You can train haphazardly and hope to have top form on race day or you can follow an organized training plan
building up to your peak event. With the latter your probability of success is far greater. The difference between these two training methods isn't motivation or amount of work done, but intelligent training plan design.
Without a coach, designing your own training plan for the entire season can be a little overwhelming. To simplify the process I've broken it down into 10 easy steps. Follow these steps to design a plan for yourself with the accuracy of a seasoned coach.
Step 1. Set goals
What do you want to accomplish this season? Be specific with the race date and distance. Set either an outcome goal, such as achieving a certain placing and time, or a process goal, such as running the run in an Ironman.
Your goal should be both challenging and realistic. The goal must be one you have an internal passion to achieve. Does it ignite a fire in you that will motivate you to go the extra mile in training? Once you have your goal you have a target to focus your training plan design on. Spend time and thought on this first step as it establishes the foundation of everything else.
Step 2. Evaluate event demands
Event demands largely dictate the nature your training should take. The majority of your training plan should reflect the specific demands of your chosen goal event. Endurance events will emphasize aerobic fitness and tactical preparation. Short, fast events will require a larger volume of short, fast training.
Step 3. Establish schedule framework
Using a calendar, mark down your A-priority race and goal. Count back from that date to today to figure out how many weeks you have available to train. Mark on the calendar all other information you have about your schedule between today and race day such as days you cannot train and low priority events, which may be good training.
Step 4. Periodize your training plan
Divide the weeks you have available to train into focused periods. The best way to do this is to work backwards from your A-priority race day. Label the week of your A-priority race "race week." Label the one to two weeks prior to that "peak week." Continue working backwards on the calendar and divide the rest of your time up into blocks of three- or four-week periods.
Ideally you'll end up with four or five three- to four-week periods, a couple of peak weeks and a race week. Now you have a basic overview of your season. We call this calendar an Annual Training Plan (ATP).
Step 5. Schedule recovery weeks
On your ATP, every three- to four-week period should end with a rest and recovery week. Label the last week of each three- to four-week training block "R&R week." Keep the workouts light and short in your rest and recovery week. Total training volume this week should be about half of regular training weeks.
Step 6. Schedule performance testing
Near the end of your rest and recovery week, schedule specific testing to review performance benchmarks and check heart rate and power training levels. The best test to use depends on your event demands and training plan goals.
Step 7. Assign general and race-specific preparation periods
Label the two periods prior to the peak and taper weeks "race specific preparation" (or Build period) and the two to three periods prior to those "general preparation" (or Base period). During the general preparation periods train the areas you're missing from your repertoire.
For example, an ultra mountain bike racer will have spent most of the race season putting in long aerobic miles and should build up strength and VO2max during the general prep period. Criterium racers should build up aerobic base during this time as they'll be focusing on the high intensity abilities during the race-specific prep period.
Step 8. Schedule daily workouts
Now you're getting down to the important details of what you'll be doing on a daily basis in training. Start designing your training week by scheduling two to three key workouts for the week and then fill in the less important sessions as time allows.
Step 9. Follow the plan
The best coach or training plan in the world is successful only when the advice is implemented and followed. Stick to your plan to get the results you desire.
Step 10. Keep track of yourself
Log data in a training diary and check it over to make sure you're actually following your plan. Post-workout analyses of training data such as power files and heart rate information will confirm if you're on track or not. Keep watching the data to make sure it's heading in the direction you planned.
Training randomly on a whim and doing what you're in the mood for every day can be very fun. If daily enjoyment is your primary goal, then that may be the correct plan for you. If your goal is continual improvement and long-term success, an intelligently designed training plan is the map that will lead you to be a winner this season.