Thursday, October 15, 2009

Peak Performance Predictors

Is it possible to predict with a high degree of confidence how you’ll do in your most important race every season? I believe it is. Of course, without a crystal ball you’re never going to be able to predict with 100% confidence, but I think it’s possible to get a strong sense of how well you will do. There are three predictors I’ve found that hold the secret to how you are likely to do in the big race. Assuming you have the physiological potential to achieve a realistic but challenging goal, here are the three questions to ask to predict your success.

#1. How did your training go in the 12 weeks leading up to the race? By this I mean how consistently you trained in the final, critical 84 days. During this period you must avoid gaps in training for any reason including the most common ones: unusual commitments (your spouse and boss will love this one), injury, burnout, illness, and overtraining. Any of these will put your chances of success well below 50-50. It’s not great workouts during these 84 days that do the trick; it’s consistent training. You simply can’t miss workouts. Ever. The trick is moderation and the wise expenditure of energy. You must be smart enough to keep from digging a deep hole of fatigue. Yet at the same time your training needs to increasingly simulate the race in some way one to three times each week. It’s a balancing act and difficult to get right. But if you pull it off your chances of success in the race are greatly enhanced.

I’ll give you a good example of this. An Ironman triathlete I coached this year became sick 87 days before his Hawaii qualifying race. The illness lasted for about 10 days and then there was a period of about a week in which he transitioned back into normal training again. Altogether, about 17 days of focused training was lost. By the time he was back to normal again there were 70 days until the race. We were unable to make up that lost time and he failed to qualify.

So then we aimed for a second qualifier 10 weeks later. We allowed for seven days to partially recover from the first Ironman race and gradually began to work our way back to normal training during the following seven days. Now there were eight weeks left. However, two of those weeks would be tapering and peaking. So actually we had six weeks to train. We were unsuccessful a second time. He certainly had what it takes to qualify and had done so before. Basically, and entire season was lost because of a 10-day illness during the critical 84 days.

#2. How well do the course and conditions match your strengths? For an example of this predictor see my recent blog about this year’s Hawaii Ironman. You may not have control over this predictor since some events, such as championships, are tied to given courses. You must then train to do as well as you can on that course by improving your limiters and taking advantage of your strengths whenever possible. But if you have the option to choose a course, be sure to pick one that matches your abilities. Considerations would be length, hills, turns, terrain surface conditions, altitude, and weather - especially rain, snow, heat, humidity and wind.

Your other condition concern is competition. You have no control over who shows up in your category, but with some research and past experience you can probably make an educated guess about who is likely to be there. In some events, especially road bike races, your outcome is very sensitive to the strategies and tactics of the other competitors. Knowing who they are and how they generally race may help you make a decision about which race to select. If the competition is time trial-based, such as a triathlon or running race, then knowing who is likely to be there and how well they race are critical pieces in the prediction.

If the course and conditions don’t suit your strengths then your chances of success are again less than 50-50.

#3. How much do you want it? A peak race performance will take you to your limits. In other words, it will hurt. Are you willing and able to suffer to achieve your goal? Hard races have a way of showing that of which we are made. When the time comes to take it to the limit do you have what it takes to hang on or do you often crack? I know this all sounds very macho, and maybe it is. But that’s a big part of what competition is about. It takes great motivation to continue when your muscles are screaming at you to stop. Some people seem to be very good at this. It may be as much a physical ability as a mental one. Some may simply be better suited physically to tolerate pain. Then again, it may be something that their lives have prepared them to handle. Do you tolerate pain well and are you highly motivated to succeed? Then your chances are good.

Before your biggest race of the season ask yourself the three questions above. If all answers are positive predictors then your chance of achieving your race goal is very high. I’d be willing to place a bet on you in Las Vegas in that case. Even better, think ahead in order to control as many of the variables as you can by planning and preparing for each of them long before the event. Now is the time to start this process for next season.

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At October 15, 2009 10:48 PM , Anonymous christian said...

GREAT blog today. This will give me food for thought for the next 8 months. Oh-I'm one month into the Paleo Diet-Just finished the book too. THANK YOU!!!!

At October 16, 2009 5:30 AM , Blogger Marcus said...

