This is an excellent time to consider what you'd like to accomplish athletically in the upcoming year. As with many things, planning is the key to accomplishment for your race season.
If you're a recreational athlete and your goal is simply to complete your events, then you only need to train one aspect of fitness: endurance. This entails planning enough time to slowly build your mileage to within about 10 to 15 percent of the distance of your goal race.
Note that many overuse injuries are caused by too much mileage too quickly. Don't increase your duration more than 10 percent a week and take at least every fourth week as a rest and recovery week. During a rest and recovery week, you should cut back your mileage by at least 25 percent, reduce your overall training volume, and add in an extra rest or active recovery day. If you're a runner, take a day of non-impact cross-training in place of a run.
Competitive athletes, however, must take a different approach. A competitive athlete, by my definition, is any athlete who sets a specific performance goal. This may be as simple as a personal record. You don't have to win races to be competitive.
If you'd like to set a personal record or race placement goal this season, it will require more careful planning and organization of your race events. Start by prioritizing races into A, B and C events.
Your "A" events are those that you'll direct your training efforts towards. For best results, all of your A events should be similar or of the same format (ex. sprint triathlon). These are your main goals for the season and your training should gradually progress towards these races or events. Put these on your calendar first.
Note that A races take time to train for. Plan on spending at least 12 weeks of specific and directed training for an A race; this is called "peaking." Schedule your A races in four-week clusters or separate them by at least 10 to 12 weeks. Your training should ramp up in intensity and specificity as you approach your A races. Your last workouts prior to your A race taper should closely mimic race intensity and format.
What is a "taper?" Tapering means reducing training volume prior to a goal race in order to facilitate total and complete recovery. You should incorporate a taper a week or two prior to A race(s). The length of the taper will depend on the length of your event; the longer the event the longer the taper. There's nothing you can do the week of a goal race to physiologically increase performance, but there are many opportunities to reduce it. After completing an A race, plan on taking a week of active rest and recovery.
"B" events are training events that you'd like to do well at, but aren't goal races. B events are excellent warm-ups for A events. They're an opportunity to test and hone your race skills without the pressure of an A event. B events don't have to be the same format as an A event, but should help contribute to your A race performance. You still want to give 100 percent for a B event.
An example would be a 10K race prior to an Olympic-distance triathlon. You should rest or reduce your training load a few days before a B event, but don't taper as you would for an A event.
"C" events are fun events you enjoy doing, but aren't goal related. These are good events to leave the heart rate monitor at home. You don't have to push yourself physically during these events or have any performance objectives.
I like my athletes to schedule C events during their base training to keep up their enthusiasm. C events can be completely different from your A events. If you're a runner, you could do a 50-mile cycling event for charity. C events keep you active and interested in training.
A good place to start is with a 12-month planning calendar. Put your A races on first and then add B and C events. It's important not to schedule C events close to your goal events. This time is reserved for more specific and directed training.
Not only does prioritizing your races help with your training, it also helps identify what you'd like to accomplish as an athlete. Don't let your races sneak up on you!
Matt Russ has coached and trained athletes for over 10 years 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), and has been certified by Joe Friel's Ultrafit Association. Matt's fitness articles can be found online and magazines such as Inside Triathlon. Visit www.thesportfactory.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.