If you want to set yourself up for the best possible season, keep it simple. A deliberate, focused and consistent approach that starts with the end in mind is the most effective path. Here are ten tips to help you nail your upcoming season.
By Jasper Blake
Start with the end
Starting with the end in mind allows you to clearly identify what your main objective is and makes it easier to piece together what the months leading into that race should look like. When you are mapping out your season, build in as much detail as you can, including secondary races, camps and other life commitments. A yearly calendar that allows you to see it all in one place is a great way to identify where recovery blocks should happen, where higher volume training loads can happen and where there may be too much stress load. Starting with your destination allows you to create the road map that will get you there.
Train in phases
When you start with the end in mind, it allows you to break your year up into manageable chunks of time or different phases. Rather than doing the same thing over and over again for twelve months, you can apply different training stress loads at different times of the year. For example, leading into your key race you will likely want to apply stress loads that point directly at that specific event. If you are a year out from that goal race you may want to spend time addressing some of your weaknesses. You may also want to include higher volume weeks or camps at specific times. Phases allow for smaller focused training blocks that will help you maximize your preparation physically and mentally.
Compete with your weaknesses- Fine tune your strengths
Triathlon is unique in that there are three sports you need to work on. One of the best ways to work on a weakness is to start competing in that sport specifically. If you are a weak swimmer, join a masters group and take part in some masters swim competitions. If you are a weak runner, sign up for some running races in the fall or early spring. Few things will motivate you to improve as much as the pressure that a race can bring and you are unlikely to push yourself as hard as you will when you are on a start line. Racing will bring out the best in you and nudge your body up to a new level. You will also learn from athletes who specialize in those sports individually. Being immersed in their culture for a bit will make you a better triathlete.
Addressing your weaknesses is important, but equally so is learning to capitalize on your strengths. Success in triathlon is often as much about maximizing your strengths as it is about limiting the damage on your weaker legs. It’s important to maintain a strong level of fitness and competency in the sports you excel in. When the season edges closer you can fine-tune your skills and fitness with your strengths so you are ready to compete.
Training is fairly simple. Apply appropriate training stress loads, recover and then do it again and again and again. A progressive approach is the best way to do this. Your body is amazingly adaptive, but you must allow space and time for those adaptations to happen. Being progressive means incorporating small increases in training stress over time either through volume or specific intensities. When you start with the end in mind and map out your season back to front it will allow you to be more deliberately progressive in your approach.
Get some numbers – train on target
Investing in some physiological testing is one of the most valuable things you can do to help you train with more specificity. If you are on a budget you can run a simple Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test on your own. Or, if you have some data files from races or harder workouts, you can make a rough estimation based on the numbers therein. Knowing your threshold values and understanding how to apply appropriate training stress in and around those values will help you be more deliberate and on target.
If you have a long-term plan and you know you will consistently execute the program well, make sure you include forced rest periods in the months leading into your key races. Small rest periods can happen on a weekly basis by simply inserting an off day into your program, or they can be multi-day blocks throughout the year. These breaks don’t have to be long; 24 to 72 hours is enough to help you recharge mentally, physically and emotionally. The recharge will often lead to big fitness and motivation gains upon return.
Training camps are an incredibly effective way to give your fitness a boost. Camps allow you to take a break from life’s usual distractions and focus entirely on training and recovery for a few days. Camps can happen at anytime during the year and are ideally in the four- to 10-day range.
Be consistent rather than epic
Consistent workouts on a daily basis, week in and week out, will beat infrequently executed epic days every time. Unfortunately, many athletes fall into the epic day every once in awhile category. The main reason for this is that consistency is hard. It’s not easy to get up every single day and get the work done. If workouts are missed the tendency is to lump a bunch of sessions into one epic day, but this approach can lead to injury, sickness or over-reaching if the body is not ready for such a big stress load. Consistently executing workouts on a daily basis might be the single most important thing you can do to nail your upcoming season even if those workouts don’t fall into the epic category.
Race short and race frequently
Triathlon has evolved in the last two decades. With the growth of the Ironman brand has come an ever-increasing desire for athletes to complete longer events. The trouble with long events is that it’s hard to do them with a high degree of frequency. Athletes often forget that there is an abundance of grass roots, short course races to be had. Even sprint-distance racing will improve your long game. Start lines help you sharpen your skills, gain some mental fortitude and are a great training stress. Furthermore, they are easy to recover from, which makes it possible to back up multiple race weekends without much risk.
Plan to peak
It’s not possible nor is it wise to peak and taper for multiple events in the year. Some races you will need to train through in order to maximize your chances of success at your key event. Identifying which race you plan to peak for reinforces the importance of goal setting and starting with the end in mind.
Tapers are not a one size fits all approach and usually take some trial and error to really nail. Tapers often depend on the amount of heavier training load you have accumulated (either through volume, intensity or a combination of both) in the last year and, in particular, in the 10 to 16 week lead-in to your key event. The higher the training load often the longer the taper required. Likewise the lighter the training load the less time is required for tapering. Athletes who train in the eight to 15 hour per week range will likely not need more than about 10 to 14 days and the taper may not even need to be that aggressive. A small decrease in training volume should be enough to leave you feeling fresh and ready to go. Athletes who train in the 20 to 30 hour range may need to taper for longer –14 to 21 days might be required to fully off load any deeper fatigue that you have accumulated. Tapering is not time off, nor is it neglecting specific workouts that are important for the race, but rather it is a decrease in training volume and an increase in time spent resting.
There is no magic bullet for success. Keep it simple and stick to some basic principles. Nailing it requires a consistent, on target, progressive approach that starts with the end in mind.
This story originally appeared in our January, 2018 issue.
Jasper Blake is a former Ironman Canada champion and the head coach of B78 Coaching.