I'm sure you have your goals for next year already set, or perhaps you have a couple of ideas that you're toying with before making the final decision? Now is the time of year when athletes take a look back at 2015 and how they performed. Did it all go to plan and did you manage the finish times you'd hoped for? Are you hoping for better next year or have you changed your targets to try your hand at something different? Either way, an evaluation and review is worthwhile to keep you progressing and ensure you're happy with your 2016 performances.
Step 1: Review last year
Take 2 minutes to look at your big race performances. What went well and what didn't go so well? Can you give a reason for why those things went well and why the other things didn't? To make the difference for next year, write down 3-5 things which you MUST do over this winter, that you didn't do last year. You should then add actions to make them a reality. For example:
1. I need to start a strength programme - I'll go to a weekly session which is local to me.
2. I need some swimming tuition - I'll book some 1-2-1 tuition with a local coach
3. I need to do more high intensity interval running - I'll run with a local club once per week
If it forces you to do something different then that's a good thing and it helps to maintain motivation throughout the winter, rather than the same old routine.
Step 2: Analyse your strengths and weaknesses
Ok, so this is a bit similar to the previous section and there's obvious overlap. Take a look at your swimming, cycling or running performance and do a quick check of your abilities, strengths and weaknesses. If we take running as an example, the questions may consist of:
1. ENDURANCE - Can I comfortably run a long way at a slow pace?
2. SPEED - Can I run shorter distances quickly (800m)
3. THRESHOLD - What's my 10k time like in comparison with my friends and competitors?
4. TECHNIQUE - Have I room for improvement in my running technique?
You can apply those same questions to swimming and cycling, it works just the same. Some of them are linked, for example your technique may affect your speed. Alternatively, your endurance or you speed may be limiting your 10k race time. Take 5 minutes to think about riding your bike with other people, where do you struggle? Is it longer distances, short and steep hills, longer hills or technical descents and corners? What about your swimming?
The reality is that we enjoy doing the things we find easy / comfortable and don't like doing things we find difficult. Unfortunately, the things we find difficult are generally the things we need to improve.
Step 3: Match up your strengths and weaknesses with your event demands
It's all very well talking about strengths and weaknesses but what is it that you actually have to be good at? If you think that your endurance is amazing but your speed is poor, it doesn't mean much unless you put it into context of your future events. If you're training for an ultra distance event, you'll probably do well, but if you're trying to run under 40 minutes for 10k, then you have a problem!
Be careful not to get confused by the demands of the event. If you're training for an Ironman triathlon and your cycling endurance is good, it doesn't automatically mean that this will be reflected in your performance. You may be more than capable of riding 112 miles, but if it takes you 9 hours, you'll be well down the field.
Step 4: Put it into action
Now you have a clear view of the demands that face you and how your strengths and weakness match up, it's time to put together the plan and put it into action. Generic training plans will tell you that you should now be starting long slow base training, to build for next year, but this may not be the correct approach for you! The most effective base training plan is one which targets your personal weaknesses and resolves them over the next 4 months.
For example, if you are the kind of runner who does lots of long slow miles and your target is to crack 40 minutes for 10k next year, then winter base miles will make no difference. You can already run slow for a long way, so what's the point? The same can be applied to cycling and swimming. Assess your personal strengths and weaknesses and use them to build your personal plan. DO NOT be drawn into the mistake of thinking that you must go long and slow and everyone must follow the same plan.
One final thing, don't think you've got a lot of time and can start at a later date. A block of training should last 12-16 weeks to have a noticeable effect. If you do 16 weeks of base training from now, that'll take you to the beginning of Feb. You then have one more block of 16 weeks (split into 2 blocks of 8 weeks) to take you to June.
If you need to book swimming lessons, join a running group or start a strength class, how many weeks until you resolve that? You'll find it very easy to 'put it off' for a good few weeks. You need to start now if you want to perform well in 2016. Make those initial steps and get the ball rolling, you'll be glad you did.
If you'd like a more accurate assessment of your personal strengths and weaknesses, you can book a sports science assessment. We can put together a plan which will be specific to you, the cost for sports science assessment is £75 and you can BOOK HERE.