Planning for Success in Endurance Sport

Nov 11, 2012

By Shannon Connolly, Coach and Triathlete

The foundation of any type of endurance training is planning and the preparation of an effective and comprehensive training programme. The time put into this process will often have a direct impact and dictate the quality of performances during the competitive season.
"The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare." – Marathon runner, Juma Ikangaa

The off-season period is an important time for breaking through to the next level, and without a clear plan or clear training goals to address the things holding you back, big improvements are not likely.

So what can you do to help you become optimally prepared to perform at your very best?

Set Goals

In setting goals, it is important for you to follow several guidelines to maximise their value.

  • Goals should be challenging, but realistic and attainable. That is, they should be reachable, but only with hard work.

Set goals that are almost out of reach. If you set a goal that is attainable without much work or thought, you are stuck with something below your true talent and potential!

  • Goals should be specific, measurable, and time-limited. For example, an ineffective goal is “I want to get faster”, whereas useful goals are “I want to increase my 5k run time to 18 minutes in 6 weeks” or “I want to increase my functional threshold on the bike by 20 watts in 2 months”.  Progress should be monitored by testing yourself every 4-6 weeks to measure your level of fitness and progress.

  • Your goals should be examined and updated regularly. Some goals may turn out to be too easy and must be made more difficult. Other goals may have been too hard and must be adjusted downward. Also, goal setting is a process, there really is no end. When one goal is reached, a new higher goal should be established.

Don’t get goals confused with dreams!! Athletes often dream about what they want to accomplish. In fact, most athletes I know have dreams - that’s perfectly normal.  Without dreams there is no vision for the long-term future. These dreams can eventually become a reality if there is an effective and well thought out plan behind them. Of course there are other factors that will determine if you achieve these dreams; including your level of ability, and most importantly whether or not you are willing and committed to put in the hard work, and make the necessary lifestyle choices.
Dream big, have belief, and go for it!

Accommodating your Goals

After setting a number of short and long term goals for the season, there are a number of steps you can follow to increase your chances of success:

  • Establish objectives that will support your goals - Are you going to make lifestyle changes? Do you need to work with a coach? Are you going to focus more on strength work? What performance limiters are you going to improve?

  • Prioritise your planned races - What’s the distance, terrain, location, and possible weather conditions of your priority races?? These factors will have a massive impact on what training you need to do over the next year.

  • Divide your season into training periods - Periodise your training into Base, Build, Peak and Race phases throughout the year. Allocate more training volume in your base phases and more recovery time in race preparation phases.

  • Assign hours to each week of training - how many hours are you realistically able to do every week??

  • Ensure you surround yourself with positive people who will support your goals - This can mean your family, friends, a coach, a physio, nutritionist and training partners.

Importance of Rest and Recovery

Progression in endurance training is largely dependent on three factors - smart training, rest/recovery and optimal nutrition.  Rest is perhaps the most under-rated training tool at an endurance athlete’s disposal.  It is an absolutely critical part of any effective training programme, yet it is often over-looked. If you want to succeed prioritise rest!!  The mentality of a large number of endurance athletes is more training is better.

Rest following a period of training is the time when the actual physical gains are made.  Building recovery time into any training programme is important because this is the time that the body adapts to the stress of exercise and the real training effect takes place.  Recovery also allows the body to replenish energy stores and repair damaged tissues. There are four clear warning signs of the need for rest:

  1. fatigue

  2. loss of enjoyment

  3. interest or motivation to train

  4. signs of illness and injury

                   Smart training that incorporates optimal recovery time will get you in to peak condition.

Dealing with Set-Backs

Even the best athletes experience setbacks from time to time. Setbacks are minor bumps in the road.  Think of the bigger picture and look to the future. Make plans to resume your training when the issue is resolved.  Whether the setback is personal or health-related, see this as an opportunity to persevere.

If your setback is an injury, one option might be to train in another sport until the injury improves.  If a triathlete injures their shoulder, for example, it might be possible to continue cycling and running for a couple of weeks until the shoulder heals.  Attempt to maintain your aerobic fitness with other sports and follow the appropriate recovery and rehabilitation process.  Also, if you are less active than normal, be conscious of your food intake to prevent weight gain during this time.  Keep a positive attitude and you'll be back to 100% before you know it!



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