The most basic element of race preparation is the workout. Each workout should have a purpose related to your performance goals. The purpose should be clearly defined. If in the Base period the purpose is usually to improve or maintain aerobic endurance, speed skills, muscular force or muscular endurance, or to recover from previous training.
In the Build period the purpose usually is to prepare for the specific demands of the goal event, compete in a lower-priority tune-up race, maintain a basic ability initially developed in the Base period or recover. There can be occasional breaks from this purpose-based training in which you just do what you feel like doing—a fun workout. This may be with friends or simply a playful workout you enjoy as a break from the routine. That’s ok. Just be aware that if these breaks become too numerous you run the risk of being unprepared for your race and failing to achieve your goals. How many “fun” workouts are too many? That depends on your psychological needs such as motivation, your fitness and race-readiness, and how high your goals are. Only you know the answers.
The following is a quick analysis of a simple workout I did yesterday. I have recently started my Build period. During this period there is a need to maintain the fitness gains made in the Base period. Yesterday’s ride was intended to maintain my aerobic threshold (AeT) fitness which I started working on seriously about 4 months ago.
The chart you see here (from WKO+ software) shows 3 elements: heart rate (red), power (black) and altitude (orange). (Click the chart to enlarge it.) This is a very simple workout with 3 parts—a warm-up which lasted about 20 minutes, a mainset where I rode steadily at aerobic threshold, and a very short cool down. My aerobic threshold heart rate is in the range of 120 to 124 bpm. You can see for most of the AeT portion that I was in that range. There are a few short spikes and valleys due to traffic and stoplights, but these are minimal. (By the way, it looks like I was climbing a mountain here due to the scale of this chart, but most of the grades are only about 2-3%.)
The purpose of the mainset was to maintain AeT. There are two ways I measure that. The first has to do with “decoupling.” (You can read more about decoupling here.) Basically, this has to do with output (power in this case although it could be speed in running which isn’t quite as pure due to hills, wind and terrain) and input (heart rate) staying generally parallel throughout the set. They may separate a slight amount, with heart rate increasing or power decreasing, but this AeT mainset “decoupling” should be no greater than 5% if you are aerobically fit (WKO+ does the math for you).
The two dashed lines in the chart represent the average trends for heart rate and power. Notice that they appear to be almost perfectly parallel. In fact, the decoupling in this workout was 2.35%. This means that power declined a small amount in the mainset while heart rate remained relatively constant (in other words, the dashed lines separate only slightly). That’s a positive AeT fitness marker.
A second measure of AeT maintenance is determining the power-heart rate ratio (or speed-heart rate in running) and compare it with previous AeT workout ratios to determine if there have been changes. If the ratio shows a trend for declining significantly over several of these AeT workouts then there has probably been a loss of aerobic fitness (there are other confounding factors to consider such as fatigue, stimulants such as coffee and heat). To determine the ratio divide the mainset normalized power or running speed (again, WKO+ determines this) by average heart rate. In this workout my ratio was 1.50 (180 divided by 120). This is within the AeT workout ranges of similar mainset duration done in my late Base period (1.50-1.55) indicating, again, that aerobic endurance is still sound.
So the bottom line here is that my aerobic endurance appears to be holding up well as I start the Build period. I’ll repeat this AeT set every 10 days or so to check it. If I see a significant change then I’ll do the set more frequently to rebuild aerobic endurance. I often do this by inserting an AeT set into a workout which has one or more other sets. Some of the AeT sets will precede and others follow the alternate set or sets. This is a good training strategy in the Build period for making effective use of limited training time.
Tomorrow I leave for my womens-only triathlon camp in Barcelona so you may see a big gaps in my posts over the next couple of weeks.