This time of year is important in many ways. Most people have some results on the table and there is a lot that can be changed to improve the second part of the summer racing season.
As a professional coach I am going through the evaluation process continually but at this point in the season I find a lot of athletes are at a point where they have done some races and are looking forward to challenges later in the summer. This is the point to take a good look at the overall pictures and making changes to plans that will pay dividends in the coming months.
It is important to have a structured approach, and personally I spend a lot of time staring at data until I see trends and correlations that I can learn from. I like to use analytical tools as well as athlete feedback for this. As with many things it is not an exact science since all athletes are unique.
The following 5 things form a good basis:
- Overall feel - what went well and what went not so good?
- Training volume and intensity - has the load and distribution of intensity been right
- Races - have they gone well
- Injuries/fatigue/illness - can you identify the reason
- Upcoming races - are strengths and weaknesses relevant? What needs to change?
- Overall feel - what went well and what could have gone better?
Firstly just make a list of things that stand out without any structure, this gives an overall feel.
Then look over the key points of the season, month by month and whether things have gone to plan.
- What stands out?
- Did you have to adjust the plan for some reason and did that work?
- Did you find a new training partner, venue, etc that made things better/worse?
- Do particular training sessions stand out as good or not so good?
- Did you have injuries and/or illness, if so did you manage them well?
- Were there particularly good or not so good competitions?
This list gives you a general feel for the season up to now. Keeping this in mind when you look over the details will be helpful. In my experience we often remember things differently from how they happened and your detailed analysis may show your initial feel was inaccurate. However, it provides a good framework and if your overall feelings are wrong, this process helps reinforce the findings.
- Training load (volume and intensity) - has the overall load and distribution of intensity been right?
Look at the overall progression of your season to date.
There are many ways to monitor training load. Whether this is by miles/kilometres per week, hours per week of a more sophisticated tool such as TrainingPeaks Training Stress Scores the important thing is to look at how this progresses over time and see whether it correlates with any good or not so good things in the season. Did a big jump in load precede an injury or correlate with a boost in fitness?
Was the training to plan and if not, why not and did you learn anything from it?
In terms of intensity, did you make progress to meet your goals? What sessions worked well and what didn’t. Did you up the training frequency and did this work well or not so well?
- Races - have they gone well?
For most endurance athletes, competitions in the form of races are what all the training is about. There are many reasons to compete and being clear about why you do so is important for many reasons including evaluating your race performances. If you are unsure why you compete then taking some time to think about it can be a good thing and now may be the time.
Look at the races over the season to date and identify good and not so good results. Be critical and use objective measures such as speeds, powers and heart rate to assess your performance against your potential on that day as well as against your originally planned goals.
Using outcome goals like your position relative to others is often a poor way to assess your performance. You can’t control how others perform and they may have performed unusually well or poorly.
It is a good idea to have objectives that depend on performance goals such as doing a certain time or maintaining a certain average power. These things are in your control and give you an objective measure of your progress and performance.
The next step is to see whether you can correlate your good and not so good performances with your training data. If you can identify things that lead to your best and worst performances you can make changes to improve.
- Injuries/fatigue/illness - can you identify the reason?
If you have been injured or ill can you identify a reason? There are often reasons for illness or injury, although in the process of finding out how hard you can train it is common to overstep a boundary. The important thing is to manage any illness or injury effectively and get back in training as soon as properly recovered. Don’t struggle on with mediocre training and racing if you are injured.
Learning from your findings you can make changes to your training and racing plan. There are many ways to improve and doing more isn’t always the most effective way to get better.
Reviews like this, mid-season and also annual reviews of your training over time can highlight what works well, what is too much and what doesn’t work. Learning from these things sticking to the findings makes truly great athletes.
Conversely, ignoring the past and thinking it will be different next time makes truly miserable and injured athletes - you have been warned. Be a great athlete and learn from the past.
An objective friend or coach can be invaluable in bringing a sense check and early warning signs to your training and racing plans in this way.
- Upcoming goals - are strengths and weaknesses relevant? What needs to change?
Finally, all this study, pondering and review needs to be brought into the context of the upcoming events and goals.
If upcoming goals are similar to earlier events you are obviously in a very strong position to progress and do better. Look to your overall plan and see what went well and what not so well so you can make changes.
If your goals are different you are still in a strong position because you have learnt a lot about your strengths and weaknesses. You can relate these to the needs of your future goals and plan your training accordingly.
An example could be that you are good at racing for a given time, say 20 minutes but not for 30 or 40 minutes; or good at 90 minutes and not at 3 or 4 hours? It is common that people are good up to a certain duration but then things start going wrong. If so you may need to include some longer sessions at an appropriate intensity.
Conversely you may be able to carry on for well over the duration of your longest event but can’t go fast enough. In this case you may need to do some faster/higher intensity training whilst maintaining the required endurance.
It is all a balancing act and of course needs to take account of what you found about things that may cause illness or injury.
I hope these ideas are helpful to you. I know the ideas and techniques have helped me and the athletes I work with.
Whatever you do, enjoy your racing and training as well as the planning and evaluation process. If you need a bit of help please get in touch, either with informal questions or for something more formal.
Good luck, have fun and please let me know what you think.
A professional endurance coach since 2009, John Hampshire has worked with cyclists and runners from all over the world to help them achieve their goals. Whether you are training for your first road race or want to win an off-road trail marathon Coach John Hampshire can help you reach your potential and be your best. John enjoys working with a wide range of athletes from beginners to advanced as well as professionals. John offers personal coaching to individuals as well as teams and groups.