What unites most athletes is a desire to perform at our very best at "A" races. However, being able to peak consistently at the right time, in the right place is complex and rarely happens by accident. Rather, it takes discipline, an awesome work-ethic, planning and a very good understanding of the demands of goal races.
In this article, I'll explore how to prepare for and optimize performance for your "A" race. There are numerous factors that are specific to you that will determine whether you are successful or not.
I can't cover all of them, but if you take away a few top tips and implement them within your training program then you'll be on the right path to achieving your goals.
Optimizing Training for Your IRONMAN 70.3 TaperIn the run-up to your "A" race, it is more important not to get your training wrong rather than getting it exactly right. Whilst this may seem obvious, the run into a race is often a period of high stress in which we can behave irrationally, trying to cram in extra sessions or worry about everything that could go wrong.
Therefore, planning the final few weeks in which we taper our training can be decisive in optimizing performance. Taper is a systematic reduction in training load in the weeks and days before an important race.
Its aim is to promote recovery from previous training whilst allowing us to gain maximum benefit from training adaptation processes. It is the "cherry on the top on the cake" of a training program, but it will only work if we've got our previous training right in the first place.
Joe Friel wrote an excellent article on how to use TrainingPeaks metrics, specifically Training Stress Balance (TSB), which can be used to optimize our taper numbers for race day.
He recognizes the "art" involved in getting training right and as such used the words "probably" and "perhaps" regularly.
Friel recognizes that there are no hard-and-fast rules to determine what an optimal taper looks like or exact numbers that every person will need to hit.
This is because we all respond to training differently, with factors such as travel, race preparation, environmental factors, work-life balance and human irrationality influencing our ability to balance these numbers.
I've explored scientific research on how to optimize a taper using different strategies. However, when trying to apply the research to my coaching, I really struggled. That's because most of the research was performed in a laboratory environment and primarily focused on physical aspects of performance.
Therefore, I was proud to be a co-author of a research paper1 which was one of the first to explore how top-level coaches put the theory of taper into practice for Olympic-level athletes. Whilst they used metrics and taper theory to guide their decision-making, their approach was very holistic and took into account the psychological state of athletes, as well as their physical readiness to perform.
Much of the coaches' time was spent managing confidence levels, coping with nervousness and irrational behaviors. The coaches also told us that athletes have their "go-to" sessions, which help them build and maintain confidence.
They are careful to ensure that sessions are "hard enough" without accumulating additional fatigue. Technical fine-tuning and athlete enjoyment were also priorities.
The key take-home message is that we need to go beyond the metrics, recognizing that to perform at our best requires a greater focus on both the psychological and practical aspects of performance.
Of course, we should not neglect the numbers and TrainingPeaks is still the best tool available to get the TSB within Joe's ballpark range.