5 Questions About Your Cycling Base Period
As the weather warms up and you start moving from the treadmill and trainer to the trail and road, your thoughts are likely turning to your racing calendar. Actually, you’ve probably already got your first few early season races under your belt. But did you really do all your “homework” in the base period to set yourself up for success? Take our pop quiz and find out. Here are five questions that all athletes should be able to answer by this point.
Q1. Which events are your “A” races and which are your “B” races?
You likely have a calendar of races set up by April, but is it prioritized? Prioritizing your schedule is one of the first things that should be done when planning your season. “A” priority races are the ones you want to peak for and be at your best. “B” races are events that will help you prepare for your A race or are events you want to do more for the fun of it.
This is a task that can get complicated if you let it. In a perfect world, your A races are well spaced out through the season. Realistically, you can only have two to three A races per season. The shorter the distance of your A events the more you can have, but you still need to beware of over-racing.
With your A races set, you can find B priority races that will prepare you for the A race. There are several questions regarding B races. When should they be, how many and how to train for them are the most common. In a perfect world these B events are the right distance and timeframe away from your A race and don’t require travel. While it is impossible to set concrete rules regarding A and B races, there are guidelines. The longer in distance the A race, the farther out on the calendar the B race should be. If it is a long event like an Ironman, it is better to have two or more B races. It would also be good to start with shorter distances and work your way to longer events. Running a 5k two weeks before an Ironman won’t hurt, but it isn’t the best race prep either. In the real world, you will have to make some decisions.
Q2. How much are you traveling and how will you train through your travels?
In this process, consider your summer travel schedule. Family vacations or work travel can have a huge effect on your training and racing. There are obvious scenarios to avoid, like traveling just before your A race. Even if you are not travelling just prior to a race, you want to consider how it will affect your training. A two-week vacation during your build phase is less than ideal - unless of course you can fit your training into the vacation. Running is the easiest to work around, with cycling and swimming being harder to accommodate. Your ability to train while traveling will depend greatly on where you are going, what you plan on doing and the facilities available, like a pool or gym with a stationary bike. Research facilities ahead of time and have a plan for when you will get your workouts in. Minimize the interruption of travel as much as possible.
Q3. Should I race my B events, or should I train through them?
Once the B events are scheduled you can turn your attention to the training. While they may only be a B priority event, it can be hard to go into an event less than 100 percent. Hopefully your B races line up well with the A races. If so, your training should be progressive and you can train hard for the B race while still preparing for the A race. As a general rule, if the B event closely mirrors the A event, race it, if not, train through it.
Remember, just because you make a race a B event, that doesn’t mean you don’t take it seriously. It is only your preparation for that event that is not optimal. B events are great for determining where your fitness is, working on nutrition strategies and choosing equipment. B events are also a great way to work on a specific weakness or aspect of the A race. For instance, if you are not a good hill runner, or your A marathon is on a hilly course, find a hilly 10k or half marathon, focus on hill training, then use the B event to gauge your improvement. B events are the stepping stones that prepare you for the big A day.
Q4. When are you starting your race-specific build?
With the A race in mind, you should know when exactly your training is going to become more race specific. By “race specific” we mean training at the goal heart rate/pace/power you want to achieve in the race, and training on a course similar to the race. After all, if you don’t train at race intensity you can’t expect to race there.
In general, an 8 to 10 week block of race specific training is good for long events, and 6 to 8 weeks is ok for shorter ones. This is where a properly placed B race can be a great advantage. Having a half marathon that you will run at a faster pace than your goal marathon pace 8 weeks later, is a great race specific workout. Keep in mind that for an A race, your build phase should end 2 to 3 weeks prior to the event to allow for a taper period. There is little you can do training-wise to improve your fitness in the last 2 to 3 weeks (simply not enough time for the body to fully adapt), but doing too much can have a negative impact by putting too much fatigue on the body.
Having a coach is the best way to ensure that you get your race specific build right (and in fact your whole season), but if you want to follow training plan instead there are many options. Plans will vary depending on the event, your goals and experience. You want to find a plan that strongly mirrors your own commitment level and available time. Once you have decided on your plan, stick with it and don’t second guess three weeks into the plan. Like any plan in life, you need to allow for enough time to see the true fruits of your labor.
Q5. What are your current threshold and zones?
Threshold is a very important element to your training. It is a zone that you should train in, and it also sets your other zones, like aerobic capacity and recovery. Threshold is the effort you can steadily maintain for one hour. It is a powerful predictor of fitness and can be used for pacing in all sports and distances. You can monitor your threshold via heart rate, pace or power depending on your sport and the device you have.
Hopefully you already know your threshold pace, power and/or HR, but if not you can determine it with a simple field test. With this determined, your other training zones will be properly set so that you can do structure zone training and proper periodization. Here’s the key though - as you do more work at threshold, especially during your race specific phase, this value changes. For instance, you may start with a run threshold heart rate of 160, then six weeks later after some training at threshold, it may increase to 170. This would also change your other training zones. That’s why we recently created the Threshold Improvement Notification Option to help you stay on top of your threshold value. (Read more about why you would want to make sure you have this feature turned on at this point in the season)
So, how did you score? Can you answer the above questions with certainty? If not, now is the time to get on it and play some catch up! If you can finalize your plan and set your preparation in stone within the next couple weeks, you will be on the right track throughout the year.