The ins and outs of preparing for the race start
You have spent several months preparing for this one event - many sacrifices have been made so the least you can do is capitalise on this and use the final 40-60 minutes of preparation time to maximise your performance!
An Ironman race start is hectic. In fact, most triathlon starts are! There are several hundred bodies trying to follow the same path, to get to the same place, all at once. There are arms and legs everywhere. Typically, the best swimmers, and most professional athletes, swim out hard for 100-200m before settling into their ‘race pace’. This not only separates them from the carnage that is the swim start, but means they are surrounded by other fast swimmers that they can work with. If they can work with or swim off other swimmers they can swim faster, and more efficiently, and get out of the water with a better calibre of athlete. This is a great tool that can help set up your race, and should be practiced in the pool and open water prior to race day. This type of conditioning is necessary for you to learn to identify how hard you can swim out in the initial 200m without ‘blowing up’. So, with this in mind let’s look at the best way to warm up on race day to enable you to experience this faster start and overall swim split. These principles can be applied to any long course triathlon swim start.
A warm up can and should result in increased blood flow, increased body/muscle temperature, increased muscle elasticity, increased heart rate and respiratory function and trigger the appropriate neural firing patterns (Smyth et. Al. 2000). It will also result in mental stimulation for the task at hand, and allow time to emotionally prepare to race. It is common to hear that many triathletes say that they don’t feel ‘good’ until about 20mins in a session or race – because they didn’t warm up properly! It takes at least this long to adequately prepare the body to ‘race’ and allow the above processes to occur to the desired level.
Increasing Blood Flow and Loosening Up
We know the warm up should physiologically and psychologically prepare the body to race. Smyth et al., also make the point that a warm up should activate the energy systems and muscle groups required for the main activity. In this case, a long swim (200m hard followed by 3.6km at race pace) is the ‘main activity’ and the most active muscles are the ones in the upper region of the back, arms and shoulders – including the latissimus dorsi and triceps. The process of increasing blood flow and body temperature can begin out of the water. A short jog can initialise the warm up process and start to stimulate increased blood flow, heart rate, body temperature and enzyme activity. This should be followed by increased stimulation to the ‘swimming muscles’ in the form of dynamic stretching. Such stretching should include movements that simulate the swimming action and activate the required muscle groups. This would include the shoulders, arms and lats!
Swim Specific Warm Up
Once you have put your swimsuit or wetsuit on get in the water to begin your specific swim warm up. The goal of this part of the warm up is to follow on from the initial, ‘general’ warm up and prepare you for the swim start. Begin with ten minutes of continuous swimming around the start and on the course. You may like to slowly build your intensity over the ten minutes, especially if you’re short on time. This will result in increased heart rate and blood flow to your arms, shoulders and back. It will also result in neural activation of the swim muscles.
Short and Sharp, Ready to Race
A series of builds and efforts will further increase your heart rate and simulate the level of stimulation required to swim hard and fast – which you will do for the race start. The important thing to note here is you are preparing yourself to swim at above your threshold for the first 200m of the race. These efforts will also increase your neural firing pattern, which will be critical in about ten minute’s time when you start the race. These efforts also assist mental preparation for the race as you introduce your body to how it is going to feel when you start racing. This includes factors such as heart rate, respiratory rate and muscular activity (think about how you feel at the beginning of a race).
Take Time to Relax and Focus
Once you have warmed up properly allow yourself a few minutes to relax prior to the official start. This will settle your nerves and breathing rate, especially as you know you are prepared to race – not just swim. When the gun, cannon or hooter goes off you will be ready to swim hard and start your day off with a bang! This would be the time to take on your pre race nutrition and hydration according to your individual nutrition plan.
Use this information as a guide come race day. Importantly, practice your routine in training to determine how you best warm up. For best results you need to adapt it for your needs! If there are any questions contact ETPA directly.
Smyth, Brown, Judge, McCallum & Pritchard. (2000). Live it Up, 2nd ed. John Wiley and Sons.
Professional Coach Mat Tippett – ex professional triathlete, ex national open swimmer and winner of numerous IM and HIM swims