Early swim practice to optimize race preparation

Optimize race preparation: the Early Bird secret

Triathletes are always looking for training tips and habits to optimize race preparation. With my years of racing and triathlon experience, there is one very useful training habit that I learned. I named it: the Early Bird Secret. Sadly, it has never been the easiest training habit for me to get used to. However, I found out that it is one of the most useful tip if you are looking for ways to optimize race preparation. But enough mystery now; let’s reveal this secret to you!

The discovery of the Early Bird Secret

It all started with a bike ride

For most cyclists, going for a long-ride is pretty much always the same ritual. Setting the alarm-clock to an insane time (way too early!), and being out and riding no later than dawn. I used to think that cyclists were crazy, essentially because I am really NOT a morning person. Of course, I could understand that, with a 9 to 5 job, on weekdays, waking up early is the only way for some of us to exercise. But in the weekends…why? Why would I wake up at a crazy hour, to get on my bike so early, when I have the whole day to ride?

Transition area setup, early start to optimize race preparation
Transition area setup in the morning sunrise

I really did not understand cyclists. Until that one day, where I had no choice but getting my 6-hour ride in, before noon. I was training for a half and I needed to put some miles on the bike, to prepare well for race day. Unfortunately, I had plans for the entire weekend. The only way to make it work was then to set the alarm to wake up at 4:30am and get ready for a ride.

The realization

This day changed my entire perception of early bird cyclists. The experience was fantastic! In fact, there is nothing more enjoyable than the amazing light of the morning sunrise, while being on the bike with this unique feeling that the road is yours. No cars, no noise, just a bunch of curious chipmunks as the nature is waking up.

Early Bird secret to Optimize race preparation
Setting up the swim course for an early start, in the morning fog

Surprisingly, I was stunned by how pleasant the experience was. If I had known, I would have done it before. But I had a fear that my morning-reluctant body would not be fully awake. I was afraid to be putting myself at risk, on the roads in a still semi-asleep state.

But this is where the effect of the sunrise comes into play. There is something in the morning light that instantly wakes you up, as soon as you head out. The air feels fresher and all your senses seem to actually be sharper. After all, the sun is the best circadian light out there, so no wonder it puts you in a great condition.

And there I had found: the Early Bird Secret.

The key to optimize race preparation

First of all, having a solid breakfast is essential for a successful morning ride. After a good night of sleep (yet with a tough wake up time!), your system is literally in a fasting state. Replenishing it with food and fluids is an absolute necessity before starting an energy-demanding effort.

Triathlons start at dawn

I wouldn’t say I got used to waking up (very) early yet, but I absolutely can see the enjoyment of it now. Additionally, training in the early morning conditions is sort of a pre-required for triathletes.

Early swimming to optimize race preparation
IM 70.3 Maine, 6am swim warm up

Most triathlons start at dawn, it can be brutal to start racing as the sun rises if you are not used to it. Especially when the first thing you do is immerse your body into relatively cold water. I remember vividly my 52°F swim at 6am on IM 70.3 Maine race!

Set the alarm and get the habit

So, give it a try! Getting familiar with the way your body reacts and performs in early sessions is not a bad idea at all. Becoming used to workout early, as soon as you wake up, is probably the most useful habit you can get to optimize race preparation. Plus, you will discover this precious secret.

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