A common error made by triathletes while racing is attempting to race at a level that exceeds their level of fitness. You might have heard this referred to as "outracing your training" and it is intricately tied to your race pacing strategy.

An error that is very easy to make, and can be extremely difficult to recover from. Let's use a fictitious athlete "Mike", an avid and fairly experienced endurance athlete.

Mike has done much of his training for his Ironman race with the goal of maintaining a 220 - 230 watt output for the bike leg, which for him, translates into a predicted time of roughly 5h30.

His training has developed his fitness on the bike to the point that he is confident he will be able to achieve this goal without to much distress, and he has developed a solid race strategy to follow during the bike leg that will take him to the run leg feeling confident and not overly fatigued.

In theory, and during his build up events, his numbers were spot on. He was diligent about following his pacing strategy, and his lead up went according to plan. Unfortunately the day of Ironman proved to be a different story.

Mike got caught up in the post swim adrenalin rush, and spent the first 3 hours of the 180km bike leg working about 4% above his planned output, which might not seem like much, but over 180 minutes, the added effort takes its toll on the each and every muscles fiber. It depletes the body's energy reserves a more rapidly than anticipated, and fatigue begins to set in, not only on the body but on the psyche too.

Fortunately Mike is a seasoned campaigner and he was able to reign things in before the wheels came off completely.

He backed off the elevated output enough to allow the muscles to recover thanks to the more reasonable level of intensity. He took on board additional calories to re-supply his body's energy reserves. He also took a few minutes to regroup mentally, allowing time to re-focus and redirect his efforts back onto working to his original bike strategy.

Lucky guy! For the less experienced participant, getting caught up drama and excitement of the big day can often lead to athletes "outracing their training" and before they know it, the wheels of their race have come off completely.

We sometimes forget that we have only conditioned our body to a certain level and yet often when we enter the racing environment, our expectations of what our bodies are capable of delivering become inflated.

In Mike's case, he believed that he could increase and sustain his power output by 9 watts. At the time, the increased demand he placed on his body seemed completely acceptable. But, for novice and veteran racers alike, out-racing your training is a sure way to throw your race completely. Fortunately he was able to make the necessary adjustments before it was to late, and he still managed to reach his time goal.

I can't stress it enough -- stick with your racing pace strategy. You did not invest in all that training to try to "out-race" yourself... it's one race you are guaranteed to lose.

James Greenwood is a competitive tri and multisport athlete currently training for Ironman Canada 2009. A level 1 Triathlon Coach, he holds a post graduate degree in Exercise Science, and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA. James is also currently the resident health and fitness programs expert at MyPypeline.com, and has starred in a number of multisport specific fitness videos.
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