It is not uncommon in endurance triathlon to have athletes go all in on their training for a 12 or maybe 16 week program in the lead up to their ‘A Race’. They put their life on hold for the 12 weeks, maybe take some leave from work, sweet talk their spouse into putting up with an unavailable partner for a few months, and they go all in. They count down each day, each week and can’t wait for race day to come so that they can go back to their ‘normal’ life. Off the back of the race they don’t do any recovery program, they don’t even put their bike back together for weeks or months post race let alone actually go out and do any training. They enjoy living their ‘normal’ life for a few months, with eating as they wish, gain a few kgs, lose all fitness gains and then they start thinking about their next race. Getting ready to go all in again on a 12-week program in a couple of months-time.
As a coach, I have found this to be a pretty common approach to the sport, and that’s not to say that there is any wrong with this. However, if the athlete comes back for the second race expecting to perform better than their first race – chances are they are going to be disappointed.
You see, performance is accumulative. You can get yourself race ready over a 12-week program, race, and then if you do nothing post-race, you’ll be back to the same fitness level you started the program at within the space of a month. Sad, but true. For a coach, this can present a challenge if athletes only come to you for 12 weeks at a time, rather than with a ‘bigger picture’ frame of mind looking at their race goals over 18 months to 2 years at least. It’s working consistently over a long period of time that you will really start to see the gains.
Post race definitely requires some managed down time. So that’s to say you’re not locking away all training equipment and healthy habits and adopting a sloth mode to reward yourself for your hard work over the past few months. It requires carefully managed load to keep the muscles and joints mobile and functioning while recovering. After a few weeks of this, your body will be ready to start a post race program. Yes, there will be a dip in fitness post race (this is necessary), BUT if managed well, you will have the opportunity to resume training in prep for you next race at an elevated level of fitness compared to where you started your last race prep at. Meaning you are starting from a higher platform. And this is the key here – starting from a higher platform means you should finish at a higher fitness level compared to your last race – and that’s where you will see gains in your racing performance.
Planning your time in the sport one 12-week program at a time, with months of ‘down time’ in between will see you make little long-term progress. Instead, shift your perspective to the bigger picture. If your goal race is Taupo 2020, start thinking backwards from that. What race can you use that’s 14 – 15 weeks prior as your pre-race build? That will give you a couple of weeks of managed recovery before commencing your Taupo 2020 campaign from a solid foundation.
If you feel that there’s no way you could sustain your training regime for longer than 12 weeks at a time, then perhaps you need to review your training program to allow for a more sustainable, balanced approach. Yes, this may require you to be prepared to reduce your training volume during race specific prep – but I can guarantee you that if it means you train more consistently year in year out, that long term this will build a much higher performing athlete than one who goes all in and then all out each race at a time.