It might not make you sweat as much as a top turbo session but being organised and scheduling the coming six months could be the key to your new PB. Words: Phile Mosley, Pictures: Getty for Ironman
Most triathletes know what training they’re doing this week, but not many have an idea of what they’re doing in six months’ time. While this may seem a long way off, it’s important to ensure that every training session you do is part of a grand plan.
Without planning ahead, you’re unlikely to find the right blend of intensity, volume, recovery and progression that you need to keep improving.
In coaching terms it’s called micro-planning and macro-planning. The micro bit is all about planning the next few days in detail. Most people can manage that to some degree. It’s the macro part that we’re more interested in here, which involves thinking longer term and planning ahead.
The beauty of macro-planning is that you can divide your training year into several chunks. During these chunks you can focus on improving different aspects of your fitness, rather than trying to do everything at once. Before making a start, you need to think about three main things.
1: What are your goals for the year?
Before you make a long-term training plan, have a serious think about what you’re aiming for in 2016.
Make some race goals and then have a few performance goals to back them up. It’s good to put a figure on these. So rather than saying: “I want to be faster at Ironman,” you might say: “I would like to go sub 14 hours at Ironman UK and race sub 2:45 at the London Triathlon”.
After you’ve made some race goals, think about what benchmarks you could set yourself in training to help you achieve them. For example, you could aim to swim 400m in under eight minutes or aim to run 10km in under 47 minutes.
When you set targets like these, try to be realistic. Base them on actual times you’ve done in the previous year, rather then pulling them out of thin air. Aim for small year-on-year gains rather than a massive improvement in each one.
2 What are your strengths and weaknesses
Once you know what your aims are, it’s time to think about what you’re good and bad at. What is holding you back from achieving your aims and what can you do about it? For example, if you are good at endurance running but poor in terms of speed, you might devote three months to focusing on improving leg speed and running technique.
Professional level athletes are particularly good at thinking in these terms. It’s not uncommon for them to dedicate several months to improving their swimming in order to get up to a pro-level.
The bottom line is that your weaknesses won’t change without a determined and prolonged effort to improve them. After you’ve made the improvement, it doesn’t take as much time and effort to maintain that standard.
3: Which events are most important?
When you make a long-term training plan it needs to be built around the races you’re doing. It’s difficult to maintain peak fitness for long periods of time and typically you can expect to be in peak shape for four weeks at a time, twice per season.
Ideally your peaks will coincide with your big races. As you get nearer to your key races, your training should become more race focused. Rather than working on broader areas of fitness, such as endurance, your training should resemble race conditions more closely.
Make your own long-term plan
After you’ve given some thought to your goals, weaknesses and races it’s time to start making your long-term plan. There are lots of ways to divide up your year, and ultimately there’s no right or wrong. Make sure your plan is realistic, includes adequate recovery, and is suited to your personal needs.
You can invent your own plan and call the different phases whatever you like. For example, you could have a “focus on being a better swimmer phase” if that’s something you feel you need.
Here I will show you the Joe Friel version from his book The Triathlete’s Training Bible. He divides each macro-cycle into six distinct phases.
This period is all about preparing your body and mind to start regular training. It would typically last about four weeks – January would be a good month.
During this time your aim is to get off the couch and start building some training momentum. You don’t need to train like an Olympian yet, but you do need to start racking up some consistent, regular training. It’s also a good time to try new things out, such as a different pool, a new running group or perhaps a new turbo-trainer.
The base period has been described as being like an Egyptian pyramid: The broader the base of the pyramid, the higher the peak that can be built on it.
The phase typically lasts 12 weeks and will comfortably see you through from February to April. The focus is on endurance training at low intensities, as well as speed skill sessions involving a few short high intensity efforts.
After four weeks you should also include some muscular endurance workouts, consisting of long efforts (five to 20 mins) at about one hour race pace, with relatively short recovery periods.
After eight to 16 weeks of base training, it’s time to move on to the build phase, which is typically eight weeks, for
example throughout May and June.
During this time your workouts become more race specific and less general. Don’t worry about your weekly volume (hours or distance per week) at this stage, focus more on what you do specifically in a few key workouts.
The caveat is that you needn’t make every single session racespecific, otherwise you’ll be permanently exhausted. When you’re between key workouts, you either need to allow recovery or do a low-intensity workout.
This phase would typically start around four weeks before your big race and last for three weeks. The aim is to get the right mix of intensity and rest to produce race readiness at the right time. It involves doing race simulations every third or fourth day, and then resting or doing easy sessions in between. These workouts should gradually get shorter as you progress through the first week or two.
The intensity of these workouts should be at least at your one-hour race pace, but with recovery periods.
On the days between these race simulation sessions you should rest or train at low intensities and these workouts should also get shorter as the peak period progresses.
Short and sharp, this covers the last six or seven days before your big race. The main aims are to maintain your fitness, eliminate any traces of fatigue and to prepare mentally. Every athlete has their own way of tapering for a race, but research suggests that you should reduce the training volume and frequency, but not necessarily your intensity.
This takes place typically over two to 12 weeks, approximately half way through the race season or towards the end. It marks the end of the macro-cycle and it’s an important time to get some rest from the demands of structured training.
That’s not to say you should stop altogether, but your emphasis should be on exercising rather than training until you start the next macro-cycle.