An XTERRA race week can be a busy several days with plenty of logistical things that can throw you off your game. The stressors involved with travel and leaving behind our busy lives (or taking our busy lives along) can add up if not accounted for. Hopefully, you have accounted for this by backing off your training hours and planning ahead. Unlike road triathlons, the technical elements of XTERRA often require some course recon in the days immediately before racing which makes it more important to arrive rested. Here are a few tips for your final day of preparation.
1. Schedule your day. Just like a toddler, sticking to a schedule can take some stress off and make sure you check the boxes so you aren’t scrambling race morning. Schedule your final training session somewhere around race time to help set your biological clock. Note times for race registration, XTERRA University, bike shop hours, and meals. If there are commitments with friends, see if you can get them to adapt to your schedule. Practice a transition set-up to make sure you have everything you need.
2. Don’t sabotage your race with that final workout or pre-ride. With XTERRA, it is important to be familiar with the race course but not at the expense of your race performance. Typically, we don’t recommend riding much more than an hour, so consider riding just a portion of the course at easy to moderate intensities. If your race week is on track and you have arrived tapered, you may benefit from some potentiation reps the day before the race, which consist of just a few short efforts (1-2 minutes) at one-hour race intensity (so hold back, not all out!). Beware not to try to ride with your strong buddy the day before. Use restraint and do your thing!
2. Nutrition. Although there will be a lot of variation here, there are some things to keep in mind the day before the race. In a hot/humid environment, hydration is important and should have started in the days before. However, we are not just talking about water, make sure that you drink consistently throughout the day and include some electrolytes in your drink and/or in your food. Stick with familiar foods and search for a variety of carbohydrate sources with each meal to top off your muscle and liver glycogen. Carbohydrates are your friend. This will be your primary fuel source during the race and compared to a low carb diet, someone in a carbo-loaded state can store almost twice as much carbohydrate which can double your time to exhaustion at race intensity.
3. Bike set up. The day before your race is not the time to take your bike in for a full tune up, but you should go through and double check that all nuts and bolts are tight. Be careful not to overtighten carbon fiber. I use a simple torque wrench on my seat post and handlebars.
Because XTERRA athletes are always out pre-riding the course, there often is last minute maintenance that needs to be done. Learn to do some basic maintenance yourself, and always figure out where the closest bike shop is so that you can make a last second visit if needed. Be patient and bring them a coffee the next time you stop in. They will remember you!
4. Mental imagery. Setting aside time to visualize what you plan to do is often an overlooked aspect of racing. Go through the entire race, including transitions. Visualize how you want your race to go, and be specific. Try writing it down. There are a variety of mental imagery strategies that can work. I personally like to use association as a mental strategy rather than disassociation. This means that I visualize the feelings and sensations that I will feel during the race including the discomfort. The focus is on your own physical state so that you are not surprised when you get into the race and it feels hard. Hopefully you have been doing this during your key sessions in training.
5. Race plan. We often hear athletes say that they don’t like to go into a race with a plan because every race is different and can be hard to predict. It can be hard to establish clear goals since XTERRA racing depends a lot on other people and times are less relevant, but you can still put together some goals for pacing and nutrition. Start with some basic process goals, such as when you will eat/drink before/during the race. In XTERRA, it is often better to plan where you will drink rather than when. Next go to performance goals, such as time goals for each leg, including transitions. Look at past results and set some realistic goals, but know that every year is different as courses and conditions change. Metrics such as heart rate and power can be great information to look at later but should not dictate your intensity during the race. Trust yourself and race by feel. Outcome goals are last and should not be the sole determinant of race day success.
6. Race morning. Again, stick with familiar pre-race foods that you know you can digest. For a 9:00 start try to consume your pre-race “meal” around 6:00-6:30am. Avoid high fat or high protein foods, but it is ok to include some to help lower the glycemic index of your meal and give it some staying power. The goal is just to top off your glycogen stores. The same goes for fluids—you don’t need to guzzle down large amounts of water, but fill up a bottle when you wake up and sip on it up until the race. Finally, a strategy that can work well for races lasting over 90 minutes is to take a carbohydrate gel 15 minutes before the start. The theory is that you won’t have time for the insulin response and the calories will be used as they are assimilated so you sparing precious glycogen stores.
7. Transition bag checklist. Use a checklist! Athletes often run around the night before a race and race morning with no focus. They start setting up their transition and then get distracted and start doing something else. Use your checklist to ensure you have everything and try to pack it in the same place each time. This repetition will make race morning much less stressful and your significant other will also appreciate it. Here is a list to get you started but add/subtract to make it your own.
- Goggles, spare goggles
- Swim Cap
- Body glide
- Bike helmet
- Cycling shoes
- Bike gloves
- Rubber bands
- Baby powder
- Running shoes
- Running hat/visor
- Nutrition (energy drink, gels, recovery drink)
- Transition towel
- Bike pump
- Number belt
- Duct tape/ electrical tape
- Timing chip, race numbers
Josiah Middaugh is the reigning and two-time XTERRA Pan America Tour Champion, a 12x XTERRA 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). His brother Yaro also has a masters degree and has been an active USAT certified coach for more than a decade. Read past training articles at http://www.xterraplanet.com/training/middaugh-coaching-corner and learn more about their coaching programs at http://middaughcoaching.com.