Everything about the fall reminds us of winding down the year, finishing the season and harvesting the fruits of our labor. Clichés aside, for most endurance athletes the fall is the season which includes championship events, series finales and/or ideal conditions for personal best performances. At this point in the year athletes have put in many miles and hours training and racing, reaching goals and meeting new challenges. Fall is the opportunity to combine all the success and experience to reach a higher level of performance for the year and possibly career in a particular sport. I focus on three areas covering the physical, mental, and details more in the fall than the rest of the year to insure my athletes are successful.
Endurance training by definition is stressing the body and allowing it to recover to be stressed again at a higher level. This repeated cycle of stress and recovery improves endurance, strength and speed progressively throughout the season. At no point in the year is recovery more important than in the fall. I emphasize with athletes the importance of recovery throughout the year, but I schedule more recovery into their training plan during the fall because of the accumulated fatigue during the season.
Throughout the repeated cycles of stress, recovery and racing the body needs longer to recovery, and the efforts are now at higher intensities due to increased performance resulting from successful training. It’s a vicious cycle of more intense training requiring more recovery, resulting better performance, requiring even more recovery. When fall arrives it’s time to capitalize on all that work. I simply explain it as the “hay is in the barn”, in other words the work is done and now it’s time to rest and prepare the body for its maximum performance of the season.
Some athletes continue the drive to train harder and farther to improve results through the fall fearful that backing off will negatively impact fitness, maybe still improving but not reaching the peak performance they would have utilizing more recovery. These situations are what make the coaching role so important to athletes at any level of competition.
In addition to physical fatigue athletes must acknowledge the mental fatigue that accumulates during the season which commonly results in “burnout” or mediocre performances. My tip for addressing this issue is focusing on the positive accomplishments and strengths displayed in training and racing previously that year. The fall is not the time to be critically analyzing racing and training strategies to change directions, because their adjustment at this point will cause disruption and further frustration.
I proactively address those concerns by scheduling time in their training plan during the offseason to address areas of improvement or discuss new directions in training. It is more productive to make gradual changes and provide adequate time to gain confidence in the new approach during base and early training periods versus the performance time of the year. A common mistake I see is a coaching change or change of training theory late in the season because a goal has not been met, or a specific competitor or challenge has not been overcome. At this point the athlete is looking for the quick fix, which rarely accomplishes the desired goal.
The final piece I focus on during the fall is addressing the seemingly minor details that can have a major impact on performance. This includes equipment, skill repetition, or scheduling. Spend some time checking the wear on shoes, tires and other vital equipment that experience wear during the season, and whose failure can hinder performance. On the bike, athletes should always have wear prone items like tires and cables checked and replaced as needed. This does not include significant changes in vital equipment. Always be careful not to make bike setup changes that should be reserved for earlier in the season, most times this will result in short term performance loss versus a desired gain. As an athlete, I always secured enough spare racing shoes to complete the season so I didn’t have to adapt to a new feel for big races in the fall.
A second detail that athletes should focus on is skill exercises that tend to fall into the background once the racing season begins. For triathletes, I suggest added focus on transitions, more to eliminate bad habits picked up during the year or to gain those few seconds which could make the difference in races where every athlete is well trained and competing at a high performance level.
There are many reasons to follow these tips for posting great fall results; such as the opportunity to finally hit a goal time, to finish well at a championships, or maybe just to end the season with a strong performance. Keeping in mind physical needs, mental preparation and the small things that influence results will make the hard work put in during the rest of year pay off.