With 2018 upon us, the time to start scheduling your races--and in turn the training to prepare for them--is imminent. If everything went well for you in the past year, then you have the potential to be even better this year, or at least continue to be the same you. This is especially important as athletes age. I can truly say that at 54, if I could have the same season that I had a decade ago or even five years ago that would be awesome. So maintaining the same level is not always a bad thing.
When starting your season plan, looking at what made you successful the previous season is a good place to start. Develop your plan by making small tweaks or adjustments to build upon your past accomplishments and continue to assess. A simple way to look at a training plan is to follow the basic concept of PLAN, PREPARE, PEFORM and REPEAT. Once you have results from a few quality training sessions or more importantly an early season race, a plan can then be shaped to make changes that would develop even more speed, strength or endurance. Eventually your fitness level will plateau and usually only a change in volume or intensity will allow for further improvement.
VOLUME and FREQUENCY
This will vary based on available time and the length of the upcoming event. A training plan should progressively move you toward being comfortable with the distance you will be racing; in the early season this most likely will be sprint or olympic distance events. It is possible to have the endurance for these races but maybe not the speed or sharpness that comes through several periodization cycles. Ensure that the early season is used to gradually build a fitness base, with emphasis on listening to what the body is feeling like.
As the sport of triathlon continues to grow, athletes have many opportunities to race any distance at any time through the year. It has become more common for athletes to start off with a half or even a full Ironman. Even if an athlete is motivated to do a long distance event, in most cases they have not accumulated enough mileage required for a race of that distance. The cumulative effect of training and then racing at a long distance can prove to be very taxing on the body and may create fatigue for a late season “A” race. It’s not impossible to have a quality long distance race in the spring or early summer, however, most athletes are at their best with a full twelve weeks of focused training and there may not be enough time to reach the level of desired fitness at this time of year. The plan to delay longer racing until later in your season will also allow most athletes to feel stronger and in return avoid injury so that they can actually make it to the start line.
Weather and daylight have a noticeable effect on early season training. Consider starting off with shorter distance events and push any longer races to August through October when you will potentially have the best chance for race day success. This especially holds true for athletes that need to accumulate more swim sessions. Summer provides a chance for outdoor pool access and open water opportunities. Of course, if you live in a warmer climate, the scenario is much different and early season racing may produce your best overall placing and fastest results due to reduced competition and cooler weather.
Training improvement can be measured in time and distance spent in the water, on the bike and on your feet. A good way to seek improvement is to add small increments of distance each week and eventually the volume required will accumulate to be ready for your planned event. Consider 500 more meters in the pool, 10 more miles on the bike or another mile on the run with each session to see identifiable differences in volume over time. This is a much easier way than comparing faster race times throughout the season because course variations often make it difficult to determine if improvement has been made. If you plan to use race day results as a way to measure fitness gains, look at using the same race separated by a year to see what gains or losses have taken place.
By having a number of events spread throughout your season, you will be able to measure your improvement while preparing for one or two culminating year end races. Following these guidelines provides an overall concept of planning. Success comes from implementing the daily, weekly and monthly sessions that make up the plan. Skipping or shorting training phases will result in inconsistent and mixed performances.
REST and RECOVERY
Only through changes in your program, followed by rest, will you see improvement. The off-season is the first real rest from the previous year and “spring training” will be the time to start building an endurance base. Be patient with a program to see eventual gains. Most athletes are not able to be in race shape in a few days or even weeks because it takes consistent training over a period of time. By making adjustments to the volume, frequency and intensity of your training while incorporating a period of rest, improvement should be noticed in both training and racing. Don't be confused and think that rest means "no activity"; it means an active period with less volume, frequency and intensity. This period will allow your body to adapt to heavy load of the base phase, and speed of the intensity phase and rebuild it for another step up of your periodization training.
All the push to use the New Year as a way to be inspired to set goals is not a bad thing but sometimes the “old you” is a great place to start. Each piece of the puzzle completes the picture and if you do things the right way, hopefully it ends with a picture on the podium!