When I first sit down with an athlete, I ask them what is the goal race(s) for the season. What is that big race that you are putting the majority of your eggs in one basket? What is the race that you have circled on the calendar that excites you and you want to tell all your friends and family? Once we target our destination, now we have a timeline to work from and the Annual Training Plan is beginning to take shape.
The phases we use in our Annual Training Plans:
1. Prep: This is the stage where we dust off the cobwebs and get our bodies used to cardiovascular fitness again. Most endurance athletes cross-train during this stage, with the goal of increasing or maintaining cardio fitness. Intensity during this phase tends to be mostly aerobic (easier intensity, we'll leave the discussion of zone training for another blog).
2. Base: When the prep phase becomes more specific to your sport, you have entered the base phase. This is when cross-training becomes the "once-in-awhile" and not the norm. The goal of this stage is to increase sport-specific neuro-muscular movement. MP Multisport athletes begin to do longer swims, bikes, and runs in this phase, working on correct technique. Remember, "practice does not make perfect, but perfect practice makes perfect": Vince Lombardi.
3. Build (1,2,3,etc): After the Base Phase, we start upping the intensity ante while stair-stepping the volume. Primary goal for this phase is muscular endurance and developing speed. Hill repeat workouts, Lactate threshold workouts, or tempo are all bread-and-butter workouts in this phase. I also love putting a lot of shorter or less-important races into the Build phase as good training days. Each Build usually involves a 2-3 week period of increasing volume then a recovery week with an increase of number of workouts at Race Pace (RP). The number of builds is dependent on how long of a training plan we are using and/or the number of "A" races we are peaking for.
4. Taper/Peak: In order to compete at your best for your "A" race, you will need to peak, and to peak you will need to cut back on the volume of your training (taper) without sacrificing that intensity and race pace you have become accustomed to feeling from the Build Phase. The taper period can be as short as a week or as long as three depending on two important things: the amount of training you have put in the past 2-3 months and the length of your "A" race.
6. Active Recover: The length of this phase is dependent on the distance of your "A" race. 1-2 weeks minimum is what the body needs for a multi-hour effort. In running circles, it's 1 day per mile ran in race. In full-distance multisport it could be as much as 3-4 weeks also. This is NOT throw your legs up and recover...it's ACTIVE Recovery. Easy intensity and volume. This break helps you re-evaluate your training leading up to your "A" race, dialogue with your coach on what went right, what went wrong and road-map your next challenge. In the Active Recovery phase you will not lose too much fitness! The length of this phase is not only dependent on your past race but also: length of your Training Plan, how well your body handled the training plan, was this the last race of the season or is there another "A" race later in the season.
Just remember your brain will want to get back into training way BEFORE your body is ready. Remembering this, you will return to your training plan more motivated than ever. Once you are through with that last active recovery period of the year, we are back to Phase 1.