"Train Hard – Race Easy" is an old saying but remains true today, get the work done in training and the race day will tend to look after itself. For most of us the race season is still a few months away, an ideal time to think about your training and the race performances it produces.
‘Train Hard’, what does that really mean? Many feel you have not trained hard unless you are in a pool of sweat, vision blurred, legs wobbly and hardly able to support you. This is hard training and the subsequent adaptions will help you in a specific area of your performance.
For others you are not training hard until you have been on the road for hours, run out of food and water and are dragging slowly home in a world of pain ready to eat the whole contents of the kitchen. This is hard training and your body will learn from this also, adapting to cope better with this type of activity. Do you spend an hour at the pool improving your troublesome swim stroke, or an extra hour out on your bike which you love? That fast bike ride may seem good ‘Hard Training’ but would the improved swimming technique from your mentally hard but physically easy swim have improved your whole triathlon race.
For others hard training is fitting twenty hours a week around a job and family commitments. Cramming as much mileage in as possible, getting out in all weathers, working through those annoying injuries, getting out there even when your body is crying out for rest. This is certainly hard training like all the other examples, but will any of those training methods mean you can ‘Race Easy’ when that big event comes round.
Most of you reading this will be in the world of endurance sport. Sorry to disappoint you but your 5km runs, 10 mile cycle time trial and your supersprint triathlons are all endurance sports. Will your ‘Hard Training’ deliver the result you are seeking? So your ‘hard’ forty five minute cycle turbo session, where you stumble away from the bike, steaming like a race horse is excellent for developing your body to produce power at or above your aerobic threshold. You will develop pure speed and for races under an hour in duration you will probably produce some good performance improvements. However you are training in a zone where your body burns its available fuel very quickly. This is fine if you have enough in the tank to complete your event but once the tank is empty your performance dramatically drops so training this way will not allow you to race your two hour plus event ‘Easy’.
So you have just dragged home from another long run, or a day out on the bike. You have covered some hard miles, just made it home as your pace slowed and you slump on to the sofa with a well earned packet of biscuits. That was some ‘hard training’. It will help you cope with the distances involved in your endurance event but will it give you the speed you need to compete? No it will not prepare you to ‘Race easy’.
How about the lifestyle athlete, every inch of those training miles is logged and scrutinised. That ride which was 96 miles to home just had to have another four mile loop added so it looked better when shared on line. When waking feeling tired and ill they still get the training done. Ok the pace was slow and the heart rate very high but the miles were logged. Wake with a sore leg, it’s been sore for a while now but a long run is planned so they run anyway. There’s a bit of a limp but the run is logged and the miles in the bank. Will this pattern of ‘Hard Training’ give the desired result on that long distance event? No they will probably start a broken and over trained athlete who struggles home well below their potential, not racing ‘Easy’.
So this ‘Training Hard Racing Easy’ is not quite as simple as those four words make out. For endurance racing you actually need a combination of training fast – hard, training slow - hard, training long – hard, training technique – hard, training digestion and hydration - hard and resting – hard. This is not helped by the proportions changing depending on what you are racing, a 10mile cycle TT is not the same as an Ironman Triathlon, the training is made up of similar components but vastly different proportions.
We know ‘Train Hard – Race Easy’ is the right way to go but how to ‘Train Hard’ is not so simple. The athlete jogging gently along the road as if she has all the time in the world may be training harder than you tearing past on your bike at 30mph. The athlete swimming drills slowly in the next lane may be training harder than you as you tear past doing 10 x 100m efforts. The athlete sitting at home with his feet up may be training harder than you as you cycle along coughing and spluttering through a winter cold.
If you are unsure of how to balance your training to ensure all your hard training goes towards that easy race day you should consult an experienced coach. Most will happily chat for free at a training session to set you on the right path. You can even employ them to set a detailed training plan for you, to ensure you are doing the right proportions of training for your key events and to be able to quickly spot the signs things are going wrong. If you do not have the knowledge or experience to know how to train for your planned events ensure you are guided by someone who does.
Now is the time to develop your training plans for the coming year. Think about what you are doing ‘Train Smart – Race Easy’.