I’m at a camp in Switzerland this week with a group of first-time Ironman triathletes. When I do these with Tridynamic, who manages the camps, we bring in local experts to add depth what may even be differing points of view from the staff's. This week Ronnie Schildknecht, the four-time winner of Ironman Switzerland, not only spoke to the group but also took us on a guided tour of the bike course. A great experience. And we had Darren Smith (read an interview with Darren here) talk one evening.
Daren has been a friend of mine for many years. He’s a triathlon coach from Australia who works with elite ITU athletes. He’s produced several World Champs including Lisa Norden who accompanied him to the talk.
Darren is a sharp guy and always says things that set my mind to working for days after. As usual, he had several gems on Monday evening when he spoke. One of them was something he calls “recovery on demand.”
Instead of scheduling recovery periods into his athletes’ training plans he remains quite flexible and includes it when he sees signs of excessive fatigue. This is quite logical and the way most advanced athletes should actually do it. It’s hard to predict with accuracy when one will need a couple of days to rest up. But for the less-experienced athlete it’s probably best to schedule it at given intervals, such as every third or fourth week.
Advanced athletes should be able to not only recognize the need for rest but be willing to also “take their medicine.” If self-coached, advanced athletes are unwilling to back off despite several signs of extensive overreaching, or if they can't easily recognize excessive fatigue, then scheduling R&R must be the norm.
Recovery on demand is more difficult for the coach to do than it is for the athlete. Few coaches have daily, face-to-face contact with their athletes. Darren does. His athletes live and train in the same town for several weeks out of the year. He sees each every morning and has a brief conversation with them. From this he can determine what their readiness-to-train status is. The long-distance coach can ask questions by email with forms and even by phone, but this is much less effective than seeing and talking personally as Darren does.
The bottom line here is that periodization does not have to be rigid and inflexible as many, for some unknown reason, believe is the case. It can be quite flexible—and must be, not only in terms of rest but also with regards to workouts.