining performance at higher paces. This is because when we improve our anaerobic and neuromuscular capacity, we increase the number of muscle fibers we have to fatigue. And when we improve our maximal velocity, we push our aerobic ceiling that allows for increased capacity of the muscle to do work, even if our V02 max stays the same.
I will discuss reverse periodization and how to utilize anaerobic training effectively in upcoming posts.
Research indicates that the factor that ultimately limits performance in an endurance event such as a marathon or an Ironman is the muscle’s capacity to do work whereas previous thought always linked limited performance to a weak cardiovascular system (the ability for the heart to supply blood and oxygen to muscles). But it is now known that cardiovascular fitness is just one part of an athlete’s potential and it is not the only thing that will limit their performance in a race. A USA triathlon webinar given by Krista Austin of Performance and Nutrition Coaching in 2010, discusses limitations to exercise performance
She discusses in great detail the models of performance that are in the book “The Lore of Running” by Timothy Noakes. The five models being: cardiovascular, energy supply and depletion, muscle recruitment and power, biomechanical, and psychological/motivation. But while cardiovascular fitness, energy supply, biomechanics, and motivation certainly play roles in performance, it is ultimately the ability to recruit muscle fibers and produce power that is the key. According to Austin, the athlete that is able to sustain the highest amount of power production over the longest period of time is going to win the race.
There have been a number of studies performed at altitude, during prolonged submaximal exercise, and in extreme heat that indicate it is not the heart that is limiting performance and causing fatigue but rather the muscle cell itself. It is believed that it is the muscle cell that needs to adapt and as it adapts it drives the response of the heart. As the heart pumps, it is sends blood to the brain which then receives information on the amount of oxygen supply in the blood. If not enough oxygen is reaching the brain, muscle recruitment becomes inhibited because the central nervous system is trying to protect itself. It is what Noakes refers to as our “Central Governor.” This concept was demonstrated with studies done at altitude.
At altitude, there is less oxygen available and the athlete is therefore functioning in an anaerobic state. They found that an athlete’s ability to exercise at increasingly high altitude levels decreased. Their lactate values were lower than what they could achieve at sea level and maximal heart rate and cardiac output also decreased. Under the cardiovascular model however, the heart rate should have increased to supply oxygen to the working muscles. Instead, the brain senses the limited amount of oxygen that is available and protects itself by choosing to reduce the amount of work the body is able to do thereby limiting muscle fiber recruitment. These studies used EMG (electromyography) to monitor the activity of the muscle fibers and found that recruitment decreased as altitude increased. Interestingly, when the athlete who was performing at a maximum effort was suddenly provided with oxygen, the EMG showed higher levels of muscle recruitment. Therefore, fatigue at altitude can not be attributed to a weak cardiovascular system but rather the protective mechanism of the brain that inhibits muscle fiber recruitment.
Another study done supports evidence that it is the muscle cell that drives performance. This study compared East African runners with Swedish runners during a submaximal (lower intensity, below lactate threshold) effort. There were no differences in V02 max between the groups. The results indicated that the East Africans were able to run at a higher percent of V02 max and at a faster pace for a longer period of time without getting tired. It is hypothesized that it is due to the contractile properties of the muscle and its efficient nature that enables them to go for longer periods of times. It is believed that there is some mechanism in the muscle that relays messages to the brain to help dictate the recruitment rate of the the muscle fiber to sustain exercise intensity.
Further, studies that had individuals exercise in the heat found that the body’s core temperature influences how long the body is able to sustain exercise. The thermostat within the brain senses the internal core temperature through the blood and if it gets too hot, the brain protects itself by limiting recruitment of muscle fibers. The hotter the muscle gets the less work it is capable of doing. This underlies the argument again that the cardiovascular system is not always what causes fatigue.
What caused performance limitations during heat, long submaximal efforts, and altitude was the inability to recruit muscle fibers. The brain is constantly receiving feedback from the blood and if it needs to protect itself under a threatening circumstance (such as not receiving enough oxygen) it reduces the body’s capacity to do work via the muscle.
To be continued…
(i’ll get back to that model I put up in part 1 as well).
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