I take up this role as a coach quite frequently. The athletes I train, particularly those that have racing on the brain quite frequently, are accustomed to hearing me say "No" when they check in with me about signing up for particular races that don't necessarily fit in with the year plan and the main goal. Times like this make me think of my father. When I was in high school, I would say to him "Dad?" and he would automatically say "No", my response being, "I didn't even ask you the question yet" and Dad would say, "The probability of a 'yes' from me being less than 1%, let's just cut to the chase with a 'no'".
I don't always say "no" as a coach, sometimes the ideas presented are fantastic, other times not, but I am not afraid to tell an athlete what I think about a certain race/workout if I believe it will be detrimental to the overall goal, or bodily injury, particularly when their athletic history does not warrant the quest. I also carefully explain exactly why it's not a good idea which is very helpful, very often ending with the athlete agreeing with my concerns, and trusting in the knowledge I have to get them to where they want to be.
Endurance athletes are, for the most part, very social creatures. It is exciting to be part of a group, training for a common goal, sharing the experience of the process leading up to the race, traveling to the race, racing with comrades, and of course, the post race celebration! Endurance athletes are goal oriented individuals, dedicated to improving fitness, getting to the next level. What sounds like a great, fun idea at the time can also prove to be disasterous for the priority goal of the year. Since seasons are winding down and you may be starting to think about what you want to race next year, particularly with a group, outline your goals and what you want to accomplish first, then work back and see which races will help you move towards that goal, and which races or events will most definitely not. Here are the three most common mistakes athletes make, based on my experience as a sports physiologist and coach of athletes of all levels for more than a decade:
1. Long distance racing without a proper build up in distance. Whether it be triathlon, or distance running, allow yourself time to train properly and adapt to each distance as you move up in length. Not only will you give yourself time to orthopedically adapt to the stress of pounding the extra miles out, you will learn about the pacing requirements, energy expenditure, recovery rates, nutritional and mental nuances of racing longer distances. Don't sign up for an Ironman when you haven't completed an olympic distance race or a half iron! Don't sign up for a 50k (30 mile run) when you have never successfully trained for the marathon distance. There is an enormous difference in running 13 miles hard versus running 26.2 miles hard. Tack on another 4 miles to get to the 50k, without the proper build up in mileage (which takes time!) and you are begging for injury.
2. If you are racing an Ironman this year, work backwards over the number of weeks to plan any additional racing. 4-6 weeks pre-Ironman is a good time for a half iron, if you are racing a summer Ironman and you are running a spring marathon (like Boston), you need to plan time for recovery from the marathon that coincides with a build to Ironman (it can be done, but takes careful planning!). For example: If you are talented enough to be going for a Kona Q; racing Boston, followed by running a 50k two weeks later isn't a good idea. Remember the goal. You can't race well at a marathon, turn around and do a 50k two weeks later, then race a half iron 2-3 weeks after that and expect to have anything in the tank for Ironman. The 50k may seem like a good idea because it's a long distance, but the fact is your legs will be toast from the marathon, you won't be feeling your best at the 50k, further frying your legs, missing out on quality training time and then expecting to race a good half iron, whoops, have to recover from that, fit in some quality training and then do the Ironman. 9 times out of 10 this is not going to work out well for you. Even if you aren't going for a KQ, or race a 50k, the same thing applies to shorter distnaces. Just to finish decently at an Ironman or a half or half marathon, you need to plan out your racing carefully, hopefully with someone that can steer you in the best direction to meet your goal.
3. Back to back racing, no matter the distance. If your goal is to run a fast half or full marathon, fast olympic, half or full ironman triathlon this year, racing every single weekend is not in your best interest. Sometimes, small races can fit nicely into a training plan and they have their place. 5k's, 10k's, sprint triathlons that are what I call "C" priority races are fantastic for measuring progress and to practice race simulation efforts. These must also be planned to allow for the volume and intensity build towards your goal race, and for recovery after. If you are racing a short race that week, that becomes your speed workout for the most part. If you decide that you are going to do a 5k this weekend, a 10k next weekend a sprint triathlon the week after that and a bike race the fourth weekend.... where is the quality training time? It disappears. Hard efforts require 3 to 4 days to fully recover from. You can't go hard every weekend in a race and expect that you will get the quality training required during the week (and on the weekend!) to allow for adaptation and improvement in fitness.
As the season winds down, the athletes I work with are starting to plan next years goals. Luckily for me, I get to sit down with them, review what went right and what needs improvement from this past year, then we plan the next. The annual year plan is a necessity and an exciting meeting. The athlete reviews the past year and does their homework about which races they think they might want to participate in for the next. I point out the strengths and weaknesses and from there, we talk about what needs to be done in training, and we plan the racing around the A race of the year, long and short term goals. You can have two A races as well, one spring, one fall, or one big one. Everything else falls into a "B" or "C" category and as long as the quality training needs can be met, along with family and work responsibilities it's great to join your friends to travel, race and have a good time. Just keep the dedicated goal in mind, work backwards 10 weeks from that priority goal, place a big fat X on the calendar and know that you have some flexibility in racing and days off before that X and complete sacrifice and dedication to making that goal happen after the X. Careful planning starts now. For those that train with me now, we will be meeting up soon, particularly if your A race is done! For those that don't and would like to consult, get in touch with me! I don't have to coach you year round to help you plan out your year. Sometimes an objective eye goes a long way. Happy planning! Thanks for reading! Good luck to Jayasports athletes Anthony Snoble racing Xterra Worlds next weekend, Brooke Rodd at the NYC marathon, Kevin Drury and Katie Brooks racing Ironman Florida and Nick Roumanada working towards the Las Vegas marathon.