You're probably already looking ahead to the 2018 and how you can change your training to make improvements over the winter period. Here's a few things, which often leads to athletes falling short in the summer months of racing.
1. It's never too early to start
There is a common consensus that endurance athletes really shouldn't be doing that much at all during the winter. This misconception comes from the focus on 'base training' which is wrongly referred to as 'easy training' and in many cases it generally ends up as 'not a lot of training'. Summer 2018 will be here before you know if and starting your training 20-24 weeks before you major event is not early enough. Many will tell you that if you start too soon, you'll peak too early. If you do, it's just bad planning, it's never too early to start.
2. It's getting intense
The traditional training pyramid will start with longer and slower training sessions through the winter and then become more intense as the season approaches with shorter and faster training. The issue with this is that high intensity training creates a lot of fatigue, so if you're planning to increase the intensity in the final phases of the training plan, this is going to happen just at the time when you start racing. Trying to add high intensity work at the same time as you start your racing programme, is not the best recipe for success! If high intensity work is required, it's fine to do this all through the winter. in some ways, it works better with the UK climate as you can do much of the training indoors.
3. You need to get it, then hold it
As you enter the racing season, you really need to somewhere close to your peak level of fitness and then you should try to 'hold it' and perhaps 'refine it'. It can take 1-2 weeks to fully recover from an Olympic distance triathlon or half marathon race. If you are racing every 1-2 weeks, any attempt to fit in your high intensity training or peak phase of your plan will simply lead to overload and a potential 'crash and burn'.
The key thing here is that your training should really be complete by the time the season starts. Once you're into the season, it's all about race performance, recovery and going again, it's simply fine tuning to ensure you get the best performances. If you're trying to train hard during the season to move your fitness forwards, you started your training plan too late.
4. You can't hold form for 4 months
It's all fine and well to hit your peak fitness (or close to it) at the start of the season and then hold it, but the season can be 4 months long, that's a long time to hold your fitness! For that reason, your season should be planned correctly with A/B/C races. You can't perform well at every event, so some need to be more important that others. Here's some simple guidelines:
- Don't fill your season with races every weekend, you'll burnout and your performances and your enthusiasm will disappear by August!
- Plan some mini-breaks where you recover and refresh, then go again towards your next event of importance.
- If it's not categorised as an 'A' race, then it's not important. I commonly hear people state that an event is just a 'C' race so they're 'training through' and not tapering. On the day they race 100%, get wiped out, perform badly and are really disappointed with the performance.
- Allow training time and racing time. If you have a major target event, allow 6 weeks beforehand to get a solid block of training and preparation. It's ok to add some 'C' races so long as they don't disrupt your training block.
- If you have 2-3 races in quick succession, your focus should be recovery and refining for the next race. YOU CAN'T TRAIN HARD during this period, plan your weeks accordingly or be disappointed with your performances.
- If your 'A' race is early season, you need to start your plan earlier, but you may also wish to plan another 'A' race later in the year to avoid a mid season slump. Ideally your 'A' races should be 8-12 weeks apart, so you could do up to 3 per season maximum.
- If your 'A' race is later in the year, then plan another 'A' race early summer to give yourself a target, then have a break and go again. Otherwise your plan will 'drag on' forever and you'll have lost motivation before you reach your target.
5. Plan it out
Carefully plan your races and rate them as A - C in terms of importance. You should then add the purpose of the training block, which may be to build / train hard or to simply maintain fitness and recover between races. As above, 8-12 weeks between each 'A' race is ideal, in particular for longer races.
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