You’ve spent the winter training, trying and sometimes failing to hit all the sessions set by your coach or yourself, but now you’re in race season and every race needs a plan. When to taper? How much to taper? What numbers to hit on the day? The reassuring fact is that there is no one right way, no perfect solution for everyone. You can’t follow a set recipe for this, but you can make your own recipe based on a few key ideas. For IM 70.3 Finland I had an unusual taper week with an Olympic distance race chucked in as well (not advised!) but I still tried to follow my basic principles.
The feeling of laziness or restlessness during taper week can make you feel like you’re “losing” fitness. In actual fact you’re allowing your body the optimum chance to adapt to the training load you have put it under. The shorter more intense sessions you do during taper week remind your body of the work to come and maintain the readiness. Tip 1; You might feel like you want to “do more” during the tapering period but try and resist. Add in an extra light stretching session, a yoga class, a foam roll or even find a new skill/hobby. In the week building up to Finland I started researching new recipe ideas and making some new tasty dinners, this kept me occupied and enabled me to resist the urge to do more.
Race nerves can be your biggest enemy. They make you think your body is falling apart, the little niggle you wouldn’t have thought twice about has now become something you think about with every set of steps even though it hasn’t actually got worse. By focusing on recent successful training sessions, you can rationalise that you have good form and that these nervous feeling are just irrational fears, admittedly easier said than done. Tip 2; Make sure your plan includes the effects of race nerves. Know you’ll feel more stressed and try to be comfortable with it. Add extra faff time, extra snacks and just take the time for yourself. In the build up to Finland I took the time to scroll back through training peaks and look at the stats I had achieved and focused on those to plan accurate time/pace goals for the races. This really calms my nerves as you then know you can hit these SMART goals as it’s data from things you have already achieved!
My final tip for race week is to make sure your equipment is in the best shape it can be. We spend so much time training and looking after our bodies, yet people often neglect their equipment. Tip 3; Clean your bike, especially your chain. The science says a clean bike is quicker, you want all the watts you’ve trained so hard to get to go straight into your speed. Treat your equipment with the same respect you treat your body. Ensure it gets the best care!
Pre Finland, I had a full wash, a new chain and a visual check test of my TT position I had been training in. I also packed wet wipes and chain lube along with my foam roller and lacrosse ball- body and bike; equal respect!
So, having put my pre-race plan into place as best I could I was on the start line at 1530. The unique afternoon race start meant all the pre-race admin was saved for the race morning which was great because you then didn’t have to do any of it the day before and you could rack and prep in slow time.
The pro men were off first and as the gun went for us, I found a good spot to find the feet I realistically could hold. I knew Lucy Hall and India Lee would be well out in front so I held onto Anna Noguera for the first half of the swim until we both went off course due to the current and a sighting mistake, frustrated I took the lead and then held in a small pack with Kaisa Sali. Out the water in 3rd (just) and onto the bike course just ahead of Anna and Kaisa.
Both of them tracked me closely for 15km before Kaisa overtook and started pulling away. I decided to stick on my planned power rather than push on with Kaisa. Anna still on my wheel. At the half way point I realised both Kaisa and Anna had been issued a drafting penalty and when I looked behind I was on my own for the second half. With no idea of the gaps ahead I pushed on but held steady watts over the fast homeward bound route.
I felt like I was really lacking leg power and could see my average watts just slowly dropping. Frustrated and disappointed I just sat in and tried to hold on. I often use the tactic of “just get to T2” and then decide how you feel. At this point my back and left knee were starting to build in discomfort and I was also worried about my previous knee injury. All of these thoughts were getting me down but… I pushed on.
Into T2 I heard splits and knew I had a podium chance again! I couldn’t really believe it so settled into 3:50/kms. A bit fast but I felt great. All of my issues on the bike dissolved (again, similarly to 70.3 Staffordshire) and I felt great. I had hydrated and fuelled well on the bike too so had nothing to worry about. I ran a steady but strong 10km stepping up into 2nd past Lucy Hall and around 15km it was clear I wasn’t losing time and could relax and enjoy it!
At the back of my mind I knew I had only a week to recover after this race so I took a rare opportunity to sit back in the last 5km and drop the pace slightly, an incredible privilege that age group racing doesn’t have as you never know where you are in the race. Crossing the line to podium again was incredible, 2nd was the absolute best I could have had against star India Lee so I was very satisfied. Eager now to get that top step though!