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The Perfect Race Plan

By Abby Ruby | June 26, 2017, 12:34 p.m. (ET)

swim start 

So, you want to break three hours in your Olympic-distance triathlon this summer, clock in under six hours in your long-distance triathlon or break 12 hours in an ultra? Whatever your goal is, you’re wondering how to reach it. You’ve been training for months and your race is fast approaching. Now what? Kick back and enjoy your taper week hoping everything falls into place on race day? No! There’s a better way. You’ve put in the time and effort with the training, you are fit and you are ready, but taper week is no time to rest on your laurels. Taper week is the time to put together your perfect race plan so you can hit your target time.

What’s in a race plan?

A fueling strategy. This starts the week before the race and carries all the way through to post race. What are you going to eat and drink in the days leading up to the event? What are you going to eat on race morning? Leave nothing to chance (whatever the buffet is offering in my hotel). Instead write it out, practice it in training, and pack it with you if you can, or pick it up at a local market when you get to the race. Continue with the fueling plan pre-race, including hydration, nutrition, sodium and caffeine. How much? How often? What products? What flavors? Write it out, plan it out, and it will make packing that much easier. A good race plan is essentially a packing list.

A pacing strategy. What is your goal pace on the swim? The bike? The run? I recommend setting a range here — a window of 10-15 seconds will help you stay on task while fixing your goggles that just got kicked out of place on the swim or hitting a hill on the bike or run.

Process goals. This is perhaps the most important part of the perfect race plan, so spend the bulk of your time on this section. How are you going to hit your pacing strategy? What does it take to hold a 1:45 on the swim, for example? Write four bullet points per discipline to help execute the pace strategy.

  • Start in the front to the right
  • Sight every four strokes
  • Use bilateral breathing
  • Hold the toes of a faster swimmer

Those four tasks will help you hit your 1:45 target swim pace. On the bike, what will it take to hit a goal pace? Perhaps dial in a power range or an upper ceiling to avoid. Focus on cadence, maintain 90 revolutions per minute, use smooth shifting and keep a relaxed upper body. All of these process goals will help you hit your target pace on the bike. Same goes for the run: focus on cadence, watch your heart rate, pick off runners one at a time. Executing your process goals keeps you present on race day. They keep you in the moment, chipping away at your larger goal, and they help you feel more in control of the ultimate outcome. You should practice process goals in training too!

A mental strategy. What are you going to say to yourself as you toe the line at the swim start? As you fly up a hill on the bike? In and out of T1 and T2? Throughout the run? Setting a mantra ahead of time will help you, again, stay present and stay focused on the task at hand, and will ultimately lead to your race day success.

Transitions. Write out the order of operations and practice them ahead of time. What are you going to do as you head out of the water? Write it down. The process of writing something down helps solidify it in your mind, so when you are filled with adrenaline from the race and not thinking all that clearly, you will remember to put on your bike jersey before you put on your helmet. Most of us only make that mistake once.

Some athletes love spreadsheets and thus make their race plan in Excel with columns for timing, plan, nutrition, mental and rows for the days before the race and pre-race, swim, T1, bike, T2, run.  And I have more linear thinkers who write out their race plan from start to finish in a Word document. There’s no one right way to write a race plan. Write the plan that works for you — just be sure to write it! Remember, proper preparation prevents poor performance. Use the extra time in your taper week to write out what it will take to execute your perfect race. Committing it to paper is a key step in actualizing your dream.

Abby Ruby Crew is the founder of BalancedPower Coaching. She has a Ph.D. in sports psychology, is a Certified Athletic Trainer, a CISSN Certified Sport Nutritionist, a USA Triathlon Level II Certified Coach and she authored and published “In Sickness and In Health: Exercise Addiction in Endurance Athletics. With over 10 years of experience coaching athletes and working with a wide range of clients from world-class to novice triathletes, runners and cyclists, Abby draws from her own personal experience as an athlete as well as her academic knowledge of sports and psychology to help athletes reach their goals. Check out

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.