Ask the Experts: Season Planning

When is your race season? Many of us have a different answer for that. Regardless of the timing of our seasons, the pre-season planning always remains the same. Developing a plan for the upcoming season is your ticket to success. Many of us can question if there is a need for following a structured training plan. Can you get ready for the big race by riding every day, throwing a few interval sessions into the mix, and some long rides? Well perhaps you can, but you would be missing key elements that prepare you for race day as well as not utilizing your time to the best of your abilities. 


Goal-Oriented


Training for your goal requires you to first and foremost understand why you are doing this. What is it that will get you out of bed and push you to get the most out of yourself? What will help you to dig deeper during an effort when you’re neck-deep in pain? Simply put: what is your why? What are the reasons behind your motivation? These reasons will be able to fuel you when the going gets tough. Success is not linear and that is important to understand when setting out on your path. You will more than likely incur some bumps along the way, but knowing your overall target will help you to navigate any rough seas. 

When it comes to creating and following a training plan (either created by yourself or a coach) it should contain some rationale. This training plan should cater to your own personal skill level and also your fitness goals. If you are setting out to complete your first century, you wouldn’t jump into a ProTour rider’s training plan, would you? Hint: the answer is no. You will need to focus on your own process goals to take you from point A to point B. 

Your season’s training plan should be developed remembering that you want to be a well-rounded athlete. For example: focusing only on your strengths will not help your weaknesses and vice versa. If you are training for a century, then focusing on sprint-only workouts may not be the best option. Choosing workouts that are tailored to helping you reach your goals is pertinent. Remember that all of your training may not always play into the hands of your abilities. A well-developed plan will help to expose weaknesses, but then develop them into strengths.

A well-developed season plan will include a wide variety of training sessions. These sessions will also be implemented at specific phases of your plan. How will this session prepare me for my goal? How far out from my A race should I do this key session? These types of questions will help you to develop a timeline of when specific workouts should be completed in order to maximize their effectiveness. 


Consistency


The key to all success whether in athletics or life is consistency. Mastering a skill takes hours and hours of practice or in this case thousands of miles in the saddle. For athletes who are looking to get fast quickly, they are overlooking the most critical element to any training program, and that is consistent healthy training time. Doing an odd workout here or there will not be sufficient enough to produce lasting fitness gains. 

Having a training plan for your season is a great start to map your route to success. Why? To start, having each day laid out for you gives you the discipline to follow through with your training plan and to rid yourself of the notion that the only time to get a good workout in is when you are feeling motivated. Knowing your training plan is leading to your ultimate goal will hold you accountable.

Another benefit of having your season training planned out is removing the guesswork of what your training will be each day. Making decisions not only takes up time, but it also takes a lot of mental energy to decide what you should or shouldn’t do for training on the day. If you’re trying to hit a key session, you’ll need all the physical and mental energy available to get the best out of yourself. Removing outside stress can help you to alleviate any excess worry when it comes to the session. This is where having a coach and following a training plan is beneficial (one of the many benefits!)


Post Season Review


In order to maximize the benefits you gained during your in-season training, it is crucially important to understand your successes and failures. Did your taper work go into your A race? Were you able to execute properly during the race? Having a deep analysis of what went right and what went wrong will not only help you to better understand yourself as an athlete but to help you improve upon your training for next season. Doing an honest assessment may not always feel great, and there will be times when it is hard to admit that something didn’t work, but this will only make you a better athlete in the long run. 

What pieces of your training should you analyze? Oftentimes you can look at the volume you did throughout the season. Did you build enough of a foundational base to carry you through the season, or did you find yourself running on fumes at the end? Was your weekly load (hours, miles, TSS) too high? Did you find yourself constantly digging yourself out of an energy deficit hole? More often than not, as endurance athletes, we need someone to hold us back rather than motivate us to do more. If overseeing our own training, it is easy to get caught up in the, “more is more,” mindset. Disclaimer: more is not more! 

When evaluating your training, remember that what works for one athlete may not work for you. The cookie-cutter approach does not fit into this equation. In times like these, it is important to put your blinders on when seeing other athlete’s training.

If using training analysis software like TrainingPeaks, be sure to widen your analysis and look at your cumulative loads. Looking at data trends like your Chronic Training Load (CTL) can help you see broad trends across the board. Acute analysis like your TSS (Training Stress Score), TSB (Form), and ATL (Fatigue) can help you navigate your day-to-day/weekly training schedule. These numbers can help you understand your week-to-week fitness trends and whether a rest day/week is needed sooner than you expected!

Not only can these metrics help you understand where you can improve in training, but can help you understand where you felt your best fitness, most rested, tampered etc. These are also important data points in order to analyze the training that occurred in the weeks leading up to these moments. Knowing this information can help you to formulate a scientific approach to periodizing your next season’s plan to a T!

When we have a season plan, we are taking the first step (and a very important step) forward to reaching our goals. Season planning can help keep us on track, hold us accountable, and ultimately help us learn from successes and failures in order to make us better athletes. No matter your goals, laying down a road map will ensure you can get yourself from the start to the finish line and smoothly as possible. In racing it is important to focus only on the things that you can control, your season planning is one of those. Take control and ownership of your training now and it’ll pay off in dividends down the road. 


Mac Cassin is the Chief Cycling Physiologist at Wahoo Sports Science. He holds a degree in Integrative Physiology from the University of Colorado-Boulder and has won multiple National Championships. The experience of juggling athletic goals with collegiate and career responsibilities has taught Mac that peak performance is achievable even for those who cannot focus exclusively on training.  While concentrating on exercise physiology in an academic setting, Mac competed at the World Championships, Pan American Championships, and World Cups on both the road and track.

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