What do I do now, Coach?
Welcome to winter! We are fully immersed, at least those of us in the Midwest, in that gray and chilly time of year that sometimes is snowy, sometimes isn’t, but we are closer to spring than we were to fall. If you’re like most of the general population, you’re starting to think about where to take a spring vacation and how you might look in a swimsuit when it gets warm. If you’re a summertime athlete, however, you should be thinking about what your goals are for the year and how you’re going to get there!
Once you have your goals determined, you might look at your calendar and think about how many months there are between your goal race in August and….March. That’s five months! How do you make the most productive use of the time you have now, while the snow is still on the ground, before you can start doing group rides and outdoor swims?
This time of the year is a great time to do base training. As a little background, when your coach sets up your annual plan, or your training for the year, your year is broken up into different phases that each have a different purpose. We know where we need to end up (racing!), which means we need to be strong and fast and highly skilled in our sports. In order to become strong and fast and skilled, we need to start now, building our base to support the next phases of training. Base training is when we develop the body’s ability to burn fat as fuel, we build strength and core stability, we improve aerobic endurance, and we train specific swimming, cycling, and running skills that will be needed in later phases of training.
Endurance athletes usually need to train the body to burn fat as fuel especially as race distances get longer. If you can use fat to fuel your training and racing you need to consume fewer calories during your event in order to perform at the same level. The fewer calories you consume during a race, the lower the likelihood that your gel or bar will cause gastrointestinal distress which can distract you from your goals.
Strength training is key to not only being able to pedal or run your way up hill after hill, it is also a key element in maintaining good running form, powerful strokes when you swim, and even good cycling form. At this time of year you are preparing your muscles and connective tissue for higher intensity strength training that will be needed in upcoming phases.
Aerobic endurance training builds the foundation that speed training will depend upon later in the season. This is often thought of as steady-state activity of moderate intensity, but doesn’t mean that you can’t add intensity to your workouts! We need to develop the body’s ability to handle training volume in base training so that future phases can be focused on building strength and speed.
Base is also a great time of year to work on skill development, particularly in your swim and your bike. Improving your swim technique will help you be more efficient in the water and you spend less energy getting through the water faster. Improving your cycling technique will enable you to use your power more effectively with less wasted effort. And improving your running form to be more efficient will help you to run with less effort and avoid injuries.
By now, if you’re a coached athlete, you may have a better feel for why your coach is giving you the workouts that you’ve been doing. If you are not a coached athlete, you may be a little overwhelmed with all of the different things that need to be accomplished in the next several weeks! I think many of you will relate to some part of my own personal experience in this area.
Naturally being detail-oriented and frugal, I spent a fair bit of time as a self-coached athlete. While I saved money, I also spent a lot of time wondering if I was doing the right amount of each kind of workout, wondering if my intensity was high enough or too high, and wondering what to do when I eventually overtrained myself, which I did with remarkable regularity! You might know that feeling—dreading workouts, nagging injuries, and the worry about whether you can get things back under control before race day.
After hiring a coach, I don’t worry anymore. I know that as long as I communicate openly with my coach I will have the right amount of intensity at the right time and overtraining is a thing of my past. I no longer need to manage the workouts, I just need to do them. Most importantly, the time that I used to spend planning and the energy I used to spend worrying is available for what I really enjoy doing—swim, bike, and run!
Judie Refvik is a USA Certified Triathlon Coach with Experience Triathlon Coaching Services. As leaders in the endurance coaching industry, Coach Judie and the Experience Triathlon coaching team help athletes of all ages and abilities achieve success in training, racing and life. Learn more about Coach Judie and Experience Triathlon at www.experiencetriathlon.com and www.ET-Youth.com.
Bompa, TO. Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training.4th ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1999.