As you embark on a new season of racing it is critical that you establish a plan to structure your training. The biggest mistake most athletes make is doing the same type of training day after day. This strategy often yields gains in fitness at the beginning, but can turn into overtraining and cause a plateau in development or even loss of fitness. Whether you are employing a coach or are self-coached, you need to build structure into you training plan.
Fundamentally, training is about stressing the body and allowing ample time to recover and absorb the stress. This concept seems pretty simple, yet it is the most overlooked detail for most athletes. In a quest to improve performance and/or appearance, athletes often look for ways to short cut the process. Many coaches can feed into this desire by prescribing very aggressive training progressions. In some cases these aggressive approaches will work, but in the majority of cases it will be too much, too soon and lead to overtraining, injury and/or burnout. I always say that it’s easy to write a program on paper, but quite another matter to actually execute it. Each person needs to find the correct balance of volume and intensity to continue improving.
Another trap many people fall into is looking at the training of elite athletes and trying to emulate it exactly. When I began racing in 1986 there were very few sources of training advice. One triathlon magazine featured monthly training diaries of the stars. These were often quite massive training programs, and years later when I got to know some of the star athletes, I learned that these articles were a sick joke they were playing! They never actually did the kind of training they described, and if they did, it was only for very short periods. It has taken me a long time to alter the “brainwashing” that I got from reading those training programs. Now there are many books, articles and online training resources available to athletes. Any given program can be good or bad, depending on the needs of the athlete. The bottom line is that more isn’t always better. Each athlete needs to honestly evaluate the appropriate training load and progression as they move through the year.
Things to consider are your time, work commitments, family commitments, sleep schedule, training and racing history, goals for the year, long term goals, your overall health and immune function, current fitness and, most importantly, your motivation. It is important to understand that different people have different paths that can lead them toward optimal performance. Of course you will look to others to learn, but it is dangerous if you start comparing yourself to others, and you can become frustrated if you hold yourself to an unrealistic standard.
Gaining perspective and true balance in your life and in your training is challenging and elusive. When considering your goals, it is easy to get carried away and think you can add all the training, racing and associated fallout to your life and nothing else will be affected. You need to be realistic and decide if it is worth it to pursue certain goals or perhaps consider something different. The stress of competition and training are relative to the individual, so you need to be sure that taking on a goal is not creating undue hardship on you or the people around you. There are a lot of benefits to being an endurance athlete, but it can also be a source of stress that can undermine your health, wellness and lifestyle.
As an endurance athlete that has been training and racing for more than 30 years, I have learned that the human body has limited resources upon which to draw. It is true that you can only “go to the well” so many times before it dries up. When you are young you can rely on tons of innate energy as you push your body toward better fitness. As you move through seasons of training, there are times when it feels as though there is a never-ending well of energy, and other times it feels like all the life has been sucked out of you. These are physiological changes in response to your training. The difference between thriving and not being able to keep up comes down to nutrition and other lifestyle habits.
Keep in mind these daily choices:
- You are what you eat and drink.
- You are what you do and how you move.
- You are what you think and what you believe.
If you make the right choices and add energy and vitality to your body rather than constantly expending energy, you will be able to keep up with the demands as the years go by. If you don’t, you will experience accelerated aging, burnout, and possibly suffer injuries and degenerative changes.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to discourage anyone from pursuing their dreams. It is very much the opposite. Believe in yourself and chase your dreams, but be realistic about your commitments. One can only take on so much and remain balanced. If you have an enormous goal, you must realize that other parts of your life may need to take a backseat for a while and that you will need to be patient with the process. As long as you and the people around you are realistic about your pursuit and on-board with your plans, then go for it!
There is nothing more rewarding than executing a training campaign and achieving your racing goals. If you honor the natural processes of your body and work within your limits, you will have a lifetime of health, wellness and enjoyment as an athlete.
About the author
Tim Monaco is a Multi-Sport Coach, Licensed Massage Therapist, Corrective Exercise Specialist and CHEK Holistic Lifestyle Coach from Bend, OR.