While I am still a reasonable way from my fastest times, currently I am not as far away as I thought I would be at this stage. While the main goal of training is to be able to race as fast as possible. It is the method, and therefore the reason behind those times which are important in the early stages of a training program. Fast times may be a result of too much high intensity training, that has brought the body to a very early peak. This would be innapropriate as a peak in performance is always followed by a decline, regardless of the training to follow. The other possibility is that the fast times are a result of proper adaptation to the training load that has simply just raised the base level of performance.
How can we tell the difference? It isn't easy. One way which leaves little doubt, is to wait and see what happens. If performance declines across most training sessions and/or races, then it is obvious a peak has been passed. This isn't desirable. The alternative is to take a holistic look at training and performance. Take a large amount of information, including objective and subjective data, compare it to previous years, weeks and days and make an educated guess. There are no one or two variables easily measured that will give the answer. This is where the art comes into training.
From my previous years of competing I have found the following signs to be suggestive that I may be heading towards a peak in performance:
- Feeling of invcibility
- Extreme jump in race performance compared to training
- Sudden drop of >8bpm of resting heart rate
- Ability to complete multiple hard sessions without typical recovery
- Mood instability (changing between irritable and overly happy)
- Obvious daily changes in body composition
- Variation in appetite
- Large, unpredictable performance in normal training
These signs are not set in stone and I am unaware of any scientific evidence to back up my observations. I am unable to give a rule such as, three or more equals peaking. It doesn't work that way. Looking over the last three weeks of training, the only signs have been the feeling of invincibility and some mood changes. I have been quite irritable at times over the last week. I don't believe I am heading towards a peak.
It has become clear that my recovery profile is different to what it used to be. Gone are the days that I used to be able to back up multiple hard sessions without too much concern. I know over the next few months my abilities will vary as my fitness improves. At the moment my current guidelines will be:
- Racing requires 3-4 days to properly recover
- Hard running requires 2 days of lower impact work
- Strength training reduces training performance 2 days later
- Hard and moderate cycling sets can be backed up for 2-3 days
- Swimming performance is reduced by a long cycle
- Low intensity training appears to aid recovery when compared to passive rest
- Hot-cold hydrotherapy makes a world of difference
Significant improvement can be made on a relatively small amount of overall training volume. I have been averaging 10 hours over a 7 day week. This is half the time I used to put into regular training. Yet, despite this large difference I am making consistent and appropriate improvements. Yes I will be increasing the volume of training. This will mainly be achieved through an increase in the long endurance days. What I have learnt, is I do not need to go overboard in this training. I do not need to put in the extremely hard and long days all the time to gain improvement. Yes there is a place for that sort of training, but it is not required day in, day out to improve at this stage.
The main focus of this round of Base training has been a balanced approach to overall fitness. Instead of doing high volumes of low intensity work, as has been my traditional approach, a more rounded regimen was has been implemented. In each cycle of 6-10 days a moderate amount of work has been included from the following areas:
- Basic aerobic/endurance
- Lactate threshold
- VO2max and Anaerobic speed
- Plyometrics/Dynamic movements
As a result I believe I attained a more complete fitness profile that has resulted in improved economy of movement, reduced injury risk, improved workload tolerance. The primary goal of the Base phase has been achieved. That goal was to prepare my body to be able to not only tolerate, but adapt to the more specific training to follow.
DOSE AND RESPONSE
A high frequency and/or volume of high intensity work is currently not required to keep improving. Occasional high intensity training sets or races followed by a moderate aerobic load over the following days appears to have resulted in superior improvements along with a lower injury risk when compared to more frequent hard sessions. As discussed in the post Some Thoughts the approach of consistent, but manageable training loads each day is proving to be very effective. I am not experiencing any excessive fatigue that is affecting training or other areas of my life. Each key training set has been seeing a moderate improvement from the previous one. I am looking forward to training. No day seems like a chore or is too daunting to contemplate not starting. Looks like am ready to move on to the next phase in training. The VO2 Phase begins next Monday. I'll get into the details soon.