Learning Lessons From Your Races

This week I competed in 2 races, the first for 3-4 months and including my 1st triathlon for 2 years. It has certainly been a barren period of racing for a Triathlon coach. However it has been very satisfying for me to finally get some racing under my belt, and these races reminded me of the importance of specific race preparation, and also the lessons you can learn from your races. The first of my races was a local 5k running race over mixed terrain, the 2nd an inter-club challenge triathlon over an 800m swim/8miles bike/4miles run.

Lessons learnt from the two races.

I’d managed a 3 week period of unbroken training covering 12 hours on week one, 13 hours on week two and 14 hours on week three. This was spread over swimming, cycling, running and a small amount of general conditioning work. This training followed a 5 week period of diminishing fitness where I’d averaged only 6 hours per week. With the 3 weeks in the bag I felt it was time to try to salvage something from the season and try a few races.

The 5k running race.

I did a 10 minute jog before the start and lined up in the front row. After the whistle I was quickly overtaken by about 9 people. I then worked my way past 5 of them over the next kilometre. By the 2k mark I’d passed another 2 and a group of 3 of us (me, Paul and Tom) then ran together to within 800m of the finish. I then raised the pace and dropped Paul, although I didn’t know this at the time. Two loose dogs then held me and Tom up, letting Paul rejoin us. I then raised the pace with 180m to go. This consisted of 100m to a gate exiting the wood, and then a 80m dash to the line. This pace change eliminated Tom, but not Paul, who was able to overhaul me between the gate and finish as we sprinted for the line. So 2nd position over a hilly 5k mixed terrain course in 18:39. Was this a good performance for me and what could I learn from it?

The Start. For me the time was within expectations. The effort had been hard initially and then had felt easier over the last section. In this race, starting as I did was OK, as I was not held up by other runners. This is not always the case, and in cross-country races where narrow paths often feature it can be a major problem. My inability to go faster at the start reminds me of the tactical importance of being able to start faster in some races. I particularly don’t like coping with fast starts, and although my steady starts often lead to better overall performances there are times when a faster start would help improve my overall performance. My take home lessons from the start are:

  • 1-Work on fast running starts in training and racing.
  • 2-Warm up for races with faster pace running, short bursts and some sustained efforts to expand the lungs.

The Middle. As the race continued I found myself in the tactical position of being in a group of 3 and being offered to take the lead. Bearing in mind there were other runners behind I did not want to let them catch up and be in contention at the finish, so I took the offer. I was then able to control the pace and kept it at a level I was comfortable with. It is at times like this that you have options such as raising the pace, repeatedly changing the pace or slowing down and letting someone else take over. Each decision has potential consequences, and must be taken in the light of your current capabilities. The great unknown is how the others will respond. I felt I was below my limit, but not ready to risk upping the pace and then slowing down in the last 1-2k, so I continued at a good pace which my companions were happy to follow. With about 2k to go I slowed slightly let Paul take the lead for 2 reasons. Firstly there was a small hill to get up, and secondly we were about to face the wind after climbing the hill. Paul was happy to lead, and so this worked well for me. As we approached 1k to go Paul’s pace slowed as we climbed another longer incline so I took the lead, and got the inside line around a turn at the top of the incline. Frankly this section in the middle of the race had gone well. My take home lessons from the middle section are:

  • 1-Don’t go into the red if you can avoid it. I didn’t and this was effective.
  • 2-Get wind shelter and shortest possible line wherever possible. Again I managed this and it worked well.

The End. There is no doubt luck plays an important role in racing also, but being able to cope with the unexpected is what successful racing is all about. As we entered the last wood and got onto a wood chip surface I felt the pace was quite comfortable. I raised the pace a bit, dropping Paul, while Tom kept up. We then got held up by 2 dogs. Now it is possible to sprint past dogs if they don’t attack you, and in retrospect I think this may have been possible, although I was conscious of offending the dog owners. My final burst to the gate out of the wood after passing the dogs was a good tactical move, using the downhill slope to gain momentum, and ensured I got to the finishing straight first. Unfortunately my sprint was not good enough to prevent Paul from passing me and winning by 1 second. My take home lessons from the end section are:

  • 1-Take your chances. I will sprint past all but the most fearsome of dogs in future when racing. Perhaps I was short on a bit of extra testosterone!
  • 2-Always assume your nearest rival is about to push you to the very limit. My sprint was there, but I do feel I could have gone a tiny bit faster.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *