As an amateur athlete, you have many choices on how to train. You can plan on-the-go and hope to have great races when the time comes, or you can follow an organized training plan building up to your peak event. You can hope to reach your goals, or you can plan how you are going to achieve those goals. But in reality, we all know which one gives you the greatest chance for success.
The difference between these two training methods is not the amount of work or how motivated an athlete is. The difference is in the pre-planning, so that your chances of hitting your peak form on the week of your big event are the greatest, then in working smarter rather than harder. Without a coach, planning your own training plan for an entire season can definitely be overwhelming. Here are some guidelines to help you on your way:
1) Realistic Goal Setting: What do you want to do this season? Be specific with the races and what you want to accomplish at each stage. "Get fit" or "win at every race this season" is not a concrete, time-specific goal. "Win the Subway Pensacola Cycling Classic on September 20th" is agreat example of a goal. Your goal should be both challenging and realistic. The goal must be one about which you are passionate. Once you have your goals, you now have a focus for your training. Spend the most time and thought on this step as it establishes the base for everything else.
2) Pick Races: Which races you choose will provide the outline for your training.The majority of your training plan should reflect the specific demands of your chosen goal event. Endurance events will emphasize aerobic fitness and tactical preparation. Short, fast events will require a larger volume of anaerobic, speed training.
3) Calendarize: Using a calendar or a training software such as Training Peaks, mark down your A-race. Count back from that date to figure out how many weeks you have available to train.Depending on your A-race distance and race type, determine the length of time you need to prepare sufficiently. Mark on the calendar all other information you have about your schedule between now and race day, such as days or weeks you cannot train and lower priority events.
4) Periodize: Divide the weeks you have available to train into focused periods. The best way to do this is to work backwards from your A-priority race day. Label the week of your A-priority race "race week." Label the one to two weeks prior to that "peak week." Continue working backwards on the calendar and divide the rest of your time up into blocks of 4 week periods. Ideally you will end up with about 4, 4 week periods, a couple of peak weeks and a race week. Now you have a basic overview of your season.
5) Recovery Weeks: Every 4-week period should end with a rest and recovery week. The workouts should be light and short in your recovery week. Training volume should be about half of regular training weeks. Rest and recovery are absolutely critical in your plan.
6) Daily Workouts: Now you’re getting down to the important details about the training you will be doing on a daily basis. Start designing your training week by scheduling two to three key workouts for the week and then fill in the less important sessions as time allows. This is the most complicated part of the program where paying for some good coaching advice will pay big dividends.
7) Follow the Plan: The best plan in the world has a zero success rate without a dedicated athlete to follow it. Stick to your plan and you’ll get the results you desire. Be patient. You don’t need to be flying when everyone else is. Chances are that they’ll burn out by the time you start to peak.
8) Keep A Training Log: Check back on your actual training to make sure you are following your plan. Be accountable to it. Doing this will force you to see how many workouts you miss, and how far off the mark you are to the original plan. Keep watching the data to make sure it is heading in the direction you planned.
Keep in mind, training is NOT something that needs to control your life. Training randomly and doing what you are in the mood can certainly be enjoyable. There is no problem with setting aside specific times of the year for this. Also, if daily enjoyment is your goal, then riding based on your mood may be the right plan for you. However, if you are goal-oriented and would rather strive to do well during a few parts of the season, then I highly recommend you start planning ahead of time and take the time to create a training plan.