Coach Oliver writes: Race Calender full? Have you got a spare weekend to train or rest, or have you signed up for every multisport competition your diary can handle?
Have you considered how much your body can really handle?
Getting the timing and number of events correct in your season will have a direct reflection on your overall performance. Off-season is the perfect time to sort your schedule out. With proper timing you can make your priority events a success. Racing gives you event-experience, strategy application, and much needed mental stimulation!! It is your reward for putting the time in. However too much at the wrong time will send you backwards. The following article addresses guidelines and ideas on the topic.
How often have we "gone too hard" in an early season event and at the finish are rueing what the body will go through in the next week? If the event was not a key one for you a little bit of race-discipline will go a long way. Knowing what you want out of the race before the gun goes off is essential. Are you racing for glory or is this a small test of the off-season's efforts? Setting some heart rate limits for the race is a useful start, controlling intensity can now be left to another expensive piece of equipment, as most heart rate monitors these days will let you know audibly if you are over the limit set. Being aware of what's in store next week for training and being able to complete it, will be a lot more productive than hobbling around with some deep muscle soreness.
From a triathlon perspective, it's great to see the on-season calendar full of all sorts of distances to tackle. What I like to do is pick a priority race for the season and build the other events around this. For example, when building to Ironman, the plan may incorporate two Olympic distance triathlons and a Half-Ironman event as part of the build up. Most of these events would be done at the end of a training week. There would generally be a natural progression from doing the shorter races early on, to the Half-Iroman, which falls approx 10 weeks before the Ironman (which was the priority race in this case).
Most of your early season prep and base work would be done at the Aerobic conditioning level (60-70%), which will vary between athletes so choose your training partners wisely!! This approach is also easily applied to running - gathering race experience from 5/10km events before attacking a half marathon can make a big difference.
Where you place in these early races should be secondary to how you feel. Most of the early races will have been done as part of a training block and provided useful heart rate data and a check on training progress. For those who tend to focus on the shorter triathlon distances, of sprint or Olympic distance, doing 6 races is not uncommon, especially when over a series. The good thing about this option is you have the chance to test yourself over multiple events - with probably 2 or 3 being priority races.
Having a solid off-season's training under your belt means you can afford to put in specific speed sessions and taper for each race, rather than trying to clock as many big training weeks as you can between events. Obviously longer events require more preparation and in turn more taper. The investment made in time (and money) towards a race should reflect your approach to it.
The training done for any key event should have a taper (easy period) incorporated into it, anywhere between 4-10 days depending on the event distance and the intensity you are going to race it at. Without a taper, the race will come as a bit of a shock to the body and physiologically, the stress placed on a fatigued athlete can often be cause for lengthy lay off.
Everyone is a little different in how much his or her body can handle. Some tend to recover quicker whereas others need a little longer. An athlete who has trained consistently will have more to draw on as their aerobic system will be better conditioned. A pre-season or early season race done at a lower intensity will perhaps serve you better in terms of experience and physical fatigue than a hammer session. The physical and mental benefits of controlled early season races are valuable assets as your year progresses. They can teach you correct pacing and preparation aspects as well as getting your taper right.
One way of turning an event into something more productive is to make it a training day. I recently joined in with a group ride down to a race venue (about 90-100km), did the Half Marathon, then duly rode back again. The ride down and knowing what lay in store after the run certainly curtailed any PB's during the race (I think!) It also added a bit of fun and variety to the weekend. Entering a team race with some buddies and getting out of town for a change of scenery will do wonder for the senses. Scheduled in properly, these days are great to do as you get the event experience without the race hangover.
The structure of most events allows you to incorporate a cycle or other form of training on the same day, whether it is before or after the event. Sometimes it can even be a great way to warm down. However, if doing so, always keep the incorporated training at an aerobic level, as your body does not need a set of intervals in it before competing! Going with a friend may help keep each other under control.
Often experience will tell you when and how often you are ready to race. The more events under your belt, the better conditioned your mind and body is for what lies ahead. For those that are new to the sport or those that are forever finding themselves further down the results sheet than desired, a review of current practices and input from a coach or experienced athlete can be of great benefit. Without competition, most of us wouldn't have too much to focus on. When the off-season hits, use the time wisely and make a plan for the upcoming season and ensure that you are focused and in control when the competition starts.