Tips By Frank: Do’s & Don’ts Before Race Day

Cold water swim expert and tri veteran Frank Smuts shares his pre-race wisdom…

With just over a week to CHALLENGECAPETOWN and you are ready to be a part of Cape Town’s first middle distance triathlon (1,9 km swim, 90 km bike and 21 km run). Don’t miss it due to injury!

To get to the start line in one piece, rolling yourself and your gear in cotton wool is advisable, but also impractical. So what should you do, or not do, to get to the start line in your best form?

By now your body is superfit, but it knows movement in only one direction, which is forward. Do not play soccer with the kids, touch rugby with the boys, or any other sport that requires bursts of sideways movement. Any sudden sideways movement might just leave you with sore muscles or even a pulled groin. No matter how fit that iOS or android app says you are, your body is trained to go forward, not sideways.

Also stay away from anything that requires excessive strength. If your neighbour asks you to help carry his fridge, use any lame excuse to get out of it. Any DIY is not advised. A simple movement, such as stepping wrongly off a ladder could induce a race destroying niggle. Ultra distance training builds lean, endurance-orientated muscles. Your muscles are used to escalating their work rate gradually, with the ability to maintain a sensible just-below lactic threshold pace. Stay away from jerky, sprinty, strengthy kind of stuff for now. Leave that for the obstacle course racers.

Give your body a good rinse. And this does not mean on the outside, but on the inside. If you have allowed yourself chemical concoctions like diet cool drinks and other non-nutritive stuff, cut all of it out and drink lots of water.

On race day you want a clean burning engine that executes the metabolic processes for optimal energy as fast as possible. It will also maintain your race weight better, without the “crash effect”. As long as you eat right and enough, your endurance levels will remain optimal. It should actually improve, because your body would have expelled all those chemical, totally non-beneficial stuff. Also, your choice of energy drink, gels and solid race foods should have been tested by now. Don’t let over-zealous salesmen talk you into new stuff at this time.

As far as gear goes, it is a clichéd statement, but anything new at this stage is not advisable. Buyer’s bias will make you believe that new saddle or pair of shoes is great, but a ten-kilometre test drive is too short for a judgement call. The same goes for all other gear. A hydration system with which you are unfamiliar with can be a great rhythm-breaker on race day. Unless it is broken, changing a gear cable or other bike parts without a proper, long test ride afterwards is also a no-no. The only thing that should be changed quite close to race day is tyre sealant. Any sealant older than about 4 months might have solidified, rendering it useless.

Back to the body: let it sleep. You have to do it right. Look at the chickens and learn from them. Eight hours sleep starting at ten is worth much more than the same amount, starting at midnight or later. Good tapering and enough sleep determine how much the bow gets pulled back that shoots the arrow. Allow yourself that advantage unreservedly.

More important than most, you cannot get fitter in the last few days. You can only get more tired. Don’t try to clock that 10 km goal-pace you have been chasing for months, in the last week. It will not make you fitter. A pulled hamstring is a much more likely outcome. Unrested and unrecovered muscles cause loss of form on race day, turning what could have been a great race into a survival effort.

Race day is a celebration of the joy triathlon has added to your life. Don’t allow yourself to be caught up in the angst of race nerves. Just keep the faith that came with all the training you did. Remind yourself of the best swims, rides and runs you had. Replay them in your head and promise yourself to do the same on race day. You have done the work, now own the physical and mental strength.

On 10 November 2019 we will all be part of this historical triathlon, Challenge Cape Town. Enjoy race day!