Most athletes I start working with have never "peaked" for a race. They might have planned out a race season, given their races a priority (A, B, or C being most commonly used) but very few have actually done anything to promote or achieve a peak performance on their most important day.Just designating a race as your "A" race does nothing unless the training and prep allow you to reach a peak level of performance. The most common mistake is allocating too many races the "A" or "B" status, which in turn leads to a season where training is constantly interrupted by tapering and recovery.To peak for a race you need two ingredients:1) very high fitness2) a taper where you train less, but can afford to lose a little fitness, in order to be fresh on the day of competition.Point 2 is well worth noting: you lose fitness in a taper. Therefore if all races become important, and you race a fair bit, you spend a lot of time losing fitness over the course of a year. This is in direct conflict with Point 1: to peak for a race you need very high fitness. Always keep these key components in mind when prioritizing your races in the calendar.My many years of coaching have shown me that very few people can hit tip top race peak more than once a year. Even a lot of the pros struggle. For all but the most genetically gifted athletes (think semi-pro, low-demand job, low/no family commitments) I have found the following to be a good protocol for the rest of us when planning out a race season:1 x A race - this is the one you “peak” for and aim to have an amazing performance at.2-4* x B races - you taper a bit but not as much as the A race. Performance is good but not your best ever. (4 if they are close together, or paired, or very close to the A race, only 2 if they are spaced out)Everything else is a C race. No taper, very little recovery afterwards. Ideally you choose races that fit this criteria: ie: a solo 24 hour race is going to require a lot of recovery so can’t really be considered as a C race.In the next post I will give guidelines on how to fit A, B and C races into your calendar, and the adjustments to make to your plan...
I've seen a lot of things change over the years of coaching and racing. Lots of things have changed for the good, we have great technology, shared information, coaches, platforms, equipment. Some things have changed for the worse. One of these is a modern prevailance for unrealistic expectation, and the way that this has created an inability, or reluctance, to celebrate and enjoy our progression in sport. In my early days of racing I had goals and ambitions and these were set against a realistic understanding of where I was an athlete, and an ability to be stoked any time I showed improvement. This was normal, my friends were all the same, and all the athletes I worked with, supported or coached, throughout the 90s and early 2000s seemed to share this perspective.
These days, as a coach, I have seen this change, and it is unusual to see such and attitude prevail. It seems to be much more often that this is now a missing ingredient, or obstacle that new athletes have to struggle to overcome. It's near weekly these days that I get the email, or read feedback that the athlete is "dissapointed with their performance" only to then open their files and see that they finished on the podium, or the winner, or set a new PB! As someone who has been in the game for getting on three decades I can't begin to describe how ridiculous I think this is. How did we end up here? What drove the new athlete perspective to a point where a great performance is a sorce of disatisfaction? What should we do about it?
Sport has progressed at a hell of a rate over the past 30 years or so, in many ways driven by the internet and the availability of information. This is great but also comes with pit falls; the biggest of which is the double edged sword of comparison. Things progress faster when we know something is possible. See a backflip and knowing it can be done might lead us to aspire to do one ourselves. See a backflip and we might also feel or efforts are pointless and insignificant. It's important to acknowledge both of these and to understand that we should still aspire but avoid direct comparison when it comes to establishing the value of our own (or our athletes) progression.
A PB is still a PB even if it's not the World record! Just because we want to oneday ride a sub-21 minute time trial (replace that arbitary 21 with whatever your goal is) it shouldn't distract us from the fact that we have never before gone sub-22 (again replace that arbitary 22 with your current PB).
In this example 21:59 is still cause for celebration. As is 21:58... or 21:57... 21:56... You get the idea? It should be very obvious that any PB is a significant reason to celebrate, but when we compare ourselves to others and the known "current best" we can lose a significant piece of the puzzle that is essential to becoming the best we can become, that is that we should celebrate our successes as these are the value to the moments that keep it worth doing.
If you are an athlete, but also a coach (personally I call myself a coach first and an athlete second) and then this really does become even more important. Leading by example is paramount, and you want your athletes to be stoked when they do well because it refelcts the true value of your work (believe me there are few things more demoralising than helping an athlete get faster and then being told they are disappointed with that outcome) and you want to enjoy your own athletic endeavours as much as your work.
Staying stoked is the key. Celebrate every victory, no matter how small, every progression, every small goal achieved. Remember that dreaming is a reat thing to do, but only if you keep your feet on the ground! Stay grounded, remember where you are, and be kind to yourself everytime you get a bit better, no matter how far away that lofty goal still seems, you are one step closer than you were, and that's a very good thing.