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By Senior Coach - Lisa Spink
By now most athletes know about run - walk strategies for endurance events. Obviously, it is mixing run intervals with walk intervals – no rocket science in that! But is this strategy confined to the completers or is it a sound strategy for those wanting to reach their absolute potential and why?
Let’s drive into some of science and practical applications of the run - walk strategy.
Initially a run - walk strategy was possibly thought of for those who didn’t think they could cover the distance running the entire way - so to be able to complete the event they used a run - walk strategy and it works.
Then it evolved and we saw elites, such as Jan Frodeno win Kona with a run - walk strategy. “Interestingly for a man with such prodigious speed and strength, Frodeno won more with conservative wisdom than brute power. When recounting his race, he gave much credit to his habit of walking through many aid stations on the run. He explained to Slowtwitch that slowing down to take in the hydration and nutrition and letting his core temperature cool down. Ultra-runners use run-walk strategies in track, road and trail events again with the goal to improve performance not just to be able to complete the distance.
So, I think we can say a run - walk strategy is a legitimate strategy to be explored for improving your performance regardless of the level of competition. For some athletes this will mean losing the ego and doing as Frodeno did, using “wisdom” to reach their potential. Now, I say “explore” because some events and athletes maybe more or less suited to this strategy so as always N=1, but let’s be smart enough to use the best strategy for the event we are racing in.
Why do run - walk strategies work? This is an interesting topic in which an Assoc Professor friend from Universite Rennes II (France) and I have chatted about for several years following research he did involving ultra-running and fatigue (I was privilege to part of discussion group and a guinea pig for his research). So apart from the above important aspects sighted by Frodeno, which included the ability to take in hydration, calories and cooling the core body temp in the notoriously hot run conditions of Kona – there are physiological and biomechanical considerations as well.
The first, is the strategy can assist in controlling the RPE at the start of the run. Many athletes fall into the trap of extending themselves at the start of the run (either in a triathlon or in a straight running event) which can lead to loss of force and soft tissue ailments. In this scenario running speed eventually slows and unless the athlete has spent time running at the slower speeds, running economy can be compromised, running gait can change, which places stress on different mechanics and now both physiology and biomechanics can be affected. The loss of running economy starts the downward spiral of requiring more energy and oxygen to perform movements which are becoming more inefficient that require more energy and oxygen. With the possible change in gait, through loss of force production the risk of injury is increased.
Secondly, changing the gait cycle from running to walking and back again may play a role in conserving force production, muscle contraction and neuromuscular fatigue. Even though from a gross motor perspective running and walking may look similar the muscle involvement and kinetic chains are different and the neuromuscular pathways differ – therefore switching between the 2 modes may assist in prolonging the overall performance at high intensities.
Thirdly and not to be understate is the psychological aspect of the strategy. By the pure nature of the run-walk strategy, the event is broken into small manageable “chunks” for the athlete. The variety of both modes allows the athlete to continually reset and this can greatly assist in maintaining motivation. Again, by the pure nature of the strategy athletes can feel like they are running at a “better” pace while performing a run-walk strategy then the possibly unmotivating “slower” pace and “slowing” pace which can be the result of a continuous run strategy.
These are just some of the “geeky” theories behind the run-walk strategy but what does it mean for you the athlete. Here are a few tips.
Like always “happy athletes are fast athletes – love the journey to living your potential”
Having competed in the sport of triathlon for well over a decade now, I like to think of myself as a relatively seasoned triathlete. Despite this, I regularly suffer from the most debilitating race day nerves, induced, I’m certain, by my tendency to over-analyse almost every aspect of my life.
According to the experts, pre-race anxiety is a completely normal occurrence and, if managed correctly, can help you race faster by getting that adrenaline flowing. But there’s a fine line between pre-race butterflies and being hunched over in transition, heaving with your head between your legs (aka me, Noosa Triathlon circa 2012, 2013, 2015 et. al.). Yes, controlled nerves can be good, but the kind that completely sap all energy from your body? Not so much.
The following tips for tackling race day nerves have been tried, tested and suggested by some of the best in the business.
If you find yourself suffering from unhealthy pre-race nerves, try putting some of these tips into practice – they might just be your ticket to a more relaxed race day.
1. Be honest with yourself and trust in the training
Nothing makes me more nervous than greeting the start line knowing I have not put 100% into my training. Conversely, nothing makes me calmer than greeting the start line knowing I’ve prepared to the best of my ability.
Remember those days you ran in the rain, swam in the dark and opted out of a very enticing sleep-in? Now is their time to shine!
