I love competing! I love the race aspect and trying to perform the best you can on a certain moment. I have competed for many years in freestyle and extreme racing, but I never used to train for it, until I picked up the slalom discipline.
There are many different ways to train for a race and there are many different aspects and reasons to train. Training and racing can be very different for each person, but if I break it down, the most important elements are:
Technique, fitness, power and the mental aspect
I’m personally mostly interested in the mental aspect of training and racing. I think it is the hardest thing to prepare for and to change. You can improve your technique by doing something over and over again, you can get fitter by working out and you can get stronger by hitting the gym, but controlling your emotions, or even trying to change them is something almost beyond your control.
Anyway, here are some training tips which have helped me along the way …
Technique – If you don’t fail you’re not getting better
In slalom I see a lot of people smashing gates getting annoyed with themselves not having a good day :D My opinion is that you don’t learn as much if you’re not enjoying your time. Of course we all get annoyed sometimes, but when you’re getting annoyed it is easy to get tunnel vision and if you can’t turn that frown upside down it will just go downwards from there. Don’t forget that the main reason you’re training is to get better, and if you don’t fail you’re not getting better!
When I have a bad day, I usually try to challenge myself even more by trying a move which is pretty much impossible, so I don’t have to feel bad when I don’t get it :) Or I do something I love, like just surfing across holes or waves, sometimes even trying to give myself a solid beat down on purpose, just to remind myself to have fun. But on the days that you’re really struggling, maybe call it a day and rest up for next time.
Fitness – have a training plan written down
Here I have a learned a lot from slalom athletes. There are many ways to get your fitness level up, but I think having a routine is the most important. When you start training the first sessions are horrible and you feel sore, tired and shitty afterwards :) But once you get through that first period of training it starts to become really addictive. I noticed that when I have a training plan written down, it feels like I’m failing if I don’t do the sessions. If I don’t write them down, it’s easier to find an excuse not to do them :)
A session I find pretty fun is to do pyramids. One of them is sprinting for 30 seconds, 60 second, 90 seconds, 60 seconds, 30 seconds with equal rest. Do this 2 or 3 times or more with 5 minute rests in between the sets.
If you don’t have whitewater around and want to work on your fitness, working with time can sometimes break down the session. Go at 60% effort for 6 minutes with 1 minute rest, 7 minutes, 1 minute rest, 8 minutes, 1 minute rest, 9 minutes, 1 minute rest and back 8 minutes 1 minute rest 7 minutes and down until you hit the last 6 minutes again. Make sure your intensity stays the same.
Another one, which can be fun on whitewater is 30 seconds on 30 seconds off. Find a piece of whitewater where you can loop around for 30 seconds, rest 30 seconds and do the same loop and repeat 8 times x 3. Try to keep the same speed, so you always ending your 30 seconds loops in the same place. You also can do this with 1 minute or maybe 2 minutes changing your intensity. Make sure you rest in between the sets.
Power – go to the gym!
Here I should admit that power is one of my weaker points. I don’t really like going to the gym and so far I haven’t worked enough on this. But I do think working with a TRX and doing some core exercises is the way to go for me. I don’t want to get massive so I prefer to work mainly with my own body weight. Also paddling with resistance (like a little string around your kayak) is a good way of working on your pull and growing those muscles.
The mental aspect – forget what the others are thinking
The mental aspect of racing is very personal. Some people need to have anger before their racing, and some need to find their peace. For me (and I think most athletes) the most important thing is to feel good about yourself and enjoy your time racing.
Personally I am not outcome focussed, I just want to give my best and perform on my own top level. If this doesn’t make me win the race, I need to train harder.
I have noticed many people getting nervous before races because they focus too much on what other people think of them, or are scared of failure. I think if you’re too worried about what other people think, then you will never be a good racer. In fact most athletes are just focused on their own race and they probably won’t have any idea how you even did :D