With the XTERRA World Championships rapidly approaching in just over a month many athletes are hoping to have their best race. They are looking at their training and performances to this point and deciding what it all will mean when they toe the line. Part of what makes XTERRA racing so exciting is that there are so many variables on race day.
This also makes it challenging to set goals and to compare performances from one year to the next.
Josiah Middaugh is a champion and a certified trainer. (Image by XTERRA)
Races are not competed on paper
We often talk about training metrics and how to use them to guide your training. They can help define training targets, gauge progress, and give you confidence heading into races. However, races are not competed on paper. This is especially true in XTERRA where technical skills and grit can play major roles in the outcome. There is no resume submission and it doesn’t matter what your functional threshold power is if you don’t deliver on race day.
Nothing more, nothing less
One thing that separates many top performers from the rest is both the ability to put in the quality work and the discipline to hold back on easier or shorter days. Time and time again the athletes I coach who make the most progress are those that follow the workouts to the “T.”
This doesn’t mean blindly following the workouts, but also logging the training, giving feedback, and being engaged in the process. Key workouts are challenging and one way to tell if someone is overreaching is whether or not the workouts can be completed at the proper intensity. If you are always carrying around a hefty load of cumulative fatigue and the thought of a structured threshold makes you feel ill, then you might be overreaching with too much unnecessary volume or going to hard on your easy days.
The whole is greater than the sum of the parts
XTERRA is about more than simply swimming, biking, and running. It is not made up of stand-alone events, rather a series of consecutive tests of your speed, power, skill and endurance. Fatigue is cumulative and so is the brain strain. Staying in the moment and focused on the task at hand becomes increasingly difficult as the race progresses. It might help to compartmentalize each section of the race, but know that each leg of the race is not entirely independent.
We are what we repeatedly do
Key sessions around race intensity train the body and the mind. Do you consistently finish the hardest workouts on your schedule each week or do you cut them short when they get “hard”? Do you start out too hard in all of your interval sessions and end up cutting power by the end? Despite all of the angst leading up to a race, know that once the gun goes off, the body will respond in the way it has been taught through repetition. Don’t expect a race to feel easy, expect it to be your biggest physical and mental challenge. If you feel like you don’t have legs at the start of the bike, don’t throw in the towel. Dig deeper, narrow your focus, rise to the occasion and stay present. Draw strength from the sessions you have completed in training even when conditions were not ideal.
Racing is about the intangibles
As a coach, I really like using field tests and lab tests for many reasons, but racing ability moves beyond the objective data. The ability to rise to perform on race day is hard to predict. I bet if you took field test data from top 5 performers overall and the same goes for the podium in each age group, you still would have a hard time predicting finish order. Many triathletes find initial success by out-training others.
However, don’t leave your best performances in training, at the local track workout, or on a Strava segment. The goal is not to out-exercise your competition, but to perform when it counts. Be honest with yourself and don’t pad the training log with junk miles that are only serving up fatigue but not contributing to overall fitness, especially as your key competition nears. Out of insecurity, the tendency is to test yourself one final time before race day with what I term a self-sabotage workout. No pre-packaged excuses like “I’m training through this race” or “I put in 20 hours this week.” Fuel off others thrive on competition.
The evolution of a champion goes something like this:
● Train to train
● Train to compete
● Compete to win
Race to YOUR potential
A race decides who is the best on that one day. I used to think that I needed an extraordinary performance to reach my race goal, or I needed to go beyond my potential. If your expectations reside somewhere in reality, then you are actually just looking for a performance that you are already capable of. You want to get the most out of yourself on this one day. Nothing more, nothing less.
Josiah Middaugh is the reigning and two-time XTERRA Pan America Tour Champion, a 12x XTERRA US National Champ, and the 2015 XTERRA World Champion. He has a masters degree in kinesiology and has been a certified personal trainer for 18 years (NSCA-CSCS).
This blog post was originally published on Middaugh Coaching Corner at xterraplanet.com.