The start of the season is approaching and the early spring training race series are about to begin. Many riders see these inexpensive crits and road races as the start of the racing season and they approach the training races the same as they would any other event in the calendar. This is fine to a point, but ideally, training races should act as an extension of your normal training program to help prepare you for the big events in the heart of you racing year.
So how do you get the most out of a training race? First of all remember that it is about training and not so much about racing. The training goals of a training race can be quite varied depending on your racing experience and capabilities. With some riders, training races are a great place to work on pack riding skills. For others, the training races can be used to try out tactics and to work on team strategies and techniques. And for others, training races make for the perfect place to find their limits, strengths and weaknesses.
For any athlete I work with, my only rules when it comes to incorporating training races into their program is first of all to actually go into each training race with a goal to either try something new, work on a weakness or try some tactics without worrying about if they work or not. And, I do not want the training race to totally take the place of training for that day. Most spring training criteriums and even some road races are not really long enough to get in much of a workout, so augmenting the training race with extra time on the bike to make it into a full training day that includes the race and then some endurance or skill training is the ideal.
There are many things we can learn from a training race, especially if you are racing with a power meter. The most helpful data comes from events where the rider fails in some way. We can look at what was going on leading up to the problem and then figure out what can be done to avoid the failure the next time around. We might find that the rider is not attacking hard enough to get a gap on the field, or we may find that the rider is simply working too much and too hard in the race until eventually they just cannot keep up. The training races give us a great opportunity to make mistakes that we can learn from and to find out what we need to work on.
So how do you put some training in your training races? Have a goal for the event and remember that it is more about training and not so much about racing. After the race, think about what happened in the race, both good and bad, and see what you have learned. Talk to your coach or teammates about the race and see if they noticed something that you may have missed. Training is about getting stronger and if you have learned something that will help your racing, you will be stronger.