I was reading a recent athlete's training log online, (via TrainingPeaks, which I use with my clients), and when I read something in it, I took quick notice.
It was the day before the Clearwater Ironman 70.3 Worlds, and the athlete had three short, simple workouts, of easy swim, bike and run, each with a few accelerations to race intensity for about 30 secs or so. The main point of the workouts is not to fatigue the athlete, but to keep them fresh and sharp, use up some nervous energy they'll probably feeling, etc.
The athlete had completed the bike and run portions, but when I read the swim portion, it said, "didnt get to the swim, as is often the case." I was floored! I believe I even said something outloud, such as, "what the hell???"
Now, it may not seem like a big deal, and physically speaking, it probably isn't. But what this represents to me is a bigger issue which needed to be addressed with the athlete, (more on that soon.) This was the World Championships! What in the world can be going on which is more important? Even worse, what is consistently happening at race events, the day before, that the athlete "didn't get to the swim, AS IS OFTEN THE CASE"?
To be fair, I only started working with this athlete in the 2 weeks prior to the race, so I am learning a lot about him. After the race, he called me, and it did not go as he had hoped. Most of this was probably due to racing Kona, and feeling pretty drained mentally after that. I listened to everything, before I asked about the swim, and what happened. He began to take me thru the day, and running around for this person and that person, here, there, everywhere.
Our discussion lead to me asking him how this might have affected his preparations, not just mentally, but physically as well. He hadn't realized how much energy he was expending by making his pre-race days so busy and stressful. He fights the feeling of being selfish, and hates telling people "No, I can't. I have to focus on my race." This is something he needs to get over, as he will only jeopardize his performances even further.
When an athlete is at a major event, especially an "A" priority race, that race is the most important thing. Even during the race week, everyday should begin with a plan based on the race as the first and foremost priority. Athletes need to ask themselves, "will this possibly hurt my race?" If the answer is yes, it is possible, then you shouldn't be doing it.
Ideally, you get up in the AM, get your workouts done and out of the way, take care of the pre-race prep for the bike check-in, bags, etc, and then relax. Massage, eating, and couch time are about the only activities I would approve of. It's with this time, athletes can really relax and prepare themselves mentally for their race.
I would encourage you to look at your race week activities, and especially those in the days immediately preceeding the race. Do you tend to make this action-packed? Or do you make them calm and race-focused? Think about it, and plan accordingly.
Don't kill your race before it starts, by stressing yourself out. There will be plenty of time for stress after the race, trust me.