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Training to Train

BY Mike Ricci

Winter in the northern hemisphere is usually considered off-season—but it can also be the foundation to a successful race season!

Coaching a multitude of athletes over a long time frame allows coaches to view training from a wider perspective than a single athlete might see. With this perspective comes an opportunity to share the patterns that we see annually, and how they play out in terms of improvement and performance. 

One major learning for me is the concept of “training in order to train.”  This concept has become a successful theme in the annual training plan that I map out with each athlete I coach—and it’s critical in helping stave off injury, achieve race breakthroughs and continually improve across seasons. In fact, I believe that “Training to Train” may very well be the most important phrase you come to know as an athlete. As we head into prime “Training to Train” season, why not have your most productive winter yet?

Avoid Derailing Your Training

Post-race, you may hear some athletes grumble that they missed a key workout or they could have used more speed work or maybe they had an injury they couldn’t shake during the build-up. All these failings are most likely true and have credence, but the time before the race-specific period (the “Train to Train” period) is really what determines how well that race-specific training turns out. 

Was fatigue the reason the athlete missed key workouts during the race-specific period? Was the injury caused by an immobility issue that could have been addressed many more months beforehand? A more focused winter season can address these challenges before they ever derail an athlete’s training. 

Set Realistic Goals

Training to train also helps you get a realistic handle on your goals. We have all seen the example of an athlete who wants to run a certain time for their 10k off the bike, even though that time goal may far exceed what their current fitness allows. Typically the athlete will then train based on that too-fast-for-them 10k pace, and days later, they feel a little injury coming on or they wonder why they are so tired and beat up. 

If they had a longer runway (so to speak) and had worked on building up endurance and speed during the Train-to-Train period, they would most likely have a better handle on what they can accomplish. And, they could go about it without pushing toward unrealistic goals, in an unrealistic time frame.

How to Get Started

Simply put, the “Training to Train” period (which may begin as many as 20 weeks ahead of the race-specific period) is the foundation to a great race season. Maybe you need to work on your swim, or build up your FTP on the bike. Or, maybe you need to increase run frequency to build a strong aerobic base. Building specific strength in the weight room, understanding mobility issues and how to improve them, and building an aerobic base that allows the athlete to maximize the training time during the race-specific period is what’s important during this time frame—whatever you need to work on, this is the time to do it. 

These action steps are something you can do right now to set you up for your “Training to Train” phase: 

  • Identify your 2021 races and mark them on your calendar (even if you haven’t signed up)
  • Set goals and objectives for those race
  • Count back 20-24 weeks from the first race.  Mark that as the beginning of your race-specific training.
  • Then, count back another 20 weeks and mark that on your calendar as the beginning of your Train-to-Train phase.
  • Now, write out 3-5 training objectives you know you can improve (see examples above)
  • You will use these training objectives during your Train-to-Train phase.
  • D3 and Training Peaks are here to help. (Check out our specific Training Plans to keep yourself on track!)

In the world of endurance sports, success is built upon years of dedication and consistency. Rarely do you see an overnight sensation. Taking a good hard look at what you’ve done in the past and assessing whether it’s worked for you, is the first step. If you think you have more to achieve, then take a step back and think about where you want to be once your A-race rolls around next season. There’s plenty of time to do the work, and knowing you have a strong foundation will give you confidence in the rest of your season. 

Seize this time, it’s yours to leverage.  Approach 2021 with a new mindset and confidence—this is your year for breakthroughs!

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About Mike Ricci

Mike Ricci, USAT Coach of the Year, USAT Level 3 Elite Coach and a Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach.  He is the owner and founder of the D3 Multisport coaching group, through which he coaches all levels of athletes from beginner to elite. One of their key coaching philosophies is no junk miles.  They help athletes utilize their time effectively as they pursue their goals.  Mike’s credentials include the University of Colorado Triathlon Team and guiding them as the Head Coach to four consecutive collegiate National Championship titles from 2010-2013. Mike has written training plans for Team USA several times, was the USAT World Team Coach in 2017, and has helped many athletes to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona. You + D3 = Success (Learn More!).

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