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51 SPEEDSHOP: Season Planning

By: Mat Steinmetz

It's been a rough winter for a lot of the US, especially the East Coast. In Boulder, we just broke the February snowfall record with over 57 inches and more on the way.

This time of year can become stressful as you start to feel the pressure of the race season approaching. That early season race you signed up for seemed like a good idea at the time, but is now becoming a stressor.

I'd like those that are reading who are experiencing this feeling to take note when creating your 2016 race calendars!

As a coach, I need to create a system that enables athletes to utilize their current environments in an optimistic manner while working towards their athletic goals. Optimistic is a key word here.

While most of my clients have varying tolerance for indoor training, my goal is to not test my athlete's mental fortitude all winter long with frequent mind numbing 4 hr indoor rides. The only exception is...if you happened to sign up for an early season Ironman, then you better like riding indoors!


In this piece, I'm going to share how I plan my athlete's seasons so they can stay mentally fresh, build fitness, and maintain consistency.

Throughout the year, I tend to keep a standard week or block rolling. I then manipulate training intensity and duration within the various blocks depending on where I’m placing the focus for the athlete. The timing and duration of these phases (below) depend on several factors, such as, race calendar, climate, triathlon experience, fitness level, injury, race goals, etc.

Phase 1: Tune-Up

Preparing the body to train - skipping this phase is one of the biggest early season mistakes an athlete can make.

This phase is about getting out the door with limited structure. Exercise as if you were a "normal" person for a while. This phase is about preparing the chassis for regular training...a tune-up per-say.

This phase is not genius and often boring for both the athlete and coach, but is an essential step to moving forward. Taking a long inactive off-season or skipping through this phase will increase your likelihood for setbacks.

Phase 2: The Engine

Most athletes are currently in this phase. Due to climate and lack of daylight, logging outdoor miles isn't an option, so I tend to focus on quality sessions in the pool and on the turbo.

Swimming: For most, swimming stays the same throughout the year. Depending on the athlete's schedule, I aim for at least 3 sessions/week.

1. Strength/endurance (paddles)

2. Short and fast (25s-50s on ample rest)

3. HR sessions w/ short rest (100-500 meters).

Bike: I keep the sessions short (typically 60 minutes, with the longer sessions approaching 2 hrs. The focus of these sessions are strength via big gear work (55-65 rpm) and short fartlek type intervals ranging from steady to threshold. I'll throw some VO2 reps in there on occasion as well, but don't want every session to be "grip it and rip it".

Run: Since run durability is the biggest limiter for most age group athletes, I like to focus on “time on the legs” via run frequency while slowly building run volume. I will still include short efforts from 30 sec to 3 minutes depending on an athletes resilience to injury.

*During this step, athletes are given the power to ignore the plan and work on their bike endurance if they happen to get a nice weekend.

Phase 3: Endurance

This is what you'd classify as base training. At this time, the weather is usually starting to break and there is more daylight allowing athletes to get outside to log consistent miles on the bike. The focus is building aerobic bike and run volume.

Phase 4: Race Prep

In this phase, the training is to prepare you to meet the demands of race day. Phases 1-3 are still represented, but the goal is race specific fitness development. I’ll use this time to dial in pacing and practice other race-day variables through simulation workouts.

Athletes may find themselves in the race prep phase for a few cycles. Say you're racing a late season IM but are racing 3x 70.3 distance events in June, July, Aug.

You will go through your first race prep cyce...race, recover, repeat. You may end up being in this phase for 3-4 months while your fitness continues to build as you layer each cycle.

*The key to building fitness in this phase is to space your races out. If you clump them together, you'll eventually lose fitness as you're only able to race and recover...not train.

Throughout the year, these 4 phases can be revisited. For example, after your first racing phase, you may take a break and start back up in phase 1. Once you've got the body moving again, you'd jump to phase 3 for a bit before entering your final Ironman race prep.


In closing, don't let triathlon add to the stress of your life...choose your race calendar wisely. Doing so will allow you to phase your year in a manner that works with your current climate, training motivation, and lifestyle.


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