What sort of year do I want ?

Please read the disclaimer.

In looking ahead to how you are going to plan a year’s training, there are generally three distinct alternatives to choose from :

  1.  An Unfocussed Year
  2. A ‘Periodised’ Year with one or more Competitive Periods
  3. A ‘Periodised’ Year with one or more Target Races

In an Unfocussed Year, it’s not as if there are no objectives (though there may not be any), it’s more that there is no particular race in which you really want to do well, no period of the year in which you want to be able to be performing at your peak. This is not necessarily a lazy or inferior way of planning the year : there are times when this is the correct approach for even the most ambitious athlete to take. You will maintain a steady, or steadily increasing level of training throughout, including distance, technical and tempo sessions, and adding other types of training for variety and interest but without any particular plan.

In a ‘Periodised’ Year, you will be aiming to reach top performance once or twice in the year, or possibly even more – either for a particular race (anything from a County Championship to a World Championship might be your focus) or for a particular period (for example, the major senior international races are concentrated in the spring and in the autumn; national championships are often clustered together in the autumn). The training you do will vary through the period, so as to be able to bring you to a peak of fitness at the right time, without requiring you to maintain a high level of hard training for so long that you risk injury, and to ensure that at the point when you do the hardest training, everything is in place so that you get the best benefit from it.

If you finish with a Competitive Period, then after your hardest training you go into a period of racing, plus training designed to keep you able to manage a series of races at top form. If you finish with a Target Race, your training will finish off with a managed taper so that on the day you do the best you possibly can.

So, how do you choose which you want ?

You want an Unfocussed Year if

  • you are in your first few years of race walking, and your natural progression is resulting in you being able to go faster and faster for longer and longer. If this is where you are, then it’s best not to interrupt the natural progression (though you can still aim to do your best in particular races).
  • you are coming back from a major injury or major surgery
  • there are other things going on in your life (exams? starting a new job? licking your house into shape? having a baby?) that you want to focus on
  • you are working to a multi-year competitive cycle (Olympics of course? or in Masters, focussing on when you go into a new age group, or when the major championships are held on the right continent?) and there is no major focus this year
  • if you need a psychological break from intense competition
  • if you want to treat the sport more sociably, perhaps aiming to do a variety of races, or focussing on a year-round competition such as the Enfield League

You want a Periodised Year if :

  • after a few years of training, you have found that your performances have started to ‘plateau’ (or even to drop off, as this may be a sign of training too hard)
  • you want to make a top priority of doing well in any one particular event or one particular race, and are prepared to dedicate months of training towards achieving that goal
  • you want to achieve a new PB over a particular distance, and have more than one target race in which you might do that
  • you want to focus on a particular League series that takes place at one time of year, e.g. a track and field league or even one of the Winter Leagues

Then, if you have decided you want a Periodised Year, you decide how many focuses there are, and what they are. There may be one, two or even three focuses in the year. One might be a Competitive Period, another may be a Target Race. The more there are, obviously, the shorter will be the time period for preparing for each, and it will have to be borne in mind that this may mean that you cannot go through all the ideal phases for each period of training. Sometimes this will be unavoidable and may even be planned for (for example, an athlete may have to peak to qualify for a major event, and then do the major event itself just a couple of months later.) Your choice may be dictated by the major championship events that you want to compete in. But sometimes, reviewing all the different ways in which you need to improve over the year, may lead you to deciding that you can’t realistically have more than one focus.

You probably want one focus if :

  • you have to make major changes to your technique
  • you have an injury or surgery to recover from, and you want to avoid any temptation to push the recovery faster than it needs to be
  • you need a big adjustment in your BMI, either way (either in the gym or in the salad bar), your strength or your flexibility
  • you are making a big step up in your competitive distances
  • there’s only one major event that interests you

You probably want two focuses if :

  • there are two events or two competitive periods that interest you
  • you are already a well-conditioned and competent athlete any you don’t need to make any major changes or major improvements

You probably want three focuses

  • very rarely
  • if you are well-conditioned and competent and you can afford some very short blocks of training
  • if, for example, one of your yearly focuses will require you to meet a challenging qualifying standard, or there’s some other very good reason

Thinking about these things should then give you an outline plan for your year’s objectives. Then, you can go on to think about what sort of training you should be doing . . .

Did you read the disclaimer?


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