Failing to plan, is planning to maybe not do that great.
So it's that time of the year where it's time to start thinking about your next season and do some initial planning. 2022 is just around the corner!
After your last A race of the year is a great time to step back and have a bit of a break from structured training and racing and a great thing to do during that time is to think about your next year of training. This doesn’t mean you have to know exactly what races you are doing (or you maybe already know) but it's a great time to map out anything family and work-related, and if you like to race early season or late season (or both), and then when looking at this overall big picture plan you can often then see when would be good time frames for your Goal Races. These are the races that you want to give your best effort and go into really well prepared and as “peaked” as possible for. (Peaked means going through all the training phases and then being able to do that last big push a few weeks out).
Choosing events as goal races in the year has been benefits: maybe you have always wanted to do a certain event - so planning will allow that to happen, maybe your training partners are doing that same race and you want to join them and make a weekend of it; or it could be that you want to make it a race-cation in a particular place. The next step is to think about what you want to accomplish at that event and how it fits into your athletic circumstances* (a term coined by Joanna Zeiger in your book the Champion Mindset).
What are your athletic circumstances? This is the interaction of your family, health, work, abilities, and desire - considering these circumstances when planning your races is going to make things a lot more likely to be realistic, fun, and achievable (by putting being able to put in the training time). Knowing these athletic circumstances will then help you pick your races and set your goals for the year - including long-term, short, and very short-term goals that will set you up for progress and success. Then you want to look at how the race fits into your life circumstances in the year, such as work time off, kids school, economics of the cost - you want to schedule races that clash with other major life events. You want to plan your year so that you are in a position to have a great training block, not be too stressed or overwhelmed - and therefore go into your race feeling optimally ready! You want to look at your development year after year, building for skills and fitness - towards bigger goals - such as an Ironman 70.3 or Full Ironman. Planning your off, post, pre, and appropriate build-up races - can lead you to the decision that an Ironman is doable and achievable within not only your own abilities - but how it will fit and impact on your “whole” life circumstances. I don’t think it's a great idea for instance to sign up for your Ironman a year out and then just focus on that race for the whole year. This is a long time to train for just one race - and can get mental and emotionally tough to sustain this focus for that long - however breaking the process up into seasons and progressions and working your way towards an Ironman with stepping stones of other races, and progress in your fitness is a great way to make the journey way more enjoyable and arrive on race day excited, confident and relatively fresh!
Fitness and progress in endurance sports come from consistency, and then specificity for your goal races - and this takes dedication and focus. To get better though you need to progress - and to progress, you need to be able to handle more racing and training, and know when to rest and recovery and when to push.
When planning a season it's important to recognize that it's only really 14-20 weeks before your goal race that you will be in full-on “race-specific training mode”. The rest of the year is about recognizing that there are many underlying habits, traits, skills, and physical conditioning we can do to make these 14 - 20 weeks way more effective and successful. I often call this training to train.
During the specific race prep cycle - you are often doing sessions that build the specific strengths, fitness, and demands you will need to be successful at your goal race. For long course racing, this will include big blocks of training. Preparing and scheduling for these is important - during this race-specific cycle, these big build blocks must get done - as they ensure you are confident and ready for your race day. They help build confidence - and so ensuring that they are planned and executed is super important. Working out how this “big day” training is going to look for you in the context of your life is important to consider and chat with your family about well in advance - if everyone who needs to be informed knows this is temporary and for a big goal - then you get buy-in..and this sets you up better for success.
So then what about the rest of the year:
So after your last race of the year it's a good idea to take an “off season” this is a period with no structured training and some recoup time. Doesn’t mean you do nothing - but you do what you feel like and without structure and things that are different from your race-specific training. This is healthy for the mind and body and super important! This can range from 2-8 weeks it really depends on how hard your last race was, how you recovered and how you are feeling.
After this - then what?
It may only be November and you have taken your off-season and ready to rumble..what now?
Well this is the Post-season Phase
Post-season can be 5-10 weeks depending on your experiences and when the next racing season begins. I also think it's a great idea to have a break during the end of the year from say 20th December till the 3rd January - this is a great time of year for everyone to have another break and start fresh in the new year! There is just something about that new year vibe!
The post-season is a great phase to develop new skills and improve cardiovascular capacity through high-intensity training, neurological work, technique work and strength training. This is when you can really work on strengthening the load your tendons and ligaments can take - the basis of becoming stronger in endurance sports. This is a great time for trail running to help reduce impact and improve gait and issues from road and track running (I love trail running). This phase will also have you heavy gear work on the bike and hill repeats…
The ultimate goal here is to go from the end of one season, and arrive into the next season, healthy, stronger, and feeling good - but not unfit…
Next comes the Pre-Season
Pre-season is now when you will start to introduce a bit more harder work into your training - but not totally race-specific yet. This phase will start to include some harder efforts - but maybe not long sessions or long intervals yet. This phase can be 10-14 weeks again - depending on your goal races. You can even do a pre-season block, race early in the year, and then come back and do the pre-season again mid-year before starting back into a race block. It's fun training and lets you have a break from feeling like you are training for a race all the time.
With a good “plan” for your year in terms of goal races vs other complimentary races - you can see that you can then plan a season that has phases, and develops - rather than feeling like you are either training for races or not training for races. We can “train” all year - but to keep it fun and different and allow the body to develop and adapt and keep the mind fresh…having a season plan is really essential to development and longevity….