Planning to Peak by Mark Allen

It’s the official beginning of winter, and you are probably resolved to start training for the upcoming season. But we are all human, and it is sometimes difficult to get the momentum going. Have faith ... it will start coming together. Sporadic sessions will become more consistent, the flab will start to disappear. Times will come down. Best of all, it’s not too late to lay down the work for a great season!

But it is July, and a good time for a year plan reality check. Let’s look at a sample season. It will probably end with a major effort in the fall (Mar/Apr in the south, Sep/Oct in the North). Along the way will be five to ten other races starting sometime in late spring (Oct/Nov in the south, Apr/May in the north) with at least one of those being almost as important as the season as a whole. Maybe, it will be the race that qualifies you for that last, all-important hit out.

To get through the year and race well when it counts will take some planning. I like to start with my mid-season important race and plan backward from there to where I am at right now. This is how it works. Find the date of your most important race that will be coming up sometime in the next 12-20 weeks. Anything closer than that and you will not be able to take full advantage of a good buildup/speed/taper program. On the flip-side of that scenario, if you are focusing your training on a race that will take place farther than 20 weeks from now, you risk getting totally burned out before that date. This is the classic “I was in great shape two weeks ago” example of peaking too early.

Do you have the date of your first key race?

To plan your schedule so that you will arrive at the start line ready to race at full-force, now do the following. Start counting back from that date and use the notes on the next page to break your preparations into three vital phases.

The Plan

• Give yourself three weeks of tapering down prior to the race.

• Before that you should plan about 3-6 weeks of race-specific training for the distance of the event you will be competing in. So, if Ironman Australia is your goal in April, start your over-distance weeks about 9 (6+3) weeks back from the event. Make sure you have plenty of longer endurance days once a week in each sport to get your body ready for the event.

• Now, back things up even further. Before this big block of race-specific training, which will include your speed work starting about midway through, there needs to be a good base of aerobic fitness built up to handle the intensity of race specific workouts. This period should last at somewhere between 3-8 weeks.

If you add this all up, a perfectly prepared for race will take somewhere between 12-20 weeks to prepare for. The exact number of weeks of each phase- base, race specific workouts including speed, and taper- all depends on how many weeks you have total between now and your key event.

For example, a 12-week program would look something like 5 weeks of aerobic base (absolutely no speed work, mate!), 4 weeks of race specific workouts during which the second two weeks will have speed sessions starting, and then 3 weeks of taper. For a 20-week schedule, everything gets stretched out a bit more. This would look more like 10 weeks of building up base work, 6 weeks of race specific training, and then a full 4 week linear taper down to the event.

What you do in each of these phases depends on your level of fitness, number of years racing and age. In general, the best gauge will be to use your body as your barometer of how much is too much and too little. If you start fighting the thought of working out, keep getting sick or injured, or just can’t seem to stop yelling at your closest friends, then you are moving towards being overtrained. Back it off for a while. Sleep, take a break, and then come back at it in a few days and see if things have shifted. Other than that, you should try to build through each of the phases both in intensity and distance, with the exception of the taper phase where you will be decreasing intensity and distance throughout the entire phase.

What you do now will pay off not only in the middle of the season, but at the end as well. Now is when the season is made.


Get to the top of your peak.