Training to Simulate Racing Conditions

When you are developing your training program for a key event you should not overlook the specific racing conditions that you will face. Your level of preparedness for the unique challenges can either make or break your race. Whether you have only done one event or hundreds, it is likely that you have had a race where you discovered you were unprepared. This usually means suffering the consequences of a poor performance, unnecessary soreness during and/or after the event, or in severe cases, ending up in the medical tent. Here are some tips to help prevent this from happening to you.

Specificity of Training

One of the most important concepts to understand about training is that you will only be prepared for what you have done in training. The body is brilliantly designed to respond to the stresses that you apply to it and will adapt with a physiological response. This rule applies for improvements in fitness, as well as for losses of fitness. You should make an effort to construct your training program in a way that will prepare your body for the exact conditions you will face on race day. Sometimes you will only learn the intricacies of a given race by actually doing it, so you have to do your best to prepare and understand that you’ll have a better plan the next time you take it on.

Do Your Homework

Your first order of business is to find out what challenges you will face during your key race.
Here are some factors to consider and how they can affect you:

  • How hilly is the course and how steep are the hills? Your quad muscles will be destroyed by the down-hills if you are not well trained and your hip flexors will fail if you are not prepared for the up-hills.
  • What type of surface will you be racing on? Trails, pavement, concrete? Your lower legs, feet and ankles will be challenged and possibly injured if you aren’t used to running trails. Your legs will be beat up terribly if you are not used to running on hard surfaces such as pavement or especially concrete.
  • Will the surface be flat, cambered, rough, pot-holed? If you are not used to any of these obstacles it will be annoying at the least and may lead to an injury in the worst case.
  • What is the overall elevation gain or loss? In either case, it will be more demanding if you are not prepared for the specific rhythm of ups and downs that you will face.
  • If it’s a multi-sport race, how will the difficulty of one leg affect your performance in another leg? If one leg is more than you’ve bargained for, it will affect the events to follow.
  • For swimmers, what is the water temperature, and what are the water conditions and navigation like? Being unprepared for specific swim challenges can leave you with any number of problems such as: over-heating, hypothermia, going off course, not swimming straight, or putting yourself in a dangerous situation.

Reconnaissance Missions

One useful strategy to employ is to visit the race location well before your event and get some first-hand knowledge of the conditions. If you are close enough to the race course, you should do as much on-course training as possible. This way you can be certain that you are preparing yourself physically and mentally for the demands of your race. Another side benefit to doing this is that it will give you a chance to work on your pacing for the race, which in turn will give you a good idea of how you will perform. If you don’t have the opportunity to preview the course in person, try connecting with someone who has participated in the past. Their insight about course conditions, elevation profile, and other tips can provide useful information that can help guide your training and preparation.


Thinking ahead and preparing yourself properly will pay huge dividends for your next big race. Some good places to look for detailed race information are race websites, athlete networks, retailers at the race location (running, cycling, triathlon shops) or blogs. Make the extra effort to find out the little details and you will be at your best for your big day.

About the author
Tim Monaco is a Multi-Sport Coach, Licensed Massage Therapist, Corrective Exercise Specialist and CHEK Holistic Lifestyle Coach from Bend, OR.