By this time in the season most athletes have completed their first A-priority race of the year. And more than likely there is another A race coming up soon. How should you tweak your training to prepare for it? This is the single most difficult question to answer when it comes to periodization.
The most challenging scenario is when the next A-priority race on the calendar is less than six weeks after the previous one. That’s especially true when the next race is a long one. For the shorter events the challenge isn’t as big since the time needed to recover and prepare to race once again isn't as great. Still, the challenge for having such closely spaced A races is rebuilding fitness and coming into form in a short period of time. There is no formula for this. You have to address several questions to which the answers are solely dependent on your unique circumstances:
How much recovery time do you need? The longer the race and the harder you pushed yourself, the more time you’ll need to shed fatigue, heal sore soft tissues and take a mental break from focused training. In this case it’s best to not have another A race on the schedule for at least four weeks. Following a race that lasted a couple of hours of less you can be ready to go back into serious training within a matter of a few days – a week at the most. But if the event was a running race that time may easily be doubled depending on how quickly you have bounced back in the past.
How long is your next A-priority race? Longer races, those greater than about four hours, require a lot of low-intensity, long-duration training. The shorter races are more dependent on high-intensity, low-duration training. So the key question is: When will you be ready to either go long or go fast again? If your last race was long and your next race is also long, then rebuilding fitness can be done rather quickly once recovered. But if your last race was short and the next one is long it will take more time to prepare. On the other hand, it’s a bit easier to build fitness for a short race if the last one was long since speed seems to develop more quickly than endurance.
How sound is your Base fitness? You may recall from my Training Bible books that there are three fitness abilities that must be developed in the Base period before you can move onto the Build period – aerobic endurance, muscular force and speed skills. The first, aerobic endurance, is the most critical at this juncture since it is the most basic of all abilities for endurance events. If it is weak then any advanced-ability training (muscular endurance, anaerobic endurance, and power) you do now will likely have little benefit for faster racing. If you went through a two- or three-week taper as prescribed in my Training Bible books and you are now taking a week or more to recover from your A race then aerobic endurance is certain to have faded. It will probably take two or more weeks of focused training to adequately rebuild it. For an upcoming two-hour or less race you can have this back to a high level quickly. But if your next race is longer than four hours it will take several weeks of aerobic endurance training to be ready to race well again.
I need to mention at this point that when I post a periodization blog here I always get questions from readers on what they should do given their unique situations. I’m really unable to do anything more than guess what the athlete should do in these situations. There are even more variables to deal with than I addressed above. For example, how well did the last race go, is the athlete a fast or slow responder, has the athlete done such back-to-back races in the past and if so how successful were they, etc. the number of variables is far too long for me to be able to tell you what to do based on a little bit of info. I wish I could help everyone but I simply can’t. When you choose to coach yourself these are the issues you have to learn to deal with frequently. If you have a coach he or she will make such decisions for you and all you have to do is train.