Here are some nuggets to keep in mind as you hit this Winter with brimming motivation as you prepare for 2021 and what will hopefully be a return to some semblance of regular racing.
Progress does not occur daily nor is linear
Just as your training should ebb-and-flow, so, too, will your progress. Rather than looking for every day to get better and better, instead look for general upward trends in your fitness, strength, endurance, speed and performance. Even if you do everything right, some days will feel like you’re regressing rather than progressing. Other times, gains will be nearly impossible to measure, while still other times you will notice you’ve taken a big leap forward. All of this is natural and all of this is part of the process.
The best advice I can provide here is to not emotionally attach yourself to the results of your training, especially on a short-term scale. Sometimes the progress doesn’t even show up in your training but shines through in your racing. Don’t allow your confidence to be shaken by completely natural fluctuations in your day-to-day training performances.
Gradually increase your training volume
We are a generally fit bunch. So, we believe that because we are already in shape that we can start piling on the training and that will make us more fit and better athletes. The problem here is compounded by all of the fairly terrible “training secrets of the pros” articles that inundate us all. We see the impressive workouts or training volume of the pros and aspire to all that. Or, we think that there’s no way we could ever train like that so there’s no hope of ever being able to complete, say, an Ironman or a marathon. Either way, it’s a skewed perspective that needs to be adjusted to conform to reality.
Patience is key here. So is perspective. Rarely does a training article pull back and let us know how certain workouts need to be incorporate into an overall training plan, or what comes the day before and the day after the key workouts about which we’re reading. It is also challenging for athletes to appreciate the fact that the majority of pro athletes do not have other jobs. Their jobs are to train and race. So, while you’re waking up at 0-dark-30 to do your first workout and then complete your second one before a late dinner because in between you’re working hard at the office, the pro athlete is training hard but also recovering, resting up, getting massage and so on. In other words, you’re continuing to spend energy while the pro is conserving it. Gaining fitness takes time. Rushing the process or aspiring to train like a pro when your lifestyle can’t support that physical investment will only serve to detract from your ability to achieve your goals.
Mix up your training
You always hear to “train your weaknesses”, or “train to your weaknesses and race to your strengths.” While I do not necessarily agree with these statements, I do agree with the underlying principle of both. That is, focus on various aspects of training to create more well-rounded stimulus so your body adapts in ways it otherwise might not. Taking the Ironman example from above, if you only put in mega miles to prepare for the race, you’re ignoring other key aspects such as structured intervals. Sure, you will be able to “go long”, but you may not be able to do it very quickly. By complementing the long workouts with speed work, intervals and tempo work, you will be able to cover the Ironman distance more quickly.
Mix up your workouts. A graph of your weekly training should look like an EKG readout, with peaks and valleys representing different training intensities. If you tend to flat line your training, always going at a certain speed, well … we know what flat lining leads to, right?
The Winter is the ideal time to try new things. We’re motivated, our first races are months away and, thus, we do not feel the stress associated with “getting it wrong” like we do when our goal race is a mere few weeks or days away. Look at your last season, dissect your training and provide yourself with an honest assessment of what you did well, but also where you can see room for improvements. Then, attack those areas and shore them up. Try new things. Ask yourself, “What if I did this, that or the other?”
Challenge yourself to think outside the box. This is why coaching is so fun to me – seeing opportunity rather than fear when it comes to trying new things in less than conventional ways. Adopt a little innovation to your own approach and you could hit next season a notch or two better than you were in the past. One thing is for sure – if you don’t do anything differently, then you shouldn’t expect different results.