With this information in hand, you or your coach can start building that “pyramid” of workouts — base miles, strength, speed — culminating in that perfect race-day performance.
You or your coach will put workouts on the calendar that are either combined strategically for cross-training punch or separated generously for optimal recovery. You will space out similar workouts so, for instance, you don’t run four days in a row. Then you will plan out your long runs and rides so you get in the required distance and pace simulation for whatever race you are targeting. Finally, you may add a few “brick” workouts so you can get used to that awful feeling running out of T-2.
Throughout this process, be sure to use whatever historical data you have (old training logs) to identify circumstances that led to injuries or successful races. That’s the whole point of keeping a log anyway: to learn from mistakes and triumphs so they can be avoided or repeated in the future.
There is another outcome, however, that should be on your radar, and that is, “will this plan keep me healthy and happy?” In fact, that may be the most important part of any training program.
That sounds kind of corny, I know. But do you really think you will set a PR or place in your age group if you are out sick with a cold every month or are making weekly visits to the physical therapist because of a nagging calf injury? Do you think you can train consistently if your teeth hurt, you sleep poorly or you are worried about losing your job?
It is imperative that you build a program that addresses these concerns. Being generally healthy and happy is not optional. It’s not a goal you set, then hope and strive for. Overall health is the ground on which that training pyramid is built. It’s the foundation of everything.
Here are a few ways that you can build wellness into your training program.
- Get all your doctor visits and checkups out of the way in the winter and spring, so you aren’t dealing with emergencies in the middle of the season. And see your dentist now, so you aren’t getting a crown repaired the week before your big race in August.
- One way to look at writing a training schedule is to think of it like a balanced meal. For dinner, you need some protein, a vegetable, a starch, a salad, etc. Likewise, your weekly training schedule needs to include some speed work, endurance training, stretching, etc., etc.. I used to think of strength training as the dessert course of my training week (I would skip it more often than not), but I have come around to the idea that it needs to be an integral part of the “meal.” For older athletes in particular, training without a resistance component is like leaving vegetables out of your diet. Do so at your own peril.
- Make sure you include some workouts that are your favorites or comfortable standbys. Sometimes you need to ignore your diet and indulge in some comfort food just like your mom made. Likewise, sometimes you need to scrap your prescribed workout and indulge in your favorite exercise — like a long run on the trails of Tiger Mountain or some surfing on the coast!
- Build recovery into the program. If you travel every other week for work, then you may have this already taken care of, but if not, then you need to make sure you schedule recovery. Some athletes feel they can tell the difference between feeling a little tired from yesterday’s run and feeling tired from 10 straight days of challenging workouts. It may sound easy or self-evident, but it is not. Take the guesswork out and plan to take a day off here and there. From experience, you may know that involuntary rest days will insert themselves into your schedule with annoying regularity, but you should also recognize that if they don’t, you may work out for 13 days straight and then wonder why your plantar fasciitis is flaring up.
- The most effective way to stay healthy and avoid injury is to make sure you increase your mileage and intensity in a measured and gradual manner. We all know this, but it continues to be the bugaboo of athletes everywhere. If you cut your 14-mile long run short one week because of a hail storm and the next week because your running partner has a sore knee, you must adjust your schedule accordingly and not skip to 18 miles the following week because that’s what’s on your schedule. I know you say you would never do that, but I know you do it anyway.
- I have noticed that people that people are usually in worse shape after a marathon or Ironman than they were before it. After building up a great endurance base and eating healthy for five months straight, athletes will tear their bodies up and break them down in the big event, then recover for five weeks by eating burgers and pizza. When they are ready to start training again, they find themselves back where they were 12 months earlier when they first decided to train for that big race. How ironic. I have two solutions for you. A) Actually train for the distance you will be running. If you are doing a marathon, one long run of 20 miles does not make you ready. You need to do those 17- to 2-mile long runs for five or six weeks leading up to your two-week taper. And for an Ironman race, you need to be able to ride 112 and run 26.2 comfortably in order to healthfully complete a full race. If you are dead tired and need to take a nap after your 112-mile training rides, you aren’t ready. B) Gradually get back to regular, easy training 10 days after your event. Nothing hard, mind you, but get moving so that you are motivated to maintain the healthy eating and sleeping habits you acquired during heavy training.
Follow these guidelines, and you’ll be smiling your way through your training this year. You’ll be less irritating to your coworkers and family, and you may actually stay healthy enough to reach those crazy goals you set in January!