Training Performance and Progression

Triathlon training takes a lot of hard hours so naturally we want results. Missing targets is a huge disappointment, what happened? A training review follows in an attempt to identify where we’ve gone wrong. If we’re not performing to expectations then training isn’t delivering. Insufficient work is almost always the prime suspect; we’re slacking, we’re not pushing hard enough.

Most of the athletes I encounter do work hard enough. They’re not lacking for effort, but their expectations are skewed. A few recent twitter conversations highlighted this. High expectations for key sessions without factoring in the impact of fatigue and stress. Performance is the result of many factors not just our fitness. When I coach swimming early on a Friday I know it’s not a day to aim for results.

For races we taper to lose fatigue and reduce stress, but key training sessions lack that luxury. The impact of our daily activities can be significant. I want to hit my targets well in key workouts, sometimes it doesn’t happen. I have the flexibility to ease back and try again another day; if I can’t hit threshold on Monday, I’ll do the session on Tuesday. When I’m tired or stressed I don’t perform, extra recovery helps.

An individual session doesn’t matter, it’s the overall trend I look at. Is my performance improving over time? Is it becoming easier or am I able to work harder? I started the year with low fitness and performance. I’ve admitted I was lazy over winter; it wasn’t until the third week of January I rode my bike in earnest. A lot of kilometres have been covered since then resulting in gradual improvements. After four months I feel I’m back in my former shape.

Trend in 20 minute Peak Power with TSS for 2011 Training

So far this year training stress (TSS) has increased in consistency and volume; I’m working more on the bike now. Increasing work is part of the process, but I expect to see signs performance is improving. Taking twenty minute peak power for every ride gives me a way to consider how my cycling is changing. As the blue dots show it’s variable and even now I record low values on some rides. As a metric it’s dependent on the type of workout – a threshold session will produce a higher value than a recovery ride. As the season progresses there are an increasing number of focussed sessions raising the value.

Categorising for the effort level (darker blue circles for harder efforts) highlights that twenty minute power is generally on the increase, but notable the ‘Focussed‘ efforts are increasing in frequency and intensity. As my fitness grows my ability to complete hard, focussed sessions improves; the ratio of higher intensity work in my training increases. Threshold power is rising and so is my capacity to ride at a high proportion of it. How I feel when I ride and these trends in training tell me I’m on the right path.

Taking the key sessions – the darkest dots – performance varies. It doesn’t climb every week. Despite my flexibility and the advantage of being able to move workouts so I hit them in peak condition, I still don’t see a weekly rise. Sometimes external factors are too much and I’m not ready or willing to perform. Today was a good example: from the moment I left the door my legs were tired, I knew I’d be better off with recovery so took an easy spin. The result should be I ride a better session tomorrow when it counts.

Most working age groupers can’t move their sessions as much. If Tuesday is their threshold session, then tired or not they ride hard on Tuesday. If they’ve been busy at work then they may not hit the numbers they want that week. It doesn’t mean their performance isn’t improving, the external factors count. Patterns matter: if performance remains plateaued or drops then something needs changing, but a single poor session is not the end of a season.

My athletes watch their performance in training, they’ll report back new PBs with delight and struggles with disappointment. I only stress when I see a pattern, then I look deeper for a cause. Testing (and racing) is where it really counts, whilst I may be negligent in this, my athletes regularly test. Testing is training so like any workout is liable to the impact of fatigue and stress. Test sessions are scheduled around easy days, I give every opportunity to ensure they’re performed fresh. Even then there are no guarantees and it’s not been unknown for tests to be revisited due to disappointing results.

Performance will vary. We bring to our training the fitness we’ve built, but also the stress and fatigue we endure; this balance determines performance outcomes. It’s natural to constantly look for improvements and an upward trend, but it is rare to see clean progression. Some days it isn’t going to happen and if that’s the day of a key workout then we won’t see the desired resul. It doesn’t mean training isn’t working until it’s a trend.

Always watch the trends – if performance is consistently below expectations or dropping it’s time to reevaluate. If one week happens to feel harder or fall short put it aside and get on with the work that’s needed; come back better prepared.

Ironman Training Library

From nutrition to pacing - a collection of CoachCox blog posts focused specifically on Ironman training and racing.