7 race season planning tips

Every athletes deserves and needs an off season. However long you choose to take off and your own definition of "off" is certainly up to you and your coach but it is critical that you give your body and mind time off from structure and training stress before starting your next season. 

With so much free time on your hands without daily hours of training, the off season is a great time to plan your upcoming season. 

To help you peak appropriately as well as avoiding burnout and to maximize your time training, planning your season is one of the most important factors that will influence your season success. Pick the wrong races for your body, that occur at the wrong times, and no amount of training will trump a poorly planned season. 

The reason why athletes of all levels must plan out the season is so that you can properly periodize your training. Based on your races and the priority of those races, alongside any other stressors or life events that may influence consistent training, having a racing schedule allows you to then plan out the different training phases of your season appropriately. 
(Did you know that your season should have seasons and phases?)

The ultimate goal as an athlete is to have the best performance possible at the races that matter the most. Haphazard, random, inconsistent or highly structured training is risky. Sometimes it works for some athletes (we all know that athlete) but most athletes will gain fitness and confidence as well as peak fitness to be used on race day with the proper placement of races. 

Peaking is extremely difficult to achieve so planning your season with optimal periodization is critical for season success. 

Here are a few of my tips for season planning:

Create an ATP 
This is your annual training plan. With every week of the entire year in front of you (on a template like Training Peaks ATP) write down every race that you are planning of doing on the respective race day. If some races do not have dates, check last years date to get an idea of when the race may fall (or contact the race director).

Prioritize your races 
 As mentioned in our 2015 Race schedule , it is important to give priority to every race as your prep, taper and race strategy as well as recovery will likely differ for each race based on the priority and when the race falls in your plan. As mentioned in my last post, you should only select 2-3 (at most) top priority A races and they should be placed appropriately with adequate time to peak and ultimately recover between races. Keep in mind that even if you have 2 or 3 A races, you do not have to be in top shape for each race and just because a race isn't top priority, it doesn't mean that you do not have the opportunity to do amazingly well. From experience, an A race does not need to be a PR or Podium race to be termed successful. 

Plan for yearly life events 
Now comes the fun part! If you know of any planned or tentative travel dates for work (or leisure), vacations, weddings, family events (kids tournaments/games/recitals), events or any yearly life stressors (big deadlines/projects at work), place those in your schedule. Life doesn't stop just because you have an A race or any race (for that matter) on your schedule and it is important that your race schedule is balanced with the rest of your life. It's not selfish of you to participate in races (or train for a race) but if you find yourself planning races during important times in your life (or your family/work life) you are going to feel as if you are forced to make compromises. By properly planning your race schedule with life (the best possible) you will not only increase the chance of proper peaking with consistent training but you will minimize stress and you will have others on board with your master plan. 

Now that you have your prioritized races and life events planned, rethink your annual training plan. One you rethink and re-plan your season (and possibly pick new key races and remove a few unnecessary races) you should also reflect on last year to remind yourself of anything else that may positively or negatively influence your season. This is extremely personal when it comes to reflecting on your season but you can think about anything physical, emotional or hormonal that affected your season around/during/after races.
With the available time that you now have left on your annual plan, do you feel comfortable with the timeline that you gave yourself to peak appropriately for your key races? Are you racing too much with not enough available time to consistently train? Do you have key races planned too close to stressful events or travel which may cause you to feel overwhelmed about training or your race performance? Are your races too close together that you are not giving yourself enough time to recover from your races which may increase the risk of burnout, sickness or injury? Are you trying to be superhuman and beat the odds of what is physically possible by your body?

Plan your season goals
It's likely that you picked your top priority races with a goal or two in mind. Next to all of your races, it is important to properly define the outcome of the race. Now here is where athletes often make mistakes. Perhaps you only have one or two top priority races but you may find yourself putting too much pressure or unrealistic (and unnecessary goals) on yourself at your races. The reason why I feel this is a big problem for athletes is because there is a B or even C race on the schedule but the athlete may feel competitive pressure or feel there is something to prove and instead of sticking to the plan that may be of lower intensity or it may be specific to practicing certain things on race day (like pacing, nutrition, transitions) the athlete may end up racing balls to the wall and essentially, expecting an effort and performance that would be worthy of a high priority race. If you are a competitive person and struggle holding back, I recommend picking very low key races (perhaps races that do not provide a purse prize, fancy awards or qualifying spots for a national or world event) for B races (which are often tune-up races) where you do not feel pressure to prove anything.
Now back to goal setting. There is a reason why you are not reaching your goals right now or you haven't reached them ever before. You want your goals to be challenging so you are motivated to work hard but they should also be timely, realistic and very specific.
Having a goal of winning a race or placing on the podium is extremely tough as you may not be able to always predict who shows up on race day. Race time goals are also difficult for race day because although you can certainly train yourself to become faster and stronger and set yourself up to be able to execute to achieve a certain time goal on race day, there are many variables that are out of your control (ex. weather) that may affect your time but may not negatively affect your overall performance. Many times, it is best to chase your closest competition instead of a time goal. I find athletes find success this way as a time on a piece of paper doesn't always tell the entire race story.
Aside from A-races, not every other race  needs a goal or a specific defined outcome. However, for athletes who struggle with season planning or haven't yet figured out how to peak properly, I do recommend to be precise with your race goals, even for B and C priority races so that you can identify what it is you want to achieve at the race which will ultimately helps you move closer to your high priority season goals.
Bottom line - be OK with not being your fittest at every race. You also do not need to justify your performance at every race based on the race priority. Just know that you are doing exactly what works best for you.  Check your ego at the door and be happy for those who are racing with you in their A-priority races when you are saving your best performance for another race. Accept the process that is needed to peak appropriately so you save your best performance for when it really counts. 

Periodize your training for the seasonOnce you have everything in front of you (yes, can you believe you mapped out the entire year?!) now it's time to periodize your training for the season. This may require the help of a coach as this is not easy to schedule appropriate workouts to fall at appropriate times throughout the season. There are helpful tools, books and suggestions as to the phases of the season (ex. off season, transition, base, build, peak, recovery) and specific workouts, so I recommend to do your best to give yourself a few weeks for each phase of the season to help you prepare (slowly) for your races. If you follow the Trimarni approach to training, we believe in building a strong foundation and that is getting our athletes stronger while focusing on skills and form prior to getting faster. Then, when the fast foundation is built, we go longer. 

Print your plan and save a copy for edits If you think your awesome, well-planned schedule is perfect, you may be right. But if you think that your schedule is not going to change throughout the year, sadly, you are wrong. Life changes, injuries (and niggles) happen and just when everything is going as planned, yep, it happens. This is all part of being an athlete but let's turn that frown upside down. Being in charge of your flexible schedule is extremely important as you have the ability  to keep yourself moving forward.  Having access to your schedule is critical for season success because you must rethink your plan every time "life happens". Stay on top of your season highlights but also any setbacks that require you to be proactive and reactive, all at the same time. Adjust and modify your schedule however you need to keep yourself moving closer to success. 

I hope you found this helpful. This is how we coach our athletes and this is how Karel and I are able to increase the odds of peaking appropriately at our key races, season after season.
It's important that you take the necessary time to plan out your season so you know where all that hard work is going AND so you can increase the odds of finding success in your 2015 racing season. 

Happy Training and Racing!