Twin Peaks

Well here we are, the first half of the season has come to an end.  Now would be a good time to to re-group, recover and repair our bodies for the second half of our season.  If you've built a solid base in the winter and trained to a structure throughout the spring it's possible to build two distinct peaks into your race season. 

Without structure to your season you risk falling in to the trap of slowly building speed from the winter to the spring, then hitting a performance plateau in the summer.  If that PB or win is still proving elusive, now is the time to do something about it.  And the answer isn't to train harder; not yet anyway. 

If you haven't done so, you now need to plan when you intend to peak in the second half of your competitive year.  All good plans start with a goal, so that's what we'll cover first.

First, some questions.  Did you achieve your early season SMARTS goals?  If you did, take a pat on the back and reward yourself.  It’s important to plan in rewards for reaching targets; otherwise what’s the point?  Rewards need to be individual, appropriate and timely if they are to be a motivator to spur you on to greater success. 

When training, I eat all the right things in all the right amounts at all the right times.  When training hard I try to do it to a greater degree.  However, when I return from one of my “big” events, it’s off the boat, unload the car and down to the chippie for a chicken & mushroom pie, chips and gravy.  If I was on death row and was offered a “last meal”, that’s what I’d choose.  How sad am I?

Rewards can be as simple as that.  After weeks of pasta, rice, hi-carbs, low-fat and all the right stuff it’s absolute heaven on a plate.  Make sure you do the same for yourself; although it doesn’t have to be so northern.

What happens if you didn’t reach your stated SMARTS goals?  Well, it’s not the end of the world.  Life often gets in the way of our sporting endeavours and it’s important to remember that.  What we need to do is analyse why we didn’t reach our stated goals.  Did we overestimate the task, underestimate our abilities or was it a combination of both?  Maybe it was other external factors over which we had no control?  If the stated goal truly was SMARTS then we have to assume that it was down to other factors.  Whatever it was, we need to know how and why it happened and what we are going to do to reduce the risk of it happening again in the second half of our season.

Recover to win
Okay, that’s the analysis out of the way.  If you’ve got a “proper” training plan, by now you should have already taken an early season taper period and should be enjoying, or about to enjoy, your second.  A week to ten-days of nothing but recovery rides or just plain nothing will, surprisingly, not kill you or your season .  Whenever this is mentioned most people's first thoughts are, “It’s taken me all year to get this fitness, I’m not going to let it go now.”  You're not letting it go, you're investing it!

Most of us amateur athletes are psychologically flawed, but in a nice way.  We buy Lance Armstrong training plans and try to copy them!   We buy bikes as good as the pros, train like the pros and eat like the pros.  What we don't do is rest like the pros.  We think if we’re not training then we must be de-training. 

You don’t get stronger by training five hours a day.  You get stronger when your body adapts to the stresses placed on it.  And it adapts when you rest.  Tie your training and resting into a structured nutritional programme and the results will soon follow. 

In June we were lucky enough to stay and eat with the Francaise des Jeux team at Alpe d'Huez.  For three days they were doing six hour training rides, eating and sleeping.  Everyone was in bed for nine o'clock at night, when they weren't asleep they were eating, when they weren't eating they were on their bikes.  They didn't spend nine hours a day sitting at a desk.  Pro's know how to recover; that's how they get to be pro's.  You may not race like a pro but that doesn't mean you can't recover like one.

Choose your time to peak
Do not underestimate the physiological and psychological demands made on your body when working at a full time job, being part of a family or in relationship and trying to do the best you can in your chosen sporting arena.  For some, pre-season training starts in October and runs through to competition time in March; January, if you do duathlons!   It’s quite possible that some people are still trying to knock out a personal best or get that elusive race win, nine months after beginning their training.  You can have a baby in that time!

Either you factor in a specific taper or rest period or your body will do it for you.  The good thing about planning a taper is you get to choose when it happens and for how long it lasts.  If you don’t plan one, your body will choose one for you.  At a time that will be the most inappropriate you can imagine.  Normally it happens when you build up the frequency and intensity of your workouts to peak for one of your targeted events.  You get a week from the crest of your physical prowess then BANG.  Injury or chronic fatigue is your next point of call.

