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5 Steps to Planning Out Next Year’s Triathlon Season

October 25th, 2009

488308180_9072dc3480The 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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

The Love of Coaching

December 30th, 2008

I am excited to launch my new website in support of Ascend Sports Conditioning (ASC), including a new logo (thanks to Brenda Riddell of Graphic Details!), as well as my new blog, Ascending Higher.The goal of this blog is to inspire.It’s really that simple. Personal coaching of any sort—whether it’s for athletic, nutritional and mental skills training (which is what we do at ASC), life coaching, professional development in the workplace, instruction in the classroom, or any other area, should always aim to inspire the person or people being coached (athletes, employees, students, customers, etc.).Coaching means leadership and leadership means inspiration. I’ll seek to use Ascending Higher as a way to inspire my athletes, but also those who are not my athletes or clients and who are seeking to learn something new about multisport.That something new could be a variety of things, such as new training techniques and workouts, nutritional program design, mental skills training, great areas to train and climb in New England or around the world, race reports, what I have found inspirational in my own daily life in training and events, or a whole number of other multisport adventure topics.Comments and feedback are whole-heartedly welcome, of course.I want this to be a conversation with YOU, so please comment away on any and all of the blog posts and let me know what you’re thinking!
With that stated, I thought a great place to start would to describe why I coach.I think this is a great place to start for two reasons:1) so that you can better understand Ascend Sports Conditioning and what we’re all about, and along the way, 2) help you focus on the key things you should be looking for when selecting a coach.Selecting a coach to work with is a big decision, with the most important factor being how much you can relate to and trust the coach. How you relate to and why you trust the coach is tied directly to what motivates that individual to be a coach.If you can identify with the motivations and reasons why someone coaches, chances are that person would be a good coach for you.
I’ve tried to keep it simple.There are four fundamental reasons why I coach:

Reason #1: A passion for teaching

People always ask me, “So, why do you do it? Why do you coach?”. I never hesitate in my answer, supplying my #1 reason: I love to teach. I love to work with others and help them achieve their goals and do things that they never thought possible.There is nothing more rewarding in life. The most important quality you can have as a coach is being a good teacher—everything else is secondary.I know great, world renowned athletes who are fantastic at their sport, but are not great teachers, and hence they would not make great coaches.Conversely, I know athletes who would consider themselves ‘average to below average’ at their sport, but are fantastic teachers, and hence would make great coaches.While it’s important to have the experience and knowledge of the discipline that you coach (in fact, you can’t coach without that knowledge!), it’s more important to have the skill to successfully communicate that knowledge in a simple, interesting and motivating manner.

Reason #2: Because You CAN do it

When I was growing up, I was not the most athletic person among my peers.In fact, I was often the kid picked last in gym class.Since then, however, I have accomplished many athletic feats, including Ironman triathlon events, scaling high peaks of the Andes, Himalaya and other mountain ranges, cycled countless century rides, and many other things I never thought possible. What drove me was a combination of many things, but mainly confidence in myself. I derived this confidence from self-discipline, but more importantly from interaction with others– from cycling, running and swimming friends, to climbing partners, to supportive friends and family. Through showing me proper technique, going out on long training workouts, urging me to sign up for a variety of events, and being supportive in every way possible, they taught me that I COULD do it. And if I could do it, then anyone could do it! This realization is one of the key things that led me to coaching and what drives me as a coach. With proper self-discipline, good health and an ability to remain injury-free, anyone can achieve any athletic goal they wish, whether it be to complete an Ironman triathlon, run a marathon, or climb to 20,000+ feet. My goal as a coach is to not only supply the physical, nutritional and mental tools for my clients, but also the motivation and reinforcement of self-confidence.

Reason #3: Community and the love of adventure & exploration

Being a multisport coach requires you to maintain a certain level of knowledge and a high level of interaction with athletes, other coaches, and experts in all area of the sport (doctors, physical therapists, nutritionists, etc.). I can leverage the collective intelligence of this community to help my coaching, and at the same time contribute back to this community, helping others along the way.

Being part of this community, however, also has additional important meaning. Simply put, the multisport community is a lot of fun. The folks who are part of this community have an unparalleled zest for life, which you will not find in any other walk of life. There’s an unending desire for adventure and exploration. It’s refreshing and inspirational. It makes you feel alive. There’s an instant, electric connection between people who love do adventure sports. Someone once described it to me: “Once I know someone loves to train hard and get dirty, I know we’ll get along just fine.” I feel the same way. Once I find out someone loves to run, ice climb, kayak, skate ski, or do any other similar adventure activity, I immediately know they share the same attitude and that we have a common bond. Being a coach allows me to not only establish these bonds, but also maintain them and be an integral part of the larger multisport community.

Reason #4: On-going learning

You never stop learning as a coach. This on-going learning is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a coach and one of the main reasons why I do it. I not only continually learn through the formal training and experience I have completed and continue to undertake every year (USA Triathlon, USA Cycling and other courses), but perhaps more importantly, the informal learning I receive from other coaches, experts, as well as my athletes. This on-going learning is critical in a discipline like multisport, where you need to have an understanding of the science and the art of the sport. It’s not only all about heart rate zones, lactate threshold, number of reps and amount of calories, but also the anecdotal lessons learned through experience—the experience of other coaches, experts and athletes. One of the major reasons why I coach is the learning received from these lessons, which enrich me as an individual, and also allow me to be a better, more inspirational coach.

There are lots of other reasons why I love to coach, but most of them would be supporting reasons to the main four outlined above. I am hoping these reasons resonate with you and you will elect to be part of the journey on Ascending Higher.