The peaking process explained: Hitting your target

Although you may have several peaks in your season, you can only be at your best once per season.
Consider if you had to hunt for your food, yet there was only one type of game available for the hunt. Now consider possessing only three cartridges for your rifle and your elusive prey appears only a few times a year.

Survival would depend on you being at the right place at the right time, and hitting your target precisely; a delicate balance. The peaking process is very similar.

Peaking is simply being at your physical best at your goal (peak) race(s). It requires foresight and planning, as well as knowledge of what type of training and when. Although you may have several peaks in your season, you can only be at your best once per season.

Planning your race calendar

The first step of the peaking process is planning your race calendar. You should put your race events into three categories, A, B, and C:

  • A events are your peak events you will design your annual training plan (ATP) around.
  • B events are those that you would like to do well at, and you'll prepare yourself for them, but you won't adjust your ATP to accommodate them.
  • C events are casual training events, simply used for workouts. You don't care about the outcome of these events; they're just for fun.

It's best to clump your A events into two- to three-week blocks or separate them by eight to 12 weeks. Your A events should be similar or better, but in the same format (i.e., sprint triathlon).

If your A events are a duathlon, triathlon and a marathon, your training won't be focused throughout the season. It's better to excel at one sport, than to be good at many.

Planning your peak race training

Once you've established your A events, the next step is to plan your training leading up to your peak(s). Your training should progress through various phases, each with specific workout types and purposes. Your training will move from the general to the specific; lower intensity to higher.

The first phase is base, and workouts in this phase will be at an aerobic level. Many athletes have a problem with this period. It's counterintuitive to go slower to get faster, but that's exactly what must occur. In base, the focus should be strength building, technique, leg speed, endurance and aerobic efficiency.

General preparation
The next phase is general preparation (GP). In GP you'll begin to incorporate more sustained efforts at higher intensities. Volume is greatest during GP. Aerobic capacity, sustained power and lactate threshold work will begin in this phase.

Race specific training
Next is race specific (RS) training in which race speed is the focus. In this phase, you'll tailor your training specifically for your upcoming A event. It's also the most intense training you'll perform and requires greater rest between workouts. You're more likely to be injured in this phase and recovery is a primary focus.

All aspects of your A events should be considered and incorporated into your training, including elevation, course and race strategy. You must taper your intensity and volume leading up to your A events, and take a rest period after them.

Clearly, a lot of things must come together in order for the peaking process to occur. It's crucial that you remember you can only hold a peak level of fitness for a short period of time. Certain types of training must only occur in the four to six weeks leading up to your A events.

If you attempt to extend fitness beyond this time frame, or train well before it, your fitness will degrade, mental burnout could occur, and injury becomes more likely.

I often hear (insert talented athlete's name here) is already training hard and fast for next season. You can train hard, and you can train smart, but if you train hard and smart you will maximize your results.

Remember, you only have a few bullets. If you're using them in base, you'll be out of ammunition when you really need it. If you're confused about your training plan, work with a coach who can help you design it.

Matt Russ (has coached and trained athletes around the country and internationally. He currently holds licenses by USAT, USATF, and is an Expert level USAC coach. Matt has coached athletes for CTS (Carmichael Training Systems), is an Ultrafit Associate. Visit for more information or e-mail him at

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