Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Learn from my mistakes - the 2012 edition

As the end of year approaches, it’s time to do a ‘state of the nation’ assessment of what worked and what didn’t in coaching this year. 2012 was by and large a great year for my athletes, with more Kona Q’s, Ironman and 70.3 podiums and life best performances. But, as always, some athletes had a challenging season. Here’s a quick round up of some of the factors that led to a less satisfying season.
Note: The 2011 edition can be found here . http://alancouzens.blogspot.com/2011/09/learn-from-my-mistakes.html Happy to say we didn’t repeat these (with the possible exception of 1)

Multiple Peaks

Not so much a mistake, but yet again a confirmation that multiple peak years are at best, maintenance years for the majority of athletes. With 2 Ironman peaks, getting fitness back to the level of the first peak is a challenge. Exceeding this level is bordering on impossible for all but the fastest recovering athletes.
Racing 2 Ironmans too close together

Related to the above, an alternative strategy to multiple peaks is to try and hold one peak for 2 closely spaced Ironman races by going in a little undertapered for the first and a little overtapered for the second. While not necessarily a mistake in and of itself, this is a high risk strategy & a very tricky one to get right. We tried it this year with one very fast recovering athlete who had pulled off a great result on a 4 week gap before but we tried a 3 week gap this year and it didn’t work. The optimal seems to be 4-6 weeks but there is a lot of individual variation between athletes and for some it just isn’t a viable strategy.
Racing too early (esp for athletes with a winter)

Every year Kona qualification becomes a more and more competitive undertaking. Age group athletes are becoming more serious, more intelligent and, frankly, in most cases it takes nothing short of season best fitness just to get a slot(!) With Southern Hemisphere athletes becoming willing to travel for races and Northern Hemisphere athletes becoming more apt to plan a number of  ‘escape camps’ early season, it is becoming very tough for an athlete coming from a normal winter to qualify.
Lack of 'real' race practice (esp. Open Water swimming)

Another thing that I’m seeing; as the competition for slots increases, every leg has to be relatively strong. In a couple of instances this season, very fit athletes with decent pool speeds had a poor swim due to conditions, poor sighting or lack of shoulder to shoulder ‘argey-bargey’ experience and were unable to make up the difference. The top AG race is in general becoming more like the elite race and if your pack is missed the gap will often become insurmountable.
Too much life stress late season.

A corollary to the point on racing too early, athletes with a peak race late season need to be aware that in general life stress tends to increase as the year comes to a close. Athletes who have a successful late season race often have alternative ‘work seasons’, i.e. their busy work period is antipolar to their busy training period. When the 2 coincide, getting through unscathed (i.e. with target training load in tact and without getting sick) is VERY tough. Late season ‘escape’ camps, in this case escaping life rather than weather (!), are especially useful here.
Race efforts in training

An error a little too close to home here… My best performance this season came in training rather than a race. In an effort to attack my life best 2.5hr mark I was rested and ready to go. A little too rested and ready to go! With strong watts at 2.5hrs, I decided to push on for a 5hr best. It was a great ride, a ride that took me 2 weeks of lighter than planned training to come back from! I’m not alone here. I commonly see a few ‘spirited group rides’ with a higher than planned training load leading to a lower than planned race day fitness due to extended recovery. Note to self & others: Manage the training highs, exercise self discipline & save those efforts for the race.
Course/event selection. Some are significantly more competitive than others.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, qualifying is becoming VERY COMPETITIVE so competitive in fact that just being fit doesn’t cut it. You need to be fit & be selecting a race that offers advantage to someone of your morphology. I was amazed this year by one athlete in particular who was putting out incredibly strong training numbers & had a great race on a rolling course but still didn’t hit the qualifying standard. Move him to a flat race, even with a little less fitness & he dominated. Race selection matters!

Also a bit of research on relative competitiveness of the various races will show that not all are created equal. There are some very competitive races out there and some significantly less competitive races. In  the interests of ensuring that my athletes get the pick of the bunch, I’ll keep the details to myself but suffice to say, a little bit of research goes a long way.
Address muscle issues before they become problems

High volume endurance athletes are always at risk of overuse injury. Athletes over the age of 35 significantly more so. Inccreasing training before (or without) increasing ‘prehab’ strength and conditioning work is inviting trouble. Nothing sucks more than going through an entire season build, being in fantastic shape and then succumbing to the weak link of a dodgy tendon. Take care of ‘niggles’ before they become season-ending problems.

And the big one: “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades”.

I’m a bit of a hard ass when it comes to training load of my athletes coming in on plan. Athletes who deviate more than 10% from plan typically have a limited life span in the AC squad. Turns out, I might not be hard enough. The 10% rule of thumb works out well over the short term, but if athletes are chronically under the mark, the end of year gap between actual and planned is nothing short of a chasm. More on that here… http://alancouzens.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-double-whammy-of-missed-workouts.html
Similarly, athletes who are chronically a little over the mark on every session wind up carrying fatigue from block to block and, invariably, it catches up with them in the form of illness, injury or burnout before they’re due to taper for the race.
The lesson here is to be inherently aware of your natural tendencies (& those of your athletes). If you know that you typically overshoot the mark, be especially conscious of not ‘adding extra’ especially during the early season when volume is low and you’re feeling good. Similarly, if you’re someone who is typically under the mark, 2013 is the year to raise your standards and make a commitment to show up for every session. If attendance requirements are good enough for 10 year old swimmers…..
For those with a more variable schedule in which things tend to ‘crop up’, early morning sessions are the rule of the day & camps in which you have nothing to think about but train, eat, sleep have exponential advantage.
I don’t want you all to think that I’m a complete idiot who keeps making new mistakes every year so in my next post, I’ll share some of the smarter things we tried this year that did work J
Until then…
Train smart,
Spoiler Alert: In the list of things that DID work, early season camps are close to the top. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the folks you’re competing for a slot with are going to use their vacation time this way and have a significant head start on those who stay put for the winter.
Nicolas Theopold (9:04 age-grouper) and I will be hosting a small escape camp on the island of Mallorca from March 31-April 7. It’s reasonably priced and a great opportunity to learn from and put in some big miles witha great group of folks with a common passion for endurance sport. Details can be found here http://mallorcacamp.wordpress.com/  Don’t hesitate to drop me a line for any additional info – alan ‘at’ endurancecorner.com

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