Have you ever struggled with the overwhelming task of planning your athletic season? The journey to a successful, injury-free, and balanced season requires a combination of know-how, level-headedness… and a series of key steps. A coach can help you navigate the quandaries safely and objectively throughout this process. However, regardless of whether you are coached or not, here are seven steps to help guide you through the conundrum of creating a healthy athletic season.
1. Begin by asking yourself, “Where am I right now?”
It's time to honestly answer the following questions:
Are you coming off an injury, unstructured training, illness, or a big-effort recovery?
Are you experiencing stress at work, with family, or with relationships?
Do you have underlying health issues to address or be aware of?
Your answer to these questions will affect your training approach. Sometimes, you need to focus on base training before a preparatory training block, and this is often an opportune time to instill healthy habits. Or if you’ve completed one month of consistent base training, you’re ready to turn up the dial.
2. Then Ask: “Where do I want to be?”
Now it’s time to review your training goals...
Are there races or competitions you want to attend?
Do you want a new personal best?
Do you want to maximize your performance?
Do you simply want healthy, positive training habits?
Consider outcome and process goals (and know the difference between them). Outcome goals are the final output or direct answers to goals like: finishing a race; running a sub-20-minute 5 km; or, finishing on a podium.
Process goals are about creating positive and specific habits to achieve your outcome goals. Some examples of these are: training five to six times a week; eating a meal with complex carbohydrates two hours before a training session; or completing muscle activation exercises before you train. The key is to set realistic goals that work for you.
3. Mark your calendar for the entire year
(And two-to-three years down the road).
It’s time to think on a broad scale. Visualise where you want to be, not just next year but a few years down the road. Reflect on whether your goals align with your values. Mark your calendar with as many knowns as possible, and review whether you’ve signed yourself up for too much. Ultimately, training phases are highly individual. It takes experience to know what’s best for you.
Add to your calendar:
Your races, outcome, and process goals.
Rank the values of each as A, B, or C where A is highest priority, and C is the lowest priority.
Any events disrupting your training, e.g., weddings, vacation or work trips, family reunions, etc. Expect curveballs along the way.
Key workouts that simulate the race in your last one to two training blocks.
Qualifiers that are necessary for races one to three years out.
Taper phase before the race (one to three weeks before your race).
Recovery phase post races or large stresses (one to eight weeks).
Other phases such as base, preparatory, competition, or transition.
4. Work backward from your outcome goals to structure specific training.
Usually, your peak training weeks are four to eight weeks before you race in terms of volume and intensity. During this time, hone in on training specifically for your race.
Understand the characteristics of the race, such as:
Vertical meters (both up and down)
Average grade or % incline
Other e.g., Stage races, night racing, start time, or ultra-endurance events.
With these characteristics in mind, draft three to five key workouts to place in the preparatory phase. Incorporating workouts and terrain that replicate the course is crucial.
5. Work on your weaknesses further away from the race.
Perhaps your VO2 max, lactate threshold, or downhill skills need to be strengthened. Give yourself ample time to boost your confidence and skills in your weakest links. Oftentimes, this is six months away from your race. The duration depends on how much time you have before your race and what adaptions are needed.
6. Incorporate different stimuli to progress with adequate recovery.
Our bodies adapt to the stresses we apply, and novel stimuli are necessary for fitness gains. The trick is how much and when to apply the stress. Safely introducing new skills or stresses takes practice, knowledge, and experience.
7. Lastly, make it fun!
Training shouldn’t always feel like work. Undoubtedly, there will be hard days. Sometimes, it takes time for certain sessions to feel enjoyable.
Here are some creative ways to make it fun:
Chase a Strava segment for a personal best.
Use a Strava segment for completing repeats and as a fitness benchmark.
Find new trails by using Strava heatmaps.
Follow athletes on Strava who inspire you and give them some kudos.
Enjoy the process of training, progressing your fitness to new levels, and experiencing races with the community.
Now it’s time to start moving!