This reminds me of Lance and the Tour de France this year. He breaks his collarbone in April and places 3rd in July. Still not bad, but not the usual domination. I know age may have been a factor as well as the ability of Contador, but Lance just didn't "have it." Next year will be interesting!

At October 16, 2009 8:39 AM , Anonymous cathy said...

Another great post! Helps me understand my season a little better. I was off-the-bike with strep for 10 days about 2 weeks before the first of three ultras in four weeks. Didn't do too badly in the second two, but not great in my opinion, given the training I put in last year. The first event was also a terrible course for me.

At October 16, 2009 1:48 PM , Blogger Joe said...


The more I read about mapping out a training plan it becomes more and more evident that there are macro cycles and micro cycles. That is, large blocks of training that can be divided up into smaller blocks, all building up to a race. The one thing that stands out, as you illustrated in this post, is that there is little room for budging (i.e. 10 days threw off an entire season). I am a graduate student in the sciences so saying that I'll be able to train consistently for 12 weeks is a major stretch. Is there a way to plan your training, with significant room for adjustment, and still reap the benefits of timing your peak? I've found as long as I can fit in two workouts (most weeks) per discipline (one endurance based, and one interval/speed based), then I can maintain fitness and be ready to race when the time comes. I can see improvements in fitness as the season progresses and as long as I work in some rest time every few weeks, or accept that busy days in the lab will keep me from getting in a run or a swim, it seems to work out. Is this enough? Or should we really be spending more time focusing on timing these macro and micro cycles to line up with your A races? The biggest frustration I've had with a master plan for the season is that when it doesn't work out, my mental training suffers more than my physical training (which is almost as bad, if not worse). Thanks for a great blog.

Joe S.

At October 16, 2009 2:45 PM , Blogger Eric Chavez said...

Great advice in this post Joel.

I came down with the flu on Wednesday.
I did the workouts on that day, but was unable to do Thursday's workout because I was having a significant amount of trouble breathing with constant coughing. Today I feel somewhat better and am going to try and resume with today's workouts. Just 5 weeks out from IMAZ. Tomorrow is a IM test, 1 hour swim, 5 hour bike and 2.5 hour run.
I have been doing very well with consistency up until this point with on the Ironman power based training program and the 16 base program prior this.

Great timing for this post!!
Thanks for the Advice -


At October 19, 2009 3:42 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Joe Do you have any advice on how to handle traveling to an event in the last week of training. This offer involves a day and a half in the car traveling 1000klms. We brake the journey to about 600-700 the first day (missing a ride) and complete the trip the next day arriving about lunch time giving enough time for a look at the course and an easy ride. The racing starts the following day. Must say that this has certainly not worked for me on the last two events. Look forward to your experience of a travel routine.

Cheers David

At October 19, 2009 4:47 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi David--A great question and one that many athletes face. The real crux of the issue is how many restrictions you have on your time and money. Flying is expensive (not that gas isn't) but can save you a lot of time allowing you to arrive fresher. If that doesn't work the next solution is to spread the drive over several days so you can get in a workout each day and not be cooped up in a car so much. The third best option is to leave on the trip sooner so you get there with at least one day of relaxing. If that won't work out then you're back to where you are now. Your only option then may be to syop frequently and stretch or even do a brief workout. But if you're like me you want to get the drive over with quickly. It simply comes down to your resources--time and money as with almost everything else in life, it seems.

At October 21, 2009 3:28 AM , Blogger Marcos Apene do Amaral-TriPhiloSophia said...

How to understand all of this as a triathlete facing an injury that made me stop running for two weeks and forced myself to slowly build my way back to training and not even close to my best fitness level? What kind of training should I use as race approaches and I am only running easy miles at an easy pace?

At October 21, 2009 9:04 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Marcos--Unfortunately, there's not much you can do about training time lost due to injury. Your training has to be what your body currently allows. You can't force it to get into race shape immediately. This usually means you'll need to downgrade your goals for that race. Good luck.

At November 2, 2009 4:41 PM , Blogger Marshall said...

With this in mind, would you suggest adjusting the CTL constant in the WKO+ Performance Management Chart to 84 instead of 42?

At November 2, 2009 6:01 PM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

marshall--No, I don't trhink I would. Changes in fitness, which is what CTL represents, appear a lot sooner than 84 days.


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