While I'm enjoying a bit of racing right now, I think it's time to have a muse about next year.
Looking back through my training record for early 2012 I can see that although I did a fair amount of work, much of it was the same thing week-in week-out. There was little in the way of periodisation and specific training.
“Periodisation” means a gradual build of effort over the course of a few weeks followed by an adaptation period of reduced intensity. Often there will be meta-cycles mapped over this such as a group of 4x 4-week periods with a specific objective. 16 weeks is often regarded as the time before a race where extra focus really pays off and you can perform to your best. Many Ironman and marathon training plans are 16-weeks in duration.
Training is considered “specific” if is designed to improve your performance over the course you will be racing on. If you’re taking on a fast flat bike and run course then you might work on pushing a steady wattage for a long period on the bike, keeping your aero position for the full time, and sustaining a fast run speed. However if your race is full of hills then you will really want to work on strength and climbing technique both on the bike and in the run. Maintaining a specific approach during your pre-race period will work to ensure you’re as prepared as possible – mentally and physically. If possible you should train on the actual course you will be racing on, learning the best lines on the climbs and descents, where you need to brake (or just as importantly where you don’t need to brake), and developing an appropriate fuelling strategy.
In order to train and race in this way you need to decide on your “A” race(s) – the one or two races where you really want to do well and perform at your best. Other races in the lead-up could be good tests for technique, equipment, and race strategy. Some races might just be for fun, or integrated into a training plan as longer or harder effort sessions. As far as is within your control there should be no unknowns when going into your A-race. You should have as much of your mental bandwidth available for focusing on your performance, following your plan, and dealing with anything unexpected. Practice might not guarantee perfect in triathlon, but it can certainly help you stay calm and perform efficiently.
It’s important to work on the psychological side too – Mrs and I were very strict with ourselves in the first half of 2012, unsustainably so, which is why I think as soon as the races started my weight started drifting upwards. A healthier approach is to reserve the strictest periods for the final approach to the race making it easier to stay on track.
At the moment, I’m signed up for a lot of races for next year including three Ironman events (IM 70.3 Mallorca in May, IM 70.3 UK in June, and IM UK in July). This is very exciting, and I feel motivated to have a good winter working on my strength and fitness - but if I'm to take it to the next level I'll need to work out my A-race events. It'll certainly be a triathlon. I’ll be competing in some single discipline events but those will just be for training and race exposure. I am also sure it will be a long-distance event. From my racing last year I am utterly convinced that I have the capability of going significantly faster over 70.3 and full Ironman distance triathlon - providing I can remain focussed and avoid injury. As for which event, I think it makes sense to pick an early season race and a later season race and peak for both. Races I’ve completed before will be good – it’s motivating to have prior course experience and a PB you can aim for. I’d like to race on courses it’s relatively easy to get to for training experience, and so that means the UK.
Meeting all those requirements means the decision basically makes itself. My A-races for next year will be:
- Ironman 70.3 UK, Wimbleball Lake, Exmoor, 15th June 2014 (already entered)
- Ironman Wales, Tenby, mid-September 2014 (entries not open yet)
A 16-week run into Wimbleball is clearly achievable, but there are only around 13 weeks between Wimbleball and Wales, and that period has IM UK in the middle, which I've already entered.
A quiet week after IM 70.3 UK followed by a 12-week run into IM Wales could work, but effort would need to be very carefully managed at the UK event. This period will be essential if a good performance is to be attained at IM Wales. It might be wise to defer my IM UK entry to IM Wales to take it out of the middle all together. I’ll decide on this once the date for next year’s IM Wales event is announced – the 2013 edition is on this weekend so it’ll be announced and open for entry shortly afterwards.
Obviously a great deal can change in a year, who knows what will happen between now and then – but right now, these two races are what I'm going to target.
- 2012 gave structured training, something I’ve never done before in my life, but with no target other than “complete the Ultimate Challenge”.
- 2013 brought injury and frustration for the first half, underlining the importance of maintaining a strong flexible base to remain resilient to injury, and some fun training and racing in the second half (so far at least!).
- 2014 will bring an A-race or two and a periodised targeted training plan, as discussed above.
For the first time I want to get to a long-course triathlon and actually race it hard and to the best of my abilities rather than just aim for completion with a time or age-group position as a secondary concern. Let's give it a shot and see what happens. Next I'll be looking at periodisation and working out where training blocks fit between now and the races, then I'll start to work out what the objectives of each block are. Plenty of work to do! Stay tuned!