Racing. It is starting again. You worked diligently over the winter (right?) and now the first races of the season are starting to pop up. Many of you will be kicking off your racing season in the next 4-12 weeks. This means that your training should step away from general conditioning and move towards meeting the specific demands of your race(s). What are the specific demands?
It really depends on the race length, your goals in said race, and your general experience with racing. If there is one thing I can definitely attest to after nine seasons of triathlons, it is this: Training is not racing. Racing might be training, but not vice versa.
My point is that we tend to do things in races that we never think about in training. Lower priority races can serve certain training needs, but the highest priority training sessions are never the same as a race itself. This is one of the reasons that I like to begin incorporating some sort of racing before I start racing. Specifically, I like to race something that is shorter than my first key triathlon. This can be a standalone event (a running race, bike TT, swim race, etc.) or it can be a short, quick sprint triathlon (if your first event is a sprint triathlon, then try a standalone run or bike event or shorter duration).
I would avoid the need to begin with something that lasts longer than 90 minutes (or 30-40 minutes if it is a run or bike race), even if your first key race of the season lasts longer than four hours. The shorter events will help you shift from a “training” mentality to a “racing” mentality without using up too much of your mojo. A short, fast hit-out will (hopefully) redirect you towards the goals you initially set for yourself before the season began. All of a sudden, your training performances will become secondary to your race performances (as they should).
Another good reason to have these short events is that you don’t have to live with your mistakes for too long. We all feel flustered, out of place, or even lousy during the first really fast effort of the season. If your event lasts roughly 30-90 minutes, then you don’t have to regret going out too hard, eating the wrong breakfast, wearing the wrong the shorts, etc., for all that long. These lower priority events are great for making mistakes, learning from them, and then avoiding them when it really counts.
Finally, going as fast as you can from time to time is good for the soul (at least I think so). It helps you temper your training and keep it as “training” while avoiding the need to constantly test yourself when nothing is on the line. Need a test? Find a race. Go on the record and see where you stand.