Race Simulations: Why We Love Them

This past weekend my coach had me do a race simulation, in reality it was almost a full race simulation week as it was a bit of a recovery week (like a simulated taper) ending with the bike/run race simulation and a big swim on Sunday. While I love my normal hard training weeks where you get to your big days on Saturday and Sunday and have to dig deep to hold it together for the weekend, I really do love race simulations. I have always been someone who excels during races, I am always much faster and stronger across all three disciplines in racing than I am in training. For me its the competition, I thrive on trying to beat people and the energy from races really jacks me up! I think this mindset is why some of my hardest training days are my best because I work hard to put myself into that competitive mindset during them. This weekend was no exception. With a 56 mile race pace effort ride and a 10 mile run at race pace effort run off the bike I was ready to rock n’ roll. Due to the weather in the Pacific Northwest being well, totally engulfed in winter, that meant I had to do this whole thing indoors - hello Zwift and treadmill!

As mentioned I really like race simulations as I feel like you can learn a lot from them, not only do I like them for myself but also I have my athletes do them as well. A race simulation doesn’t always have to be a complete day that is treated like a race but merely a specific workout say your long Sunday run where you do it at race pace effort, or even just a bike done with large portions at race pace effort. Now you can’t, and don’t want to do these types of training days, all the time because our bodies would break down but strategically placed they can be very beneficial.

How race simulation efforts can be beneficial:

Competitive mindset
It is hard during training to get yourself into the competitive mindset on a continual basis with training because it is such a grind. You could be weeks and months out from race day and getting yourself into a competitive mindset so far out is really hard. Secondly, most of us end up having to do most of our training by ourselves and when we spend a lot of time by ourselves that is also really hard to get into the competitive mindset because you are just racing yourself. For me, race simulations really put me into the race mindset and to do that I do everything I can to make it as close to race day as possible (minus the getting up super early, I’m not that hard core). When I do simulations like this I find myself racing the clock, I can see myself on the course, and I can picture the next girl up ahead of me. As I was coming into the last mile of my run I could see myself coming down Palani in Kona and making that last right handed turn onto Ali’i drive this wave of emotion spurred me to give just a little bit more than I was giving. To me, as an athlete and coach, this is what I believe race simulations can do for you. They can really bring up those strong emotions and strong visualizations that help you to give that little bit extra and push yourself just a little bit further.

Transition Practice
No matter how long you’ve been in the sport working on your transitions are really key as that little bit of time can decrease the stress you are under during a race day. Now this is sometimes hard to do dependent on your location, for example during mine last weekend I was indoors so I had to unplug my trainer and plug the treadmill in, turn the treadmill on and wait for it to get moving. These are pieces that you would not have to normally deal with and that is ok. But prior to that you can practice moving from bike to run with your gear and focus on keeping your heart rate in control during this time and changing your mindset from bike to run.

Dialing in Your Nutrition
This is one of the most important pieces of a race simulation. While we all wish we had the ability to do our training during the exact time frames that our races are on a regular basis that is usually not possible based on the training load, work, family, friends, appointments, etc. That actually makes it hard to dial in your nutrition because maybe you have to get your ride done early in the morning and you don’t eat your breakfast before that, or maybe that means you do it during your lunch break in which you’ve already eaten, etc, etc. With a race simulation it is good time frame to really dial in your race day nutrition; this includes both the nutrition (calories and fluids) that you consume intra workout but also pre and post workout. Because you are putting yourself through a race pace intensity it is a good time to see how your body responds to the calories and fluids that you put into your body when you are stressing it as you would during a race.

Check out how I managed my race day simulation training by clicking on the video below:

If you are not sure how to manage your intra workout nutrition you can check out my blog post on some rules of thumb when it comes to race day nutrition planning.

High Intensity Adaptation
This is not for everyone, because not everybody’s bodies respond to this type of intensity stimulus the same way, but the more time you can spend at race pace intensity the more your body adapts to it and won’t be thrown off balance on race day. Its this whole idea of getting yourself outside of your comfort zone is where you grow, the Finding Comfort in the Uncomfortable. Again you then have to adapt to this effort, it does not mean that you can do it back to back to back (unless you are in Enduro of Super League Triathlon, which is really fricken cool by the way), and then next time you will find that your body will respond quicker to the race pace effort the next time. They say that nothing should be new on race day that also goes for the paces you run, if you have never spent any time at full race pace effort your body won’t know what it is doing and panic a lot quicker than if you let it adapt and grow through the race pace.

Recovery Practices
When we just train on a daily basis, putting our bodies through training stresses, sometimes it does not require the same type of recovery efforts. For example, an easy recovery run or a day that only has a strength training segment is not going to require the same type of recovery and because of this often we can get really sloppy with our recovery. A full on race simulation puts your body through the same types of stresses as a race and in order for you to bounce back and be able to tackle the next day of training, or even get back and ready for the next week of training we have to nail our recovery practices. It is a chance for you to see how you need to fuel and re-hydrate post workout and then what type of other recovery activities such as compression, baths, massage, feet up, etc that works best for you. Now this does not mean that you should shirk your recovery practices during the rest of your training because it is still super important but it does give you a chance to dial it in a little bit more.

Not everyone excels with race simulations, and they do have to be programmed specifically and strategically depending on who you are as athlete, and where you are in your training. Here are times that race simulations may not work well:

🎖If you are still in the base building phase: most likely you have had enough training stress, build up, recovery, and/or volume or intensity to really have a strong race simulation and you could risk injury or over reaching too soon.

🎖If you are someone who just really does not do well without structure: this is where a coach comes in as they can learn this about you and make a decision if you are someone who can internally motivate themselves to succeed during something like this. If you really really struggle with situations like this then it could be mentally and emotionally defeating and that would not help you.

🎖If you do A LOT of them: race simulations are brutal, as they are very intense and very hard. While that is the purpose of them, to be intense and brutal so that your body can adapt to that kind of stress and intensity it can also really break you down and if you do too many of them you will overreach, maybe even peak too early.

🎖If you are brand new to the sport: while I believe that race simulations are important for beginners too because you need to learn how to manage all the pieces of a race and it is better to practice it in training then have no clue what you are getting into; really intense race simulations on beginners can be overwhelming and cause too much mental and physical stress. If you are brand new to the sport you are better off using your training days with specific practices like nutrition and transition so as not over stimulate both the mind and body.

So, if you have a race simulation lined up think about how you are going to tackle it. Plan it in your head as if it is a race so that you can get the most out of it. Then have some fun with it, race simulations can be a lot of fun if you prepare and are ready to mentally tackle them. Lastly, if your race simulation does not go well don’t worry about it! Sit down and write down what it is that went wrong and back track to how it is that you ended up in that position, it is a really great time to learn a little bit more about your body, your mindset, and where you are physically in your journey then the next time, or even for your race, you will be more prepared. Learning just a little bit more about yourself is all a part of the journey and that is all we are doing during this, learning more about who we are and what makes us tick!!