By this time, most triathletes have resumed training for the 2013 season. The early season can be a very frustrating time as poor weather and lack of daylight can force athletes indoors. As a coach, it’s my job to come up with a system that will give my clients the best chance for success. This system enables athletes to utilize their current environments in an optimistic manner while working towards their athletic goals.
The closer an athlete gets to his/her event, the more training should mimic the demands of that event. This means, for most endurance athletes, long winter base miles are not required. While strength and endurance is the biggest limiter for long course triathletes, is it really feasible to do this over the winter? And, even if weather is not a limiter, is traditional periodization the best way to plan your season anyway?
Throughout the year, I tend to keep a standard week or block rolling. I then manipulate training intensity and duration within the various blocks depending on where I’m placing the focus for the athlete. Within these steps (below), there are no fine lines as to when one step ends and the other begins. Moving on to the next step is an individual thing based on several factors, such as, experience, fitness level, race date, goals, etc.
Step 1: Tune-Up
Preparing the body to train - skipping this step is one of the biggest early season mistakes and athlete can make. This step is mostly about getting out the door with limited structure. I find myself writing workouts such as, “just get it done”. It’s not genius and often boring for both the athlete and coach, but is an essential step to moving forward. The duration of this step really depends on the athlete. This step prepares the chassis for regular training...a tune-up per-say, where bolts are tightened, the chain is lubed, and gearing adjusted. Rushing through this phase can increase your likelihood for setbacks via inconsistency, sickness and/or injury.
Traditionally, after this step, athletes would go into a base phase where they gradually increase the volume of training, but still keeping a lid on hard/sustained efforts. However, for most working athletes who face traditional winters, this is not possible.
Step 2: The Engine
Since many athletes live in climates where poor weather and/or lack of day light force them indoors...this is a good time to build the engine (enhance your physiological profile). Once the body is ready to train, I like to start incorporating short intervals of varying intensities-mainly on the bike and in the pool.
On the bike, I like to stick with 60-90 min turbo sessions, with a focus on strength via big gear sessions (55-65 rpm), threshold, VO2, and anaerobic work. I prescribe to a similar approach in the pool.
Since run durability is the biggest limiter for most age group athletes, I like to focus on “time on the legs” via run frequency while slowly building run volume. I will still include short efforts from 30 sec to 3 minutes but am very cautious with the run intensity as the risk of injury is greater.
*During this step, athletes are given the power to ignore the plan and work on their bike endurance if they happen to get a nice weekend.
Step 3: Endurance
At this time, the weather is usually starting to break and there is more daylight allowing athletes to get outside to log consistent miles on the bike. As I’ve previously mentioned, strength and endurance are the biggest limiters of performance for most athletes and their time is best spent in this phase.
Step 4: Race Day Demands
Time to get specific...This is the point where your training needs to start preparing you to meet the demands of your race. Steps 1-3 are still represented, but the goal is race prep vs building fitness. I’ll use this time to dial in pacing and practice other race-day variables through simulation workouts.
Throughout the year, these 4 steps can be revisited. For example, you may have a transition period or mid-season break, where you perform 1-2 weeks of Step 1 before getting back to Step 3. It’s very individual based on your race duration, season schedule, goals, and individual strengths and weaknesses.
In closing. Embrace your current climate - traditional ways of training my not work in your favor, but who’s to say “tradition” is right?