One season ends, another begins
With the Olympic extravaganza that was this summer and travelling down to London to be a part of it, it’s been far too long since my last post, but things are settling back down now so normal service has resumed and the regular posts will return! So as another eventful season draws to a close with few races left on the calendar, many of us have already raced our last race of the season, and hopefully we are reflecting on how the season has gone. What worked well for us, what didn’t work so well? Where did we perform best or what positives can we take from our worst race? All these things matter, and more than you might think too.
Part of every year is the usual pre-season training phase which is quickly followed up by the race season, the time when all the hard work, dedicated practice and off-season developmental gains are put into action. Following this pattern, after a busy, and hopefully successful race season, we are faced with the off-season. The efforts of the previous months will have taken their toll, both mentally and physically, which means the off-season all too often turns into a no-mans land of lost motivation, inconsistent and unstructured training and big fitness losses. Naturally we must all take the time to rest and recover properly once the race season comes to a close, but the time between race season and pre-season training is where most of us lose out, wasting the previous 6-8 months of dedication and sacrifice, rather than harnessing it to become a major influence on next seasons goals and allowing us to take the next step up the ladder, both in terms of fitness and technique development.
Our physical objectives at this time of year should shift to enter a maintenance phase which will allow us to commence next seasons specific pre-season training from a higher level than if we stopped training and took the fitness step backwards. We’re not talking large amounts of dedicated science-based training to achieve this either. Maintaining some aerobic exercise a few times a week should generally be enough to maintain fitness. Finding another form of exercise to do this can often be beneficial from both a mental and physical viewpoint too, some winter running or biking in the hills can be a welcome change which will still offer an aerobic workout. The change in focus for a while can leave you refreshed and ready for new challenges.
Mentally we should be making a shift too. For the summer months we’ve been concentrating on doing the little things to peak at the right time for our chosen races, so what should we be thinking about in the off-season? Well, put simply, you should be planning. It’s probably the least glamorous part of training, but it’s perhaps one of the most overlooked and definitely one of the most important elements of building towards a successful race season. Whether you want to do your first race in a new event, step up a race distance or smash a PB, now is the time to be planning it out and you don’t need an expert coach to do some simple planning of your own. Here’s a few steps to follow to help you plan out your next season:
Set realistic goals
Want to run a 20min 5K when your current best time is 21mins? Sounds achievable. Aiming to run a 32min 10K when your current best is 40mins? Sounds less achievable. Assess where you’re at by looking at this seasons results and plan ahead according to that, not by what you wish you could do. The small improvements you make week to week will encourage you much more when you’re working toward an achievable end goal. Look at your diary too, don’t plan for your biggest race of the season the day after you get back from 2-weeks sunning yourself on a family holiday.
You’ve got your goals, you’ve identified your races so now work backwards. When do you have to peak? How much of a taper do you need? How long a training block do you need to allow for? When do you need to start that training? What’s that training going to be? Who’s it going to be with?
Identify your weaknesses
Getting faster or making things easier isn’t just about getting fitter – it’s about improving technique and correcting flaws too. Whilst working on the things you can already do is easier and feels better, working on the things you can’t do will yield the biggest improvements in the long run. It’s always hard to evaluate yourself accurately so get a training partner or a coach at your local club to help identify the important points to work on. Improving these aspects of your sport is one of the best motivations to improve some more.
Address your weaknesses
Once you’ve identified what it is you need to work on, make sure you spend time working on it. Incorporate some technique sessions or specific workout sessions which target this element. One of the best ways to measure your progress is regular testing so include regular timed efforts over the same course to help quantify what you’re doing. This way you know if you’re doing the right thing to improve or if there’s something else more worthwhile you could be doing.
Make yourself, or invest in, a training plan. Spend a little time each weekend looking at what did and what didn’t work the week before and whether you need to do anything differently. Just turning up to do some exercise without any idea of what you want to achieve, or how it fits in with the rest of your training, won’t help you improve. Knowing what you’re trying to achieve in a session is the best way to get the most out of it.
Book it in
Get a training buddy or join a local club and arrange to go along to some group sessions. You’re much more likely to stick to it, especially over the darker, colder winter months, and more consistent training will lead to bigger improvements in the long run. You’ll always push yourslef just a little harder with others around you and it’s a great way to socialise too, so make the most of it.
With the summer drawing to an end and the dark nights drawing in it can often be hard to see through to next summers racing but as we all know, winter miles make summer smiles. So take a little time to reflect. Make a plan. And stick to it. It’s the cheapest investment you can ever make in sport but may just be the best one you’ll make.