As the season draws to an end, you may be celebrating a summer of success or wondering why all that training has not provided the race performances you expected. This is the time to sit down with a coach and discuss what you need to do to improve that race day performance in 2016.
You cannot escape the truth that winter training builds the foundations for your summer performance. If you do your race specific preparation and spring time speed work on a weak foundation your performances will suffer through injury and insufficient endurance. Look back at your past season, could you race strongly through the whole race or did you fail to match your potential when it mattered. Triathletes, were your run splits way off your run only personal best or were you beaten by athletes who are much slower than you at a shorter time trial? If the answer is yes you need to develop your engine and now is the time to do it.
Now the good news, your heart and lungs ‘the engine’ have no idea if you are swimming, cycling or running. They just respond to the bodies demand for oxygen and nutrients, like any other part of the body they will develop to match the demand placed upon them. Sitting on the sofa because it’s a bit chilly outside is really easy on the heart and lungs, they can cope with that just fine so there is no need to get stronger. Doing the odd fast and furious training session, football match, gym workout or cross country race is also quite manageable as other energy systems supplement ‘the engine’. Go through the winter like this and if you are lucky you will have maintained your current level of efficiency so when your spring training starts you are on that same wobbly foundation and your race results will be the same.
We previously dealt with planning your race season, you need to be just as careful planning your winter training. If you want to do the odd football match (take care for injury), cross country race or cyclocross/MTB race they will not do any harm and can be a fun way to develop athletic skills. Consider them an addition to your core winter training work which should be based on extended periods of aerobic activity, with some threshold work to boost that adaption process.
At the seasons end review the state of your body, be honest with yourself and seek the opinion of others you trust. Are you injured? That annoying niggle you have been carrying through the summer needs to be dealt with before it becomes a real problem. Are you too heavy, can you lose some body weight without compromising your health and wellbeing? Do you lack the strength you require in your arms, legs or core? Are you just a little burned out and suffering with poor motivation? Now is the time to take a little break, just ease back and let your body recover. Give that injury a chance to heal, concentrate on your swimming technique, relax and regain your desire to train.
Most athletes will only survive a couple of weeks ‘off training’ but triathlon training allows you to satisfy the cravings without putting undue stress on any injury you are letting heal. If it’s a sore shoulder, ease back on the swimming and concentrate on those long steady bike and run sessions. If your leg is injured get in the pool for long steady swims, concentrating on those technique and efficiency drills. If you are a single sport athlete consider trying another endurance activity which will give that injured area a break while still keeping active. Winter is the perfect time to introduce new techniques when your body and mind can adapt away from the pressure of competition.
Developing that aerobic base is not achieved overnight, it comes from sustained periods of aerobic activity, good nutrition and plenty of rest. That 3 hour group ride which is a bit slow for you normally may be just what you need to get some miles in without exceeding your aerobic threshold. Its sociable and the motivation of the group may get you out in weathers when a 45 minute intense turbo session seems much more suitable. The group ride will add to your base fitness, the turbo session is really too short to do much good. Get out and run long steady distance efforts, keep the intensity down to a chatting level, running with a partner or group will add interest and reduce the temptation to speed up to ‘get it done’. Choose an interesting route across the fields and tracks, run with the dog, run somewhere you need to go, but whatever you do maintain that steady aerobic level.
If you intend to build this solid foundation of endurance you cannot miss out the long steady sessions, however you can boost the adaption affect by stressing your body right up to its aerobic threshold. This is achieved by adding an effort session into your training. These sessions are not sprints or lung bursting hills, they will start with just short periods of effort where you add speed or resistance to get your heart rate up to its aerobic threshold. There are techniques to calculate this using heart rate graphs or more accurate blood testing, but for the average athlete a simple test is ‘can you speak’. Being able to hold a long conversation is too slow, only managing one or two words is too fast, aim for a level where you can say short sentences, a speed where you could continue at that pace for longer if you needed to, but the recovery period is still welcome. To stay near the threshold through the session you should have 3, 4 or 5 minute efforts, then a short active recovery of 1 or 2 minutes before the next effort. As you develop the skill of judging your threshold and your base fitness improves you can lengthen the efforts and reduce the recovery to just that needed to complete the next effort properly. Eventually you will be able to swim/bike or run continuously at your threshold pace for extended periods. These are taxing sessions which will take a couple of days to properly recover from, don’t do too much of it keep the majority of your sessions long and steady.
Follow this guidance through the winter and you will get to spring with a solid aerobic base on which to introduce your speed work. This will ensure you have the best chance to perform as you should next season.