Sudden Unexplained Underperformance Syndrome
In the old days we used to call this overtraining.  Now someone, probably a yank, has given it a fancy name.  Whatever it's called the results are the same.  A long, long time out of action.  If you think losing a week is bad, wait until you lose a season.  Overtraining is a chronic condition that creeps up on you.  I've seen it happen to a friend who ignored all of the signs his body was giving him.  It wasn't funny. 

So take a break and do it now, while the weather is nice, otherwise you may make yourself eligible for my special badge.

While training, rather than belting down the road focussing only on the pain, take in the fantastic sights this Island has to offer.  Revitalise your body and your mind and prepare for the second half of the season by riding recovery rides.  Go to St Catherine's for a coffee and a cake or ride to St Ouen's for a bacon roll and take in the view.  Whatever you do, do it slowly and do it for pleasure.  If you find yourself sweating you're going too hard.

The six P's Principle
Proper Planning Prevents P*ss Poor Performance. Sorry to be so graphic but it gets the message across of the importance of planning in its relationship to performance.  No planning, no performance.  More planning equals more performance.  It's that simple!

During your mid-season hiatus, sit down and decide what you would like to be your second-half SMARTS goal.  If you want to maximise your potential for success, choose one goal and focus on that and that alone.  Identify what weaknesses and obstacles you need to address to attain your goal.  All your training should now be dedicated to the task of taking you closer to that goal.

Make sure you can ramp up your training over a suitable time period between now and your chosen objective.  Don’t expect success if the highlight of your season is penned-in for two weeks after the taper you’re about to take.  So look at the calendar, choose an event (at least seven to eight weeks away) and aim for a realistic expectation. 

Seven Week Countdown
Working backwards from your objective, plan-in a week’s taper before the event (w8), this will give your body time to adapt and prepare for the intensity of the upcoming event.  This would be a good time to carry out a test to measure your improvement and build morale.

Three weeks prior to the taper (w5-w7) you need to be building intensity to expected race pace.  You should be aiming to achieve 100% expected race pace in w7.

A week before this intense period you need a recovery week (w4).  The recovery week is at 50% of the effort undertaken during the build 3 week (w3).  

The first three weeks of your programme should be the build period (w1-w3).  The frequency, intensity and timescale of the sessions will depend on the event, the time available and the current fitness of the athlete.  Prior to the build period it would be wise to undertake a test to give yourself a baseline from which you can measure improvement.

Expected effort relates to the expected effort of the event not the effort put in to the training sessions.   All training sessions are undertaken at 100% effort!  There are no "rides".  If you want to ride around do a club run, if you want to win races, go training.

At first glance this working backwards seems awfully complicated but once you get the hang of it you'll find it isn't.  Otherwise I wouldn't be able to understand it.  There are all sorts of sciency names for these periods but I wont bore you with them now.  What you should have is represented in the table below.  

the plan expected race effort

build one



build two



build three






intense one



intense two



intense three






target event



reward & celebrate


The effort in the table is to give you an idea of the progression principle and isn't a prescriptive formula for success.

What you are trying to achieve
If the template above is used, the performance below will be produced.  With the following caveats applied!

▼  You follow the plan ~ to the letter
▼  You give each session total commitment
You follow a suitable nutrition strategy
You rest and recover with total commitment
You remain totally focussed on your goal

w1 w2 w3 w4 w5 w6 w7 w8 te    

The Message
You've worked hard all winter, spring and for most of the summer.  The weather is just about to turn nice so wouldn't it be nice to recharge your batteries and prepare for part two of the season?  The alternative is tiredness, a drop off in results, the propensity to train harder and in its ultimate guise, overtraining.  If this doesn't get you, staleness, low motivation and morale will.

A short break does wonders for the motivation and enthusiasm.  Why not use it to prepare for the part of the season when the medals are on offer and championships are up for grabs?  You can bet that's what the people who are winning are doing.

A double peak give you almost two seasons for the price of one.  It allows you to address the weaknesses you've previously identified and to capitalise on the strengths you've already developed.  It also allows you to get stronger while others are dropping off.  Remember, you have to plan it, it ain't going to happen by magic and the process of wishful thinking.