How to Make Next Season Better
You have raced for a season or two and you have been deeply bitten by the racing bug.
You enjoy the discipline of getting your mind, your kit, and your body ready for a race. You look forward to a season of pushing your body among other people who are similarly crazy. You enjoy the quiet and sometimes slightly nervous conversation at the start line, the full-on excitement as the last lap looms, and the white-hot energy that burns as everyone is pushing for the finish line.
You’ve now come to a place where you absolutely know that you can be better. You know that you can finish stronger and further ahead in the pack.
So what exactly does "better" mean?
Racing better means training better. And better training is specific training.
Talk to any accredited cycling coach who was worth all of the intervals that they're prescribing and they will tell you that getting specific for your goal events is what it's all about.
In fact, this is why every coach talks so much about goal events or so called “A” races. These specific events for which you plan to be at your best actually provide all of the data you need to create your best training plan — if you know what to look for.
When you plan training for your season you will choose one, two, or at the very most three events for which you will plan to peak. They might be your state championships. They may be an area race where all the bragging rights for the rest of the year come from. They just might be the most popular race for which everyone turns out, even though the course isn’t particularly tough. The course characteristics of those key events are what you will be honing in during your training.
By “characteristics” I’m referring to the significant climbs, long breakaways, portions of the course where headwind is known to be a factor, likely bunch sprints, or time trial segments. Whatever dictates "success" for those races will make up the most significant part of your training.
Having a coach looking after you means that coach is going to systematically develop your body’s three key energy systems to be at their absolute tip-top best when those events roll around. That coach will sharpen more than just your strength and speed, they’ll work on your mental focus on skill training, too.
The races that lead up to those events will probably all contain elements of your “A” race, and therefore your coach will use those races as very high level training sessions. The heart rate and/or power numbers you produce on those training race climbs and sprints will influence your coach’s workout prescriptions for you as you get closer to the big day.
“Why does my coach have me doing four minutes solid at 375 watts, with the last-minute out of the saddle?" It's because of that short, hard, climb that comes at the end of your planned “A” race.
"Why is my coach having me do 30 all-out, eye-bleeding, 10-second maximal sprints in one workout in the last four weeks prior to my race?" It's because all the data points to a finishing sprint for your a race, after you finish tapering. It’s also why they had you hitting the gym, and doing low cadence, huge gear hill work in the late winter.
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Gathering data, building a plan, systematically and sequentially increasing the intensity over time, and making sure that the proper amount of recovery is built into the system means your training plan is bound to get complicated. If you are self-coached, you can find the training monotonous, demoralizingly difficult, and quite frankly… it's just difficult to know how long, how intense, and when to lay off when you're doing it on your own.
Get a coach. Get an accredited coach. Get a coach who understands your goals and understand your motivation. Allow that coach to take on the responsibility of organizing the myriad details that go into a training plan that will bring you to your specific best for specific races. When you are free to simply do the work out that is prescribed to you because you trust that it's the right workout at the right time you can go harder and provide quality adaptation to your body as well as your mind and emotions.
If you are not going to invest in a coach next season, that at least do yourself a huge favor by being very specific in your goal setting. Limit the races you plan to peak for, gather as much specific data as you can about those races, and plan your sequential training to meet or exceed the demands of those races.
Good luck. Train with the end details in mind. And will see you out on the road!
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