One of the most important, but least understood, times in the season is the Peak period which usually starts two to three weeks before your race. If training goes well in this period you will enter the race in great shape. If you overdo it or rest too much then most of the work of building up to the race could be compromised.
There are two very common mistakes often made during this period. The first is training too hard in an attempt to gain that last little bit of fitness. What’s needed now is a mixture of rest and race paced training — with an emphasis on REST. Self-coached athletes tend to do too much hard work in the last few weeks since they don’t trust that what they’ve done so far is enough, whereas others may rest too much and don’t train hard enough because they’ve heard that rest produces greater fitness. This is not exactly true as rest helps the body rejuvenate but at the same time a little fitness can be lost.
There are three elements of physical preparation that you are trying to balance in the peak weeks before race day:
- Fatigue: Fatigue is a measure of how great your workload is in the last few days. If intensity and/or duration have been higher than normal for the last few days then fatigue is elevated. During the Peak period we’re not trying to gain fitness but rather reduce fatigue.
- Fitness: Fitness is what you’re gained from all the training leading into the peak period. Fitness occurs over long periods of time whereas fatigue occurs in short periods of time.
- Form: Form is also one of the key elements during the Peak period. This has to do with how well your rest is progressing. The more rested you are, the greater your form. You want to have high form (well rested with fatigue low), but must be careful that fitness is not lost rapidly due to too much rest. The trick is to gradually lower fatigue, maintain fitness at a relatively high level and steadily increase form. Then you are peaked and ready to race.
So how do you achieve this?
Starting two to three weeks before the race do a race-intensity workout which simulates your expected intensity for race day – not faster than this. You can schedule one of these workouts for every third or fourth day. This doesn’t always need to involve all three disciplines but should include a bike/run workout. These workouts gradually get shorter as you progress through the first week or two of the Peak period with the sessions starting at 2-4 hours and gradually reducing each week from there. A reduction in workout volume of 30-50% per week leading into the race should be fine. With the workouts getting shorter the weekly volume is also dropping which is want you want in order to remove excess fatigue. The intensity for these workouts should be at least “moderately hard.” Such intensity is the key to maintaining fitness. The two or three days between these race simulations are key to reducing fatigue and elevating form. They should be low intensity, low duration workouts that also get shorter as the Peak period progresses. So what you are doing is mixing the two key elements – intensity and rest – to produce race readiness at the right time.