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How to prepare for draft-legal racing

By Ross Hartley | July 24, 2018, 7:22 p.m. (ET)

Training for a draft-legal race requires high-intensity workouts.


Draft-legal racing is unique to traditional triathlon racing in both the intensity and the group dynamics of the race. To best prepare for this style of racing, athletes must incorporate high-intensity group training into their race preparation. Training with a team not only prepares athletes for the specific demands of draft-legal racing but also provides other benefits such as: increased motivation, additional accountability, and a more structured support system. 

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” said motivational speaker Jim Rohn.

Not only does this quote apply to life, but also to one’s training partners. There is an added motivational piece when training with those who are just above one’s current level. As the saying goes, “The lead dog sets the pace for the rest of the pack.” Athletes quickly respond and adapt to the group dynamics — both pace and temperament. 

When compared to training individually, a team environment provides an increased level of motivation. Athletes are surrounded by their peers who are all going through and experiencing the same ups and downs of both training and life. Athletes who show up and give their best effort attract others to do the same. 

Along with this motivation comes an additional level of accountability. In a team training environment, athletes are not only letting themselves down when they skip a session but also their teammates. The chances of skipping a session are greatly decreased when athletes know that others are counting on them to be there. It’s one thing to cancel plans on yourself, but it’s completely different to cancel on someone who is counting on you. 

In the same vein, this also includes an athlete’s focus and effort given during a workout. The chances of athletes not being focused and giving their best effort when training with a group are again greatly decreased compared to training solo. A team training environment creates another level of purpose within an athlete’s training: they are not just training for themselves but for their companions as well. 

From jokes, to pats on the back, to pick-me-ups after bad workouts and races, training in a group environment provides athletes with a support system that solo training cannot. The connections athletes make sharing the highs and lows of exercising together not only provides motivation in the moment, but they can also form the foundation of a social group that supports an athlete’s goals. 

Oxford University scientists compared the same athletes rowing solo for 45 minutes and rowing in a team for an equal amount of time. The team sessions resulted in higher endorphin levels, as measured by how much squeeze needed to be added to a blood-pressure cuff before the rowers felt the first twinge of discomfort. Endorphins produce a mild opiate high and create a sense of well-being as well as blocking pain. The rowers’ pain threshold was consistently twice as high after exercising with their teammates compared to exercising alone, even though the intensity of the workouts was identical. “Synchronized physical activity elevates mood and enhances a sense of social bonding,” the researchers explained. 

So, what are the best team training environments for draft-legal racing? Begin with the principle that the closer an athlete gets to race day, the more their training must focus on, and simulate, race day demands. Draft-legal racing, particularly the sprint distance, has a much higher intensity demand compared to other traditional races. Therefore, training for these types of events must include high-intensity sessions in a team environment. 

For the swim, this could be a masters swim practice. A group bike ride or cycling club is a great way to get necessary pack riding experience. Organized run groups and group runs led by specialty running stores provide great run training environments. Another option is for athletes to join their local USA Triathlon club for their organized workouts. 

Success in draft-legal racing requires that athletes have the ability to maintain high intensity while quickly producing a large amount of power/speed in a competitive group environment. A team training environment is one of the best ways to properly prepare athletes for draft-legal racing.

Ross Hartley is currently the head coach of Future Stars Youth Triathlon and a middle school teacher. He is also a high school cross country/track and youth swimming coach. He is based out of Columbus, Ohio.

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