With the end of the race season and the approach of winter, it's time to shift your training emphasis to Base period objectives.
In the last few months you've been singularly focused on race-specific training with workouts that simulate the conditions of your most important races. As the season closes down, I find that it's very difficult for athletes to make the switch from the Build to Base period.
For one thing, athletes don't want to give up their hard-won race fitness. For another, they find it difficult to make the changeover.
I witnessed a good example of this phenomenon this morning on my long, easy ride. I was passed by a dozen roadies who were flying with a few women and a junior in tow. All were huffing and puffing, some more than others. This was your typical Sunday morning hammer session.
Most of the riders in this group are well on their ways to ruining next year's season and it's only November! It's a shame, but I see athletes do this every year.
Let's start with the first issue: Can you maintain your race fitness from this past season until the first A-priority race in the spring of next year? No, you can't. It's impossible.
Fitness is transient. The finer elements of race fitness, such as anaerobic endurance and sprint power, take just a few weeks to fully develop—maybe six to eight. Once you bring these elements to a peak they begin to fade no matter how hard you try to hold onto them indefinitely.
Those elements that take the longest to initially build stay with you the longest after the race season ends. Endurance is a good example of this, but even it fades after a while.
Attempting to maintain race fitness from one season to the next will only lead to lower levels of race fitness in the subsequent season—if you aren't first stopped by the overtraining syndrome or burnout.
Now for the other issue: Athletes find it difficult to change their training at the end of the season to something that is altogether different. Maybe it's a feeling of guilt from doing less. Or maybe they're just in a rut.
Or perhaps they have no idea what they are doing in training and so rely on the local group rides, runs or swims to provide "structure." Whatever the reason, continuing to do the very same hammer sessions all winter will not be productive.
All of this raises the issue of what you should do in the Base period of training as you start preparing for next year.
For the athlete whose next "A" race is 20 or more weeks away, there are three elements of training you should be working on now or after you've had a few weeks to "transition" from your last race. They are:
Long, slow workouts are best for this. "Slow" means you are at least at 50 percent of VO2 max, which is around 60 percent of your max heart rate, or about 40 to 50 beats below your lactate threshold heart rate. [For an explanation of common endurance-related terms, click here.]
The physical purposes of these sessions are to: 1) improve or maintain heart, lung and blood function, 2) train the muscles to rely more heavily on fat for fuel, and 3) improve the efficiency of the slow-twitch muscles.
Endurance training also provides a nice mental break from intense training.
As for weights, my Training Bible books describe in great detail a weight-room periodization plan.
As for the other workouts to improve force, be sure to make them aerobic. No hammering. Just steady efforts against resistance. For swimmers, paddles and drag devices (T-shirts, carpenter's apron, etc.) also improve force as does working on a Vasa Trainer.
This is probably the least understood aspect of training, yet the one that most athletes stand to gain the most from.
"Speed skills" refers to being able to efficiently make the movements of the sport at the speed required of the sport. For example, almost anyone can efficiently pedal a bike at 50 rpm on a flat surface in a low gear. But if you want to turn a high gear at 100 rpm, that's a different story.
This takes a lot of training to develop. The starting place is with being able to turn the cranks efficiently at 100 rpm in a low gear. Or being able to run and swim efficiently at race speed.
The workouts here revolve around drills. For cycling, these may be one-leg pedaling, spin-ups or fixed-gear riding. Runners can do high-turnover, relaxation strides. For swimmers the possibilities for drills are almost limitless. Swimming has done more with speed skills development than any other endurance sport.
It won't be easy to give up your Sunday morning hammer session in favor of a long, easy workout, force work or drills. But by doing this you'll find that your race fitness next season develops to a high level—much higher than if you insist on doing the same things week after week.