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Tips & News

NEIL’S TIPS: RACE STRATEGY AND CONDITIONS.

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BY NEIL VALLANCE

Races are opening up and they are the ultimate challenge of our fitness, right?

But it is impossible and slightly silly to approach every race (of similar distances) identically. Race topography, weather conditions and climate all dictate how we should race a particular race.

A good example for triathletes would be the 70.3 Ironman in Durban in winter! Well, it is technically winter, but if you travel from the Cape or inland, the heat and humidity can be challenging. Likewise, the Comrades marathon can surprise athletes who are not accustomed to the humidity of KwaZulu. These conditions are a sure recipe for slower than normal race times and a lot of sweat/mineral loss.

My guess is that a lot of athletes can cramp up and worse, with a lot of suffering in the later part of the races. We are lucky in that the majority of races we do start early in the morning, before the heat of the day reaches its peak. But we have to prepare for the worst as we prepare to do our best!

South Africa does have a relatively mild change in seasons, but this time of year generally means cooler and wetter in the Cape, cooler with thunderstorms in the highveld and Durban is always warm and humid!!! If the body is still in “summer mode”, then it is not going to be efficient in a winter-like setting. We need to realize there is more to racing well than just training well. We need to realize that until we are accustomed to the conditions of a race venue (variables outlined above), we have to be a little more
conservative than usual.

When it is hot and humid, you need to set realistic goals. You will not be setting a PR or racing flat out from the gun. You need to build into the race, take in slightly more fluids and supplements to counteract the negative effects of the climate and weather and focus on finishing strong rather than necessarily starting strong. If it is cold, then you need to give yourself more time to warm up and get into a rhythm. And you need to realize that the body is going to be sending blood to the internal organs that would normally be allocated to the working muscles, hence robbing your muscles of oxygen and slowing you down. If you ignore this, you get into trouble early. If you prepare for this, by gradually building into the race, you run a much better chance of experiencing better results.

Rarely do we hit a race that is “perfect” in how it is set up - completely plays to our strength(s), moderate temperatures, no wind, overcast, etc. There is always some set of variables we need to address directly, (coastal athletes heading to Johannesburg need to consider altitude) recognize they exist and plan how we are going to overcome these unusual conditions. In this case, ignorance is not bliss.

Racing hard is always the goal. But the definition of “racing hard” is malleable and constantly changing, based on what every given race throws at us. Even the same race, year after year, is going to throw differing venues at us - Ironman 2012 springs to mind!!! One year could be warm and sunny while the next it could be raining and cold. In this case, each race is approached differently.

Training gets you to the line ready to race well. But it is what you do after the gun goes off that dictates just how successful your race will ultimately be. As you lay out your race-day plan, be sure to take all variables and stimuli into account. This is how you will ensure your greatest successes.
 
Neil’s Tips: In warm and humid weather you need to focus on hydration and electrolyte intake. Avoid over consuming water in an effort to replace all the sweat being lost, to avoid hyponatremia. It will sometimes be necessary to decrease your calorie intake in these conditions. Altitude will require a similar adjustment, focus on hydration and electrolytes, with a possible reduction in your caloric intake. Cold and windy weather often leaves us feeling like we do not need to hydrate, this is not usually a big issue as you can always increase hydration if necessary, but be aware of the possibility of not drinking enough fluids. Most importantly…consider the race conditions and be adaptable.