As I write this in November there is a good chance that your primary race for the year will be some months off. Perhaps you are aiming for a Spring Marathon or maybe a Summer Ironman and therefore any race that you conduct around this time in the season can be thought of as a Training Race or a C or perhaps B Focus event. As a runner you may have entered your local Cross Country (XC) series or some trail races or as a triathlete perhaps you are doing a Winter Duathlon or you have entered a Cyclocross race or you also are taking part in that same Cross Country league. So how are you going to approach this Training Race? By at least having an “approach” you can ensure that you get the most out of the experience either as a race, as a race simulation or as a solid training experience. First and foremost I think it is key just to have the approach or goal that you aim to get something out of the event. It doesn’t need to involve the totality of the event; perhaps you have been working your bike strength recently so in the Duathlon you want to focus on the bike, or you have been working on some run hill reps so you want to feel like you can push more than usual on the hills. Perhaps you have devised up a new warm up strategy, or if appropriate a new nutrition strategy or have some new kit you want to try out. What ever it is, make a point of noting it and understand that it is your rationale for the race.
One thing to consider is that you have paid money and taken time to enter the race and to get to the race venue so you do want to race and race hard! However in this phase of the season you do not want to forgo good training time by tapering for such an event - so incorporate it into your training volume. As a runner if you have a 10km XC race then perhaps do an easy 5km jog before breakfast then head out for the race and either as a cool down or later in the day do a 5km cool down jog so you make it a 20km run day with the middle 10km being at a hard race pace. Or as a triathlete, do a nice aerobic 4km swim set on the Friday and a long easy bike or possibly turbo session on the Saturday before entering the same XC race on the Sunday. In both cases run the race as hard as you can and it can be your hard session for the weekend. That way you get the competitive juices flowing, you run hard against others, your trial new strategies but you incorporate it all appropriately into your weekly training load.
After the event don’t forget to reflect and consider what went well and what went not so well. Look at the process and not the outcome. The outcome will be affected by the fact that for you this was a training day – for others this may be their goal for the year! So look at the process: how did that new warm up routine work, or that new kit or that race strategy? Consider it all and reflect such that when it comes time for your A race all of these things are second nature.
So take your training races seriously but remember their place within the bigger picture. Place them appropriately within your programme, go into them with a plan, race them hard and reflect upon them afterwards. That way you’ll be on your way to greater success when the main races in your season roll around!