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Posts Tagged ‘season planning’

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.

Looking at Yourself Naked in the Mirror: Assessing Your Season

October 18th, 2009

naked-reflectionNo matter what your sport and when the season for that sport ends, it’s important to look back and do an assessment on the season– what went right, what went wrong, what to do differently next season. It’s a critical step in the lifecycle of a season (mesocycle) and lifecycle of an athlete’s career (macrocycle). If you work with a coach, a season end assessment is an important communication tool to adjustment your training accordingly.

Assessing your season should like looking in the mirror naked at yourself: fully transparent, exposed, and hiding nothing. It’s a time to be honest with yourself and your coach– don’t hide anything. Talk about what you did wrong and where you could improve. On the flip side, give yourself heaping praise when it’s appropriate. No one is perfect and always has room for improvement, which is why the season assessment is done in the first place.

Also, in addition to a self-assessment done by the athlete, I will always provide my own, independent assessment as a coach to my clients. The athletes I work with always get feedback from me throughout the season, but at the end of the season I like to do a ‘final wrap’ and provide pointed areas where I think things went well and not so well. This is often very valuable feedback to the athlete and gives them insight as well as motivation for planning out the next season. On the flip side, I also ask my athlete’s to assess me as a coach. For me, this is a great way to get pointed feedback on what I did well, and what I could improve upon. That’s a topic to drill into another time, but worth mentioning at the moment as part of assessment time.

The key things you’ll want to assess about your season include the following:

  • Season’s Strategy- I always start every season with a planning process with athletes (and if you do not work with a coach, this should be where you begin on your own). There’s an annual plan of how the season will be approached, periodizing the year around selected races. This is the place to start. Every athlete’s plan changes 100% of the time due to family, work, health or other issues. Assess why these changes occured and how you would plan differently next time. Were the goals of the season achieved (why/why not)? Were they the correct goals? Did you achieve the objectives planned throughout the season (why/why not)? Was the volume correct? How about the intensity? Were the races the right ones or far enough apart? Did scheduling work as planned?
  • Physiological training- A general look back at how you performed overall physiologically is critical. The main questions to ask yourself are: how well did I execute? How did I handle the volume and intensity perscribed over the course of the season? I typically ask my clients to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 10 in their discipline (in triathlon: swim, bike and run), and then provide open-ended feedback as to why they assessed themselves the way they did.
  • Mental skills- Mental skills is one of three main pillars of multisport training, so it’s important to look back and assess your mental performance for the season. Were you relaxed or agitated? Did you think positively or negatively? How did you do with the mental skills exercises perscribed in your plan? Often times mental skills training is ignored, so understanding if this is an area for improvement is critical.
  • Nutrition- Another of the main pillars of multisport training is nutrition, both everyday and race day nutrition. Everyday nutrition is what you eat on an everyday periodized in line with your physiological nutrition. Questions to ask include: did I stick with the outline of total calories, and breakdown of fats, protein and carbohydrates targeted? Did you eat the right quality of foods? Did you develop a routine with your nutrtion so it became an integrated part of your day (often times the biggest challenge for people)? Also, you will want to look at race day nutition, which is fueling for the days preceeding, day of and days after a big “A” race, such as an Ironman, or shorter distance races. I always work to make sure my athletes have a very methodical (but flexible) approach to race day nutrition, but execution is key. Questions to ask: Was the plan leading up to race day work for you? Did you follow it? Did you “bonk”, have GI issues, or other issues the day of a race? If so, why?
  • Race Strategy- Having a sound strategy for each race (particularly “A” races) is key, so looking back on how the planning and strategy execution worked for those races is important. Questions to ask: Did the race strategy planning process work? Did you execute against the strategy effectively? How would you adjust the strategy?

Be sure to document all of your thoughts on the season assessment. Having it in writing is important to capture the data, and a way for you to communicate it to your coach if you work with one. I typically provide my athlete’s a form to capture the input. I have them save it as part of their athletic journal.

Finally, the most important step of the season assessment is to analyze and optimize. It’s one thing to have collected all the data, but it’s another to look closely at it and undertake concrete changes. This seems like an obvious step, but it’s one that surprisingly gets omitted since many folks feel that if they’ve at least documented it (or had the discussion), then they’ve done what they needed to do. In fact, it’s critical that you outline exactly what changes you plan on making for next season. For instance, if in the season assessment you note that “I had difficulties getting my bike speed to where I would have liked. I really think had I spent the time on more bike speed work, it would have made a big difference in my performance”, then you’re going to want to do things to analyze and optimize this:

  1. drill into the why’s behind this (why didn’t you do more bike speed work? Was it because you didn’t plan it or was it because you did not execute what was planned? Or perhaps what you had planned did not work for you– then you should undertand why this was the case. )
  2. what are you going to do about it? Let’s say you did not execute appropriately against what was planned for bike speed workouts since they were difficult for you to hit the splits over the course of the season and you did not accurately measure your baseline bike fitness to set those split times (hopefully this would have been caught while executing at the time, but let’s say it was not). You’ll want to then be specific in optimizing by having a recommendation of “next season I will set my bike split times for my speed workouts based on results from my periodic bike tests.”

Once you have your specific recommendations, you’re good to go for planning out next season. I will be addressing this exact topic– planning out your multisport season– in my next blog post (stay tuned!).

There are certainly different ways to approach the season assessment, and I’ve outlined some ideas that have worked for me and the athlete’s I work with. Perhaps you have some ideas on what has worked for you? What are some of the things you look back on and assess? How do you see yourself when you look naked in the mirror at season’s end?