Let’s be specific.

If your training isn’t specific to your goal event, you are missing out on some serious progression and development…

I’ve lost count of how many times athletes told me they are disappointed with race performances, times and results. Okay… athletes are commonly hard on themselves – I was no exception when I was racing. What does strike me a lot of the time is that the athletes have misguided views on how their races will pan out – they are not adapting their race plan based upon current ability. Even for a ‘B’ race leading up to a key triathlon, people come away from – let’s say a half marathon – thoroughly confused as to how they didn’t knock 10 minutes off their PB, or go sub 2-hours for the first time. 

Here is a simple checklist approach to a key race:

1. Set the goal
2. Carry out testing to ascertain ability
3. Set about completing a training programme based upon the above
4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the key race is close
5. Set a race plan based upon current ability
6. Execute the plan

Steps 5 and 6 can deviate at any given time based upon departures from the training programme such as illness, work commitments, lack in motivation etc. The nub of the issue is that your race plan should match closely your current ability. For example, you may have been running quite consistently since your last half marathon, where you ran a 2h15. You get it into your head that a sub 2-hour goal is reasonable… however, none of your recent time trials or intervals are even close to 5:40/km. In this regard, your goal is simply not realistic and you will likely fail. (In this example, your time trial would sensibly be half the race distance).

If you trained SPECIFICALLY to run 5:40 pace for 21.1km… probably by running numerous 10 minute intervals at the weekends with limited rest, you are much more likely to achieve the goal. Diverting briefly, if you are a triathlete aiming at a half ironman, the half marathon should be your ‘B’ or ‘C’ race with the aim ONLY to be practicing your triathlon run race pace NOT to hit a half marathon PB – this is likely to give you a misguided view of your ‘A’ race expectations because you didn’t just ride 90km.

I digress.

The topic of specificity is one that tops my list of priorities when I write training programmes. As I have written not long ago, if we commit 6 months of training for a key race, the first half of the programme should aim to build base endurance fitness i.e. to be fit for purpose. The purpose being to training the body to burn fat and become very good at being on the feet or on the bike for extended periods of time. The second half of the programme MUST focus on specificity i.e. the workouts should replicate the needs of the race as closely as possible. 

So often I hear of athletes being completely off track because they are searching for “speed” or “strength” for the entire pre-season then wonder why their goals are rarely achieved. Conducting every session at high intensity for months on end because you want to be faster is the wrong approach. In fact, it is counter-intuitive and will be detrimental to both your adaptation and your body will rarely recover. 

If your ‘A’ race is a triathlon which requires you to be out on the course for 3 hours or more, you must conduct workouts which prepare you for this and this alone. Let’s take an Olympic [Standard] Distance triathlon with an aim of 3 hours completion time…

Even for this amount of time, the whole race should generally ask for a Zone 3 effort or ideally Zone 4. In addition, your workouts should specifically prepare you for riding a bicycle and running for long periods. Current sports science tells us that interval training for sports such as ours is the best route to success, so spending time at these intensities for long intervals with short periods of rest will yield the best results. In addition – and harping back to my previous posts – if the ride is expected to take 2h30 then total time for ride workouts at least once a week should exceed this time by around 30 minutes.

The above approach can be applied to each of the three disciplines. What will hamper your progress is being confused as to what specificity is for your given event. For example, if you regularly miss your long run and instead carry out a 5km much faster than you intend to race the 10km after swimming and riding, you are not being specific. A 45-minute high intensity spin class will best prepare you for more 45-minute spin classes, and probably criterium bike races, but NOT for riding 40km at your race pace after a swim, while saving enough biccies for a run. Likewise, something like crossfit which asks the body to adapt to pushing, lifting and carrying heavy objects (i.e. it will build large muscle) is entirely at odds with endurance sports where the body must become used to carrying its own weight for long periods of time…. which most likely means it will trim down.



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