Having just finished reading an article in Runners World I got to thinking (and wondering) why so many athletes follow the standard protocol of periodization. Now what I mean by this is most people have a short preparation phase (usually four weeks), then begin their ‘base’ training (some proclaim the longer this phase lasts the better able the athlete will be to absorb more intense training further down the line) often recommended to be 12-16 weeks in length, they follow that with a phase of higher intensity ‘race preparation’ work and then go into a competition phase. Upon completion of this there is a short block of rest where the emphasis is on rest and recuperation and getting away from routine (often people are encouraged to go hike, kayak, cross country ski or to just ‘train’ when they want without structure).
Now this model is certainly not obsolete but I think it has been proven over and over again that it does just not fit with many Northern Hemisphere climates. Take where I live as an example. Okay, now Seattle is a beautiful place and as much as I moan to my wife about the rain and consistently cold and cloudy days during our fall, winter and spring I love it. What I don’t love is the thought of riding my bike (resplendent with fenders) for three to five hours in the cold and wet weather at an intensity that will not exactly help me generate much in the way of heat. Now this is the same for many of us living in the upper half of the US. Thankfully we don’t have to deal with sub zero temperatures and deep snow like some of our Eastern US counterparts!
The one year (2006/2007) I attempted to ride with some degree of frequency outdoors in a Pacific North West Winter I got thoroughly miserable and vowed to myself never to put myself through that again (maybe I am just soft)! I came through it somewhat unscathed but I believe it left me with even more disdain for the Seattle climate. To cap it all off my ‘A’ race that year was compromised by a bout of coughing blood (can’t blame the winter for that, but just thought I would continue my rant).
So how did I race through the 2007 season, well my first race was Oceanside (March 31st) and it went as well I thought my fitness would allow with the exception of the run which was uncharacteristically poor. I can’t really think of why this was other than perhaps a lack of any consistent workouts at or above FTP, coupled with even less work at or above VO2Max. I was running well (or so I thought) and during my long miserable training rides continued to push my regular training partners. Now I know this was an early season race but still it represented an investment of time and money to get there and I was not happy with the outcome. The season improved from there once I changed gear and started to introduce some intensity (and some racing). The problem for me now was inconsistency due to travel with my job (I was away on average 7-10 days a month often with no access to a pool and/or gym so that meant no swimming and little to no cycling). In spite of the limited volume the weather had improved along with my mood and I had some respectable results. I placed 3rd in a local sprint triathlon, 5th at the Canadian LC Champs and raced Vineman in 4:26 narrowly missing a Kona slot (by one place). All the time my goal was a good race at Ironman Canada and a hope of besting my PR on that course of 9:43 and securing a Kona slot. Everything seemed to be on track but an unfortunate chain of events leading up to the race left me taking some medication for a muscular issue with my left trapezius and rotator cuff. The medication caused me to cough blood during the race and so I made what I think was the right decision and pulled out in the early stages of the run (my first ever DNF and a tough one to deal with) whilst in the top 25 overall.
Anyhow I digress. The fact of the matter is having looked at historical training journals it is clear that when I chose to adopt a non linear approach (with less total volume) I raced better throughout the season and had no ‘early season’ disasters, I was competitive in all my races. N=1, but now having used this approach with many of my athletes including cyclists and runners (and my wife), it is clear that this approach leaves an athlete more psychologically prepared, physically fresher, and no question, able to work at a much higher % of LT than had they adopted a more traditional periodization model.
Year to date all of my athletes who have raced have achieved results above and beyond their expectations. Now this is a real achievement given some of the challenging goals that they set for themselves (after consultation with me of course) at the start of the year (training year). I have seen more PR’s and podiums than I ever expected to and had some very pleasant surprises along the way. Have their been any below par performances, of course, but they represent a tiny percentage given the number of races and athletes that I am currently working with. I will write more soon and qualify some of the gains in performance exhibited by my athletes following this soon to be standard method of periodizing an athletes training year.
Thanks for reading.