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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