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The Outside Challenge: How to Avoid 5 Common Triathlon Mistakes

What are the things I should make sure not to do in the final weeks before a triathlon?

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Photo: jimmyharris/Flickr

As we approach race day, you should be progressing well and building the fitness to have a great day. Unfortunately, this is the period when I see so many triathletes make simple mistakes that extinguish the chance for a solid performance. Let's delve into five of the more common mistakes, so that you can avoid them.

1. Panic Training: Even if you have nailed nearly every session prescribed, it is normal to have some looming questions around your fitness and preparation—and thus a rising feeling of panic. Many less experienced triathletes will react by adding extra sessions, skipping the lighter sessions, or trying to validate their fitness (and minimize worry) but going harder than the sessions call for. We call this panic training. It offers very little benefit but plenty of risk. The most likely outcome is that you will arrive at race day fit, but tired—not a recipe for success.

Instead, have faith in your fitness and the plan. Even if you have missed some chunks of training, it is much better to arrive a little under-trained than over-tired.

2. Last-Minute Weight Loss: Lighter is faster, right? Not so much, actually. We often see rapid weight loss result in a few days of improved running, but then a dramatic loss of strength, power and energy. It is also a very unhealthy and unproductive strategy to lose weight in a short window. Be happy with your current weight, maintain a healthy diet, keep fueling your workouts (as we talked about earlier) and arrive at race day fit and energized.

If you really want to feel great, limit alcohol consumption and focus on a healthy diet full of wholesome foods, quality proteins, and vegetables. Just don't limit or restrict healthy calories, as you still need to fuel your training throughout this last block.

3. Gear Splurge: I always prefer familiarity and worn-in equipment. Now is not the time to run out and look for a magic bullet in the form of a new bike, new running shoes, or new brand of race-day energy food. Stick with what you already know is working and not causing any injury concerns or stomach problems. While it is nice to get brand new shiny things, it is always a risk to introduce new equipment—or even new positions—so close to an event. We have a saying for people who purchase a bike right before race day: “New bike, same old engine!”

Trust the gear you know. If you have a great race, give yourself a reward for a job well done—then use your new toy to train for your next event.

4. Over-Resting During Race Week: We don't want you to show up to your event tired, but beware of skipping most workouts before race day in an attempt to be fresh. This often backfires: You lose a little fitness are likely to feel “flat” or lethargic when it comes to the race. The goal of the final week or two is to sharpen and tune the body for optimal performance. We do this by doing enough training to maintain fitness, and some building efforts to hit the higher intensity, or what we call “opening the engine.” This training will not create massive fatigue, but will keep reminding the body of what it is like to go hard, and will allow you to arrive rested, but fit and fast. Follow the plan. It is built with purpose.

5. Forgetting the Fun: This is perhaps the most important thing to remember. Training and racing are fun! Enjoy the preparation process, embrace it, and realize that there is little or no external pressure on you. The only pressure most of us face is internal pressure, and that is something you control. I never like to see athletes get so nervous that they forget to enjoy the build up to an event the race itself. It is OK to smile—that is where your best effort and performance comes from. If you really want to perform, forget about the outcome you desire, and think about the step-by-step process you need to go through during the race. Remaining process orientated, while keeping it fun, will provide your optimal performance on the day.

Let the magic happen.

—Matt Dixon
@purplepatch

The Outside Challenge is a program designed to get you ready for a sprint-distance triathlon. Sign up for one of three custom plans created by coach Matt Dixon, and you’ll have access to video coaching sessions by Dixon, blog posts by Outside editors following the same plans, and be able to ask Dixon your pressing training questions. You can also register for the Outside in Aspen Triathlon and race with us on June 9, 2012, in Colorado.



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