Volume vs. Race Specificity
The closer you get to the day of your A-priority race the more like the race your training should become. This seems obvious but it’s easy to lose sight of the purpose of your training and focus your limited energy and time on stuff that is unimportant. The biggest mistake made by athletes before peaking is putting too much of their time and energy into training volume.
Other than changing the mode or sport of your workouts, there are only three elements of training you can modify to build fitness: workout duration (how long), workout intensity (how hard), and workout frequency (how often). The combination of duration and frequency is called volume – how many hours, miles, kilojoules, or kilometers you train in a given period of time, such as a week. Athletes tend to become very fixed on this volume number thinking that it reveals the most important aspect of their training and ultimately determines how fit they are. Some times they are right.
There is no doubt that volume contributes to fitness. Try training only one day a week and see what happens to your capacity for exercise. In fact, early in the training year, as in the Base period, volume is quite beneficial. Racking up a lot of whatever it is that you like to measure from the list above will do wonders for your fitness. But the closer you get to your most important events the less beneficial volume becomes. In fact, it can actually decrease your race performance.
In the last few weeks before your A-priority race, workout intensity and duration become the greatest determiners of how you will perform on race day. These need to take on the characteristics of the race itself. The days when you are not pushing the limits of intensity and duration you need to make easy. That essentially means cutting volume. Instead of riding two hours on a recovery day as you did in the Base period, you may now only ride for an hour - or even take the day off. Why? Because you need to be fresh and ready to push your limits of intensity and duration on the day of your next “breakthrough” workout.
By the late Build period at least one of your weekly workouts should take on the combined intensity and duration characteristics of your A race. You want the stress you experience in this workout to approach that which you will experience in the race. For most endurance-sport events, it’s unlikely that you will make this workout just as long and just as intense as the race. That’s likely to be far too demanding in terms of motivation and the number of days needed afterwards to recover before training hard again. But you can make it just as intense only shorter, or just as long only less intense. Intervals, repetitions and challenging workout segments can be included in workouts of different durations to simulate the stress of the race.
The bottom line is that you can’t have both volume and race specificity at the same time if you want to race well. Each requires too many resources. You can only have one or the other. In the Base period volume is very beneficial. But if you have an important race coming up in a few weeks, race specificity is the key to success.