Here are a few tips to help you in planning your competitive events for 2008:
1. How many peaks are you planning for and are they realistic? Far too often I see athletes schedule top priority races back to back to back. Now, if you are an elite and this is your career, this is a fact of life in which you prepare you body for. If you are not, then rethink stacking important races so you have only one per competitive block.
2. Depending on how many times you want to race, plan on 2-3 different competition phases in your annual year. This supports my recovery based training model where you focus on recovery first (remember, this is when your body responds and improves to your training stimuli) which allows you to get a much more high quality competitive effort for your top priority races. If possible, allow 3-6 weeks of separation between these cycles and peak 2-3 times per year. In contrast, if your most important race of the season is towards the end of the year and you spend the entire season ramping up and competing before this without a recovery transition cycle, you will not reach your full potential at your top priority race.
3. Add time in your training blocks for testing. Whether it is pertinent lab testing or field incremental or time trial testing, these are great markers to gauge your progress. Be smart when scheduling them though so it is not in the middle of a hard week/block when your body is in a very fatigued state. Remember, these are performance tests where similar to races, you want to be well-rested most of the time. I will have some of my athletes test in the pool once every 7-10 days but less frequent (3-6 weeks) on the bike and run.
4. Rethink your periodization method. If you are at a time in your career where you have been stale or not reaching new PR's or are needing/wanting to be more competitive, you may want to experiment with a reverse periodization model instead of the traditional. The concept of reverse periodization (which I only recommend to athletes who have a solid aerobic and low-end speed/strength foundation) is the opposite of tradition. Your block begins with a high volume and intensity focus and decreases from week to week. This allows for tremendous work efforts during the first and second week and is fantastic for recovery. Basically, from a volume perspective, it may look like this: week 1, 14 hours; week 2, 12 hours; week 3, 8 hours; week 1, 16 hours; week 2, 14 hours; week 3, 10 hours. It can be structured in many different ways. The point is that your highest training load is the first week coming off of recovery. Do not try this if you are a novice or do not have a solid strength/speed and aerobic foundation as you may risk injury. However, there are many ways to skin a cat and reverse periodization can even be placed in the middle of a traditional periodization plan. Confused? Ah, this is the beauty of applying the art and science to coaching. Just drop me an email if you have questions.
5. Most importantly, think about the "why's" of choosing your races. Far too many athletes jump in a race just because it sounds cool. This fly by the seat of your pants may have a significant negative impact on the rest of your performance. Start with mapping out your outcome goals for the year (the most meaningful ones) and then add your process goals (the ones that will help you attain your outcome goals). Don't let your friends or training partners talk you into a race that doesn't fit with your plan unless it is merely a training effort race (and really, how many endurance athletes do you know who can drop into a competition and not race it?).
Take some time amidst your holiday planning and pencil in your tentative plan. Don't get anal about it but do take some time to figure out your outcome and process goals first. These will lead you down the correct path and will allow you to make smart decisions that optimize your performance instead of running around in a continually fatigued state.
Enjoy the holidays!