The 2009 triathlon season is now in the history books. It’s time to start planning for next season.
Most triathletes enter the off season with no plan or just a semblance of a plan (“I’ll just work out every day– swim 2 times a week, bike 2 times and run 2 times. 2 weight workouts too.”). This type of plan is perhaps okay for someone whose never raced before and just getting off the couch (having a rough plan is better than no plan at all for these folks), but unfortunately, for most triathletes– beginner or professional, this type of plan won’t cut it. You need something that’s going to build on your current athletic capabilities.
Planning, however, doesn’t need to be all time-consuming. If you’re lucky (and smart) enough to be working with a coach, then you’re 10 steps ahead of everyone else. Your coach will make it simple for you and provide the expertise in mapping out next year’s season. If you’re a self-coached athlete, you have a lot more to think about. Even for non-coached athletes, it doesn’t have to be a super-complex and time-consuming exercise.
Get out a piece of paper, a calendar and pen, and do these five things to plan out next year’s season:
- Establish your training goals- Having clear, well-defined goals is the key for success in any triathlon season. Goals give you something to shoot for and if mapped out properly, will keep you motivated. Your goals will drive all other aspects of your training (objectives, races, volume, instensity, etc.), so spending the time thinking about them is absolutely essential. Your goals should be realistic and measurable. If you’re an experienced athlete, your goals will probably be a continuation of the goals you had mapped out as part of your macrocycle or multi-year plan. Most of the time, however, even these goals change– it’s difficult to predict 4-5 years in advance what you will be doing, so it’s important to spend the time re-stating the goals to your current situation. Be sure to factor in your assessment of your last season. For beginner athletes, you should spend the time thinking about your larger, multi-year goals, and then map them out progressively over a realisitic time period, which will determine next year’s goals. Typically, it’s good to have about 3-5 goals. They should be a good mix of physiological, nutritional and mental skills goals– in other words, well-balanced. Of course they don’t have to be, particular if you feel that you are strong in one area, such as nutrition. Some sample goals include: “To complete Ironman USA in less than 10 hours and in the top 10 of my age group.” or “To lose 15 lbs. by March 2010”. These goals are realistic (for the given athlete), clear and measurable. Write your goals down!
- Outline your training objectives- Once you’ve got your goals set, write down your objectives. Objectives are essentially milestones that will measure how you will achieve those goals. You should have clearly defined objectives that will measure your progress towards your goals throughout the season. For instance, if you state your goal is to “Finish in the top 5 of my age group in the Patriot Half Ironman and Timberman Half Ironman races”, then you’re going to want to have objectives that are going to allow you to measure progression towards this goal. You’ll need to start by understanding what times you will need to achieve to finish top 5 in each of bike legs of those races, then calculate the pace you will need to obtain. Let’s say that it is 24 mph over the course of the 56 miles. At that point, you’ll want to set objectives throughout the season to achieve that goal based upon the period you are in. For instance, in your Base period you’re not going to want to have an overly aggressive objective. Instead, you may have an objective such as “Hold 90 rpm at 350 watts for 15 minutes by January 15, 2010”. You could map that to a specific workout or do it in a race. I typically map out 1-3 objectives per goal for my athletes (all based on personalized and realistic measurements), which I think is fair and achievable. I also don’t map out the objectives until I get a clear understanding of how the athlete performs (typically after the first set of baseline tests I do with him or her), and I also make sure the objectives are fluid– meaning that I will change them based upon how the athlete is executing against his or her workouts. The objectives serve as nice motivators for a coach to motivate an athlete, as well as for a self-coach athlete to have their own motivation and understanding of how they are progressing towards their goals.
- Sign up for your races- Now that you have your goals and objectives outlined (and undoubtedly these are tied to specific races or events), you need to go sign up for these events. This seems obvious, but I can’t tell you how many athletes I’ve coached had to change their races (and their goals) for the season because their races filled up. They often think “I’ll do Ironman Canada next year”, but by the time they have thought of that, the race is filled. Triathlon is one of the fastest growing sports worldwide and every year it gets harder and harder to get into races. This is especially true for Ironman races, which you often need to register one year in advance. That’s why it’s important to have a macro plan for your training (or a multiyear plan), as well as a clear and adaptive approach to your next year’s plan. Go to the website for your event, and register online. If the event is filled, check out comparable events that would work for you that may be in the same time frame.
- Map out the different periods (or phases) of your year- Now we’re getting in to the “nuts and bolts” of your year. I’m a big believer in the concept of periodization, which provides athletes with not only a strong structure for training, but more importantly, a sound and proven methodology for performing optimally. So, get out a calendar and do the following: mark down your races on the calendar. Circle the “A” races, or the races that you’ll be going all out on (you shouldn’t have more than 1 of these per year if you’re a beginner triathlete and definitely no more than 2 if you are an advanced triathlete). Depending upon the distance of the race, countback 1-4 weeks (for Ironman races, it should be 3-4 weeks and for shorter races less than that)– that period of time is your “Peak” period. From the beginning of the Peak period, you’re going to want to count back in blocks of 4 weeks. Each block will represent a ‘period’ (or phase) of your training where you will vary your volume and intensity (which you will do in step 5 below). The earlier in the training, the less volume and intensity (“Base” periods) and the closer you are to the Peak period the greater the volume and intensity (“Build”, “Competition”, or “Excel” periods– will vary by name). Once you’ve marked out these periods, you’re ready to figure out volume and intensity you should achieve in those periods for the year.
- Assign weekly volume and intensity- Now you are ready to figure out volume (or how much or hours per week) and intensity (or how hard you will go, measured by heart rate instensity (and/or other measures, such as watts on the bike) per period. Volume and instensity are functions of many things– experience of the athlete, races or events planned, time the athlete has to train, and others– so both will vary greatly by athlete. The basic concept is to gradually build up enough volume and intensity over time with your training so that your body can adapt and grow stronger– otherwise known as progressive overload. I’m not going to spend a lot of time addressing progressive overload here, but it’s a critical and fundamental concept that you will need to be familiar with to plan out your training adquately. In general, the earlier in your training (“Base” periods), you will want less volume and intensity and the later in your training (“Build”, “Competition”, or “Excel” periods), the greater the volume and instensity. The “Peak” period should be a time of “tapering” or reduced volume and intensity to get you ready for your “A” race. Assign volume by number of hours per week, and intensity by percentage of total time spent in a given heart rate (you will need to determine your heart rate zones per sport to adquately be able to measure this). For instance, let’s say you are racing a Half Ironman race. In your first Base period, you will want to plan something like 10 hours per week, with an intensity of about 25% in heart rate zone 1, 60% in heart rate zone 2 and 15% in heart rate zone 3. You will want to gradually increase the number of hours (volume) as you progress into the next period (and the period after that), as well as change your heart rate zone percentage ratios. This not only will change from period to period, but may also change from week to week within a given period. You will want to plan every 4th week of each 4 week block as a “Rest and Recovery” or “R&R” week to give your body adquate time to recover and rest. In other words, the 4th week of your training in a given period should have about a 40-50% reduction in volume, and a slight shift in the intensity ratios towards lower heart rate zones. Once you have your volume and intensity efforts mapped out per period, you have successfully mapped out your season!
The above 5 steps will get you to your plan for the upcoming triathlon season. I’ve tried to simplify it down to make it easy for you to create your own plan. That being stated, there are definitely complexities involved that require you to have some level of understanding about training fundamentals. I’d highly recommend reading up on these topics or getting in touch with someone that could help you out. I’m definitely happy to answer any questions you may have or to work with you in creating a plan that works for you.