As cycling and triathlon season ramps up, many athletes have races that may be their focal point for 2017. Many athletes want to peak fitness for best results and trust in their coaches to get them there. While a coach can help peak an athlete for optimal race day fitness, there is still some responsibility on the athlete to understand limits.  Without understanding how a peak works, an athlete is at risk for becoming stale or plateauing after the race.

Building Into a Race
To be honest, the race specific demands of a race should make up the final two-four months of a training cycle before an athletes race. During these last couple months, the idea is to stress the athletes body with training demands that mimic the race setting. In order to continually build to a peak, the athletes training demands should build each week until recovery is needed. While there are specific ramp rates to target for athletes (amount of training stress added each week) The better indication of adaptation comes from the actual performances that athletes are putting out in training. Are run times/distances getting better?  Are watts on the bike higher for longer? Can the athlete hold swim pace for longer durations?

The Dreaded Last Month
The last month of a training plan before a peak is always the hardest. Fitness is generally strong, but now we tend to go into a slight over-reach phase to get those last bits of fitness/speed out of the athlete.  This can generally be a 1-2 week block where the athlete will generally feel like garbage and question if they will ever be strong enough to race the event. This is needed though.  The human body is amazing at adapting to the stress in its environment. In this last piece of training, the athlete is maximizing the stress that they can handle in order to maximize their adaptation when they recover. Without this key 1-2 weeks of training, the athlete would be maintaining fitness. When athletes start to maintain fitness for longer than 3-4 weeks, they begin to plateau and become stale. Therefore, if you’re an athlete going into a peak race, without this over-reach period, you risk going into the race stale and flat.

Maintaining Fitness
There is a time to do this and a time not to.  If you are going into a race or coming out of one, there is no benefit to maintaining fitness for prolonged periods of time. You will either become stale, overtrained, or burned out.  The only time I ever see a maintenance of fitness work is if an athlete is at roughly 50-70% of their peak form. This period of time is generally in the off-season or early in the training year as they get ready for their build.

When an athlete tries to maintain high levels of fitness, I have found through several athletes that around the 2 month marker is the max for this tactic of training. For any athlete I’ve coached that has maintained high fitness for longer than 2 months, their results have suffered drastically after that 2 month mark. This is most likely due to the high level of fatigue needed to sustain such fitness without any further adaptation being added in to make the body stronger. Even when the metrics support a fresh body, athletes performance will suffer as they report no “pop” in the legs and an overall feeling of staleness.

Post Race Tactics
This is going to depend on your yearly calendar and how you set it up.  If you have two large events coming up within a small window of time, then you will most likely use the same fitness for both.  However, when your events are spaced out throughout the year, it is extremely important that you take some time off after your first big event.  Remember, any time you try to maintain high fitness for over 2 months, you are going to start suffering in your performance.

Let’s use an example that a lot of our athletes at Mind Right Endurance are doing in 2017.

“A” Race #1 Galveston 70.3/IMTX (April)

  • Athlete will be in specific training from Jan-April
  • Athlete will be in peak build from March-April
  • Athlete will adapt last week of March and go into race in peak form
  • Athlete will race and then take a 2-3 week easy break to bring training loads and fitness back to steady state (about 75-80% of peak)

“A” Race #2 Ironman Chattanooga (Sept)

  • Athlete will be in specific Ironman prep from late May-Sept
  • Athlete will be in large peak build from late Aug-Early Sept
  • Athlete will adapt middle of Sept
  • Athlete will go into race in peak form.

So this athlete has two large events that they want to peak for.  Even with one in April and one in September, they will be taking a majority of the month of April off structured training.  They will slowly ease back into things in May and then start to get specific for Ironman as they build for September.

What you shouldn’t do:  You should not aim to maintain fitness from April to September in this situation.  By the time July rolls around, you will be burned out and hating training.  You will start to see the training volume says the same thing, but your performance and results are getting slower.  You’ll start to have anxiety over training due to the lack of performance you’re seeing and then you’ll go into a downward spiral of hating training and the sport.

As you go into a peak build for your race, training needs to be hard.  The reason it’s so hard is to ensure you don’t plateau too early in the process.  Once you get through the last hard push, you get to experience a peak level of fitness for roughly 2-4 weeks.  Once the race is done though, it’s important that you take some time away unless you have another large event coming up shortly. By trying to maintain high levels of fitness for longer than 2 months, you are at a high risk of plateauing fitness, becoming stale, and declining in athletic performance.  If you have any questions, please leave them in the comment section!