A Way Out of the Slump – Planning Your Sporting Year

Cycling, Running and Triathlon are essentially seasonal sports, they need to be as endurance training and racing is hard on your body but it is generally due to the short days and poor weather limiting available events.  As the season closes you will need a rest to allow your muscles and joints to repair, but it is easy to lose motivation as your mind and body take the opportunity to recover.  This is not helped by the dark cold days and adverse weather which also reduces enthusiasm to train.  For some a few weeks pass then normal service is resumed, unfortunately for many it is not quite so easy. If you find yourself in this slump, you may feel tired but it is actually a mental state and it is your mind not your body which needs to recover.  The best way to turn this around is to take your mind forward to those long sunny days of the event season and plan your next races or challenges.  Once your mind starts to focus on the events ahead, you will have a reason to train, your mind will connect with the good feelings your sport brings and your desire to train will return. With this in mind, now as the season comes to a close, is the ideal time to start thinking about next year.

What to consider?

There are so many races and challenges out there, every event is different, some short, some long (some very long), some hot, some cold, some flat, some hilly, pool based, open water, home or abroad.  Generally these events are open to you just by submitting an entry form, but some require qualification or very early entry to get your place so this must be considered in your plan. You must first review your sporting background, along with the results of this years training and events.  Consider your strengths and weaknesses, for example if as a triathlete swimming is a challenge you may prefer to stay away from long sea swims until your skills and confidence improves.  If you are not particularly fast but have good endurance, consider races with long tough courses so you can gain time on the other racers in the tough sections.  What do you enjoy?  If you like short fast events seek them out, if you fancy the challenge of longer distance and even ultra events you can consider those. How much training have you done this year?  This will give you an indication of the time you will have next year, consider family and work commitments, a new baby or more stressful work will not fit well with a decision to train for a long distance event.  What do you want from the sport, are you able to compete for wins and places or just to complete the event to the best of your ability?  What are your longer term ambitions?  It may be to keep fit, complete a 24hr time trial, race in Ironman, race for GB or just tour the world riding, running and racing in exotic places.  If you have high ambitions you may need a two or three year plan to get yourself to the level you need to be at.  Racing can be expensive, the cost of events is steadily increasing, ensure you add the travel and accommodation to get the true cost.  Finance may well be a limiting factor, do you decide to compete in one major event or a number of local events for the same cost?  Staying injury free is key to improvement, you may have the time and finance to race every weekend, but will your body take the strain, will you be nursing injuries through each event never achieving your potential.  You may have a holiday planned or friends and family in other parts of the UK, or even other countries.  Consider combining your sport with a trip, it gets you to events in other interesting places and even the most jaded sporting widow/widower will be enthused by a week on the beach in return for a few hours standing at the roadside watching you race.

What races are out there?

There are many ways to find out what events are available to you.  These days without internet access you are unlikely to find many races, but as you are reading this you should be ok.  Speak to other athletes within and outside your club, see where they raced and what they liked and disliked about the events.  Read the specialist magazines which contain race reports and race calendars, as do many specialist websites.  Your sports governing body will generally publish an event calendar and/or publish a members handbook setting out the available events.  It may not have next years races listed so early but look at the equivalent period this year to see what races are likely to run next.  It should also have links to the clubs and major events stand alone websites where more information can be found.

Keep it real

As you look through the mass of event opportunities it is easy to get carried away with the thought of finishing a really cool event.  Many events are promoted for first time or novice racers, even major televised events are accessible to first timers.  Some are not really suitable. This does not mean you couldn’t finish a very long distance race having never done anything similar before, but you won’t race to your potential or enjoy the experience as you should.  Don’t get carried away by the success of your friends and club mates, most will admit they were a bit naive on their first races and suffered as a result.  If that race is local and an hour or two long no harm done, its part of the process, if it’s hundreds of pounds and many hours of pain and suffering it’s less clever.  Even if you have the fitness and experience to race over the very long distances, only consider including ‘one’ of these races in your plan for each year.  A pro or semi pro may be able to do more, but if you need to read this advice you can’t. Be realistic about your goals but challenge yourself.

What’s an ‘A’ race

When you have decided on the events you really want to do these are your ‘A’ races.  They may be your qualification event, your Ironman, your National event, your club championships or a target for a personal best.  They are the races which are really important to you, where you want to go fast and enjoy the experience.  Where possible they should be spread evenly through your season, four weeks or more between each so you can properly recover and phase your training to maximise your performance.  You may only have one ‘A’ race in a season so all your training and other races will be intended to maximise your performance that day.  Once you have set these dates there may be other events you want to do with friends, as part of the club, or as specific preparation for your ‘A’ events.  Fit these around your ‘A’ events but be aware you may not be able to perform to your maximum if you are recovering or training hard for your most important event.  These events should really be considered as part of your training, if you do well it’s just a bonus.

Now you have decided

Once your season is planned out you need to make sure you submit your entries in good time.  Check web sites regularly for information about when entries will be accepted, if funds are limited focus on your ‘A’ races and take a risk with delaying the others.  Tell your husband/wife or partner about your plans so holidays, late parties, family celebrations and other domestic arrangements can avoid your key events.  You may also need to book leave from work if you work weekends or your event involves travel.  Book any accommodation you need in good time, the longer you leave it the more expensive and further from the start it will be.  With all these things in place and all the money spent you will also have a great incentive to train through the cold winter months. With your season planned so carefully and well in advance you can concentrate on staying fit, healthy and injury free.  To help this you build your training plan around your race calendar but that’s a whole new subject.