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 fitness
2) 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...