Trust in the training you’ve done, set realistic race expectations and be confident that your T:Zero Multisport coach has prepared you as best they can. Having trust in your coach and knowing within yourself you’ve given it everything can go a long way to calming that nervous beast within.
Know your plan, be unwaveringly confident in your preparation and stick to it.
Visualise yourself going through the motions – from race morning preparations all the way through transition set-up, swim start, bike, run and my personal favourite - the finishing chute!
Not just handy to employ on race day itself, visualisation is great to practice regularly in training before race day rolls around. Every training session is an opportunity to visualise - race morning, race start, transitions and crossing that finish line.
When race day dawns, having that familiarity and focus will make it feel (almost) like just another training day.
3. Get organised
Depending on the location and type of race, arriving a day or so beforehand for smaller, local events or more if we’re talking long-distance, provides a good opportunity to settle in and familiarise yourself with the local area, race HQ and the course itself.
If you can, take the opportunity to do some race course reconnaissance – ride (part of) or drive the bike course, jog part of the run course and do some easy swim course laps in the day(s) leading up to your race. Alternatively, if you live close by, make sure you train part (or all) of the course regularly.
Familarise yourself with the race day schedule, transition opening/closing times and any specific race requirements to alleviate unnecessary stress, so you can save that energy for the race itself!
Also, think about booking your accommodation early - perhaps close to the start line (but not too close) and take into consideration the location of any support requirements you might need such as bike mechanics and masseuses etc.
4. Meditate … or just breathe!
For a sure-fire way to destress, there’s nothing better than a solid meditation session. But if the thought of finding your zen in a sea of nervous pre-race chatter seems impossible, employing a simple breathing technique might just do the trick.
Try “3,4,5”. Breathe in for 3 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 5 seconds and repeat (I know you just did it, but do it again for good measure).
This little technique has been instrumental in calming my nerves and lowering my heart rate during periods of peak anxiety, and best of all it’s so easy to remember. If this one doesn’t float your boat, there are plenty of other breathing techniques around. Find the one that suits you best and … breathe.
5. Listen to Music
Listening to music can provide a wonderful and easy distraction to stop you getting too worked up by what’s going on around you – particularly during transition set up.
Music can help to relax you and headphones provide a great buffer to drown out the nervous chatter of other athletes and act as a deterrent for unnecessary interruptions.
Keep your music light and fun. I like to listen to the same music I’ve trained with over the months leading up to race day, making sure a couple of key favourites that really lift me up are on high rotation.
6. Use Mantras
Effective mantras address what you want to feel as opposed to the adversity you are trying to overcome. When you feel as though doubts and distractions are getting the better of you, a mantra can help to keep you calm and focussed on the task at hand.
Numerous studies have shown that positive self-talk leads to overall increased performance and an increase in athlete self-confidence. Mantras are great at directing your mind away from negative thoughts and towards more positive ones that can help you transcend the pain or anxiety you are (inevitably) experiencing.
Choose a mantra that’s short, positive, instructive, and full of action words. For example, “Strong, Light, Smooth” was my mantra for Ironman marathons.
Test your mantra during training to find one that works for you.
7. Pre-Race Rituals
Developing a pre-race ritual is a great way to help you bring a sense of normalcy, familiarity and comfort to race morning. As with visualisation (refer Tip #2), the best time to create and polish your pre-race ritual is during training.
Your ritual can be anything from eating the same meal the day before and on race morning, (the classic) flat lay of race gear on your bed before packing it up or the order in which you go through the motions on race morning - body marking, transition set up, stretching and so on. Your ritual can be whatever you want, as long as you find it effective, calming and meaningful.
8. Remember your ‘Why’
When all else fails? Make sure to remember your ‘Why’. As cliché as it sounds, at the end of the day, we love this sport and we do this sport because it’s FUN.
Training, racing, logistics and irrational fears aside – what’s the one thing that lights the fire within, for you?
Take some time to stop and reflect on your journey, your progress and your ‘Why’.
As always, there’s rarely a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution and what works for one athlete may be completely useless to another. So please, take the above suggestions with a grain of salt.
Try testing some of these techniques during training and on your ‘B’ and ‘C’ races to find what works for you. Come race day, you’ll be sufficiently equipped to transform those pre-race nerves into excitement and measured anticipation.
What are your own tips and tricks for dealing with pre-race nerves? Let us know in the comments below!
An amazing collection of training and racing advice from the T:Zero Multisport coaches- with the occasional guest blogger! Read this blog to help you live your potential!