If you have been following Toolbox over the past couple of months, we’ve recommended taking a couple of weeks to months easy or completely away from the regimented training structure in order to give our bodies and minds time to recuperate and recharge. At the same time as kicking back and eating the odd treat or two over the holidays season (while still being careful not to go overboard at the buffet, there remains one tough final exam to write before you can truly progress to 2007 – the dreaded “What Have You Done This Whole Season” exam.
This is the point where you have to take a really objective and critical examination of how closely your season followed your plan. A trusted advisor or coach becomes invaluable to cut through our natural tendency to rationalize away our successes and shortcomings. A good coach or sport scientist will also be able to see training patterns that you may not recognise. Some of the things you should be analysing as you go through your training diary (you do keep a training diary, right?) include:
• Did you meet your primary racing goals for the season? Analyse your key races carefully. If you missed the key break or move, was it tactical, physical, pack placing, etc.? Was it because you blew up halfway up the 3 k climb? Were you in the final break but lost because you can’t outsprint a sloth? Were you fatigued from overtraining or racing too much? This is critical information in order to truly identify the areas you need to focus your training upon.
• With power monitors and great training software out there now, the level of analysis can become so much deeper than just simple hours or kilometers trained. You can get very accurate assessments of things such as your functional threshold power, max sprint wattage, critical power over 6 min, etc. And with the ability to track your wattage during both training and racing, you can determine whether your training efforts truly replicate what is needed during competition. For example, do most of your rides end up being tempo or steady state, but your races require constant accelerations and recovery? Is the average wattage of your training 180 W while your group hammer rides require average wattage of 250 W?
• If you were successful in your racing, analyse that too! We’d all love to repeat a year as full of victories as Boonen or Bettini! Such success comes not only from talent and hard work, but in knowing how their body responds to training and how to plan training peaks. You are looking to understand exactly what went right so that you can replicate it. If your tapering prior to the peak races worked, you want to know exactly what you did right. If you found it ridiculously easy to bridge up to the winning break, you need to understand that strength.
• Did you meet your training goals in terms of training volume (annual and periodized), performance measures (e.g., power output at threshold, test time trials, etc.). You need this information in order to understand your limiters and strengths and to set appropriate goals for the upcoming season.
• Were there significant deviations from your original program? Were they due to illness, family or work commitments? How effective were your adjustments to these changes? You need this information in order to plan for future inevitable setbacks to your new plan.
• How quickly did you recover from hard workouts or heavy periods of training? What are your signs of overtraining? Everybody responds to training and recovers at different rates, and you need to program your training based on your own parameters.
My basic point is that you MUST learn from your own experience, and that your diary contains a goldmine of information to guide your future. Sift through it with a critical eye so that you can most effectively plan your next winning campaign.
The Toolbox crew will be off over the holidays baking cookies and sitting by the tree waiting for Santa. Now that you’ve closed the page on 2006, we’ll be back at the start of 2007 with some New Year training resolutions. Have a fabulous and safe holiday season and sneak in some riding amidst the turkey!
Stephen Cheung is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Dalhousie University, with a research specialization in the effects of thermal stress on human physiology and performance. He can be reached for comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.