Season Planning – Part I: Realistic Goal Setting

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

The theme for January at EC is “Having your best season ever” so I figured it apt to begin at the beginning and look at how to go about undertaking that crucial first step of setting performance goals for the next season.

SMART goals.

Those familiar with the personal development literature will no doubt be familiar with the SMART acronym, i.e. that goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Measureable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

While the first two criteria are quite easy to fulfill, it is the third and fourth that give most folks some trouble. What is a realistic performance expectation for next year? Or, if I do everything “right” next year, how good could I get?

Load Performance Relationship
The first step in answering this question is understanding “what you got for what you gave” in 2010, that is to say, completing a retrospective analysis of the previous season. In order to do this, you obviously need to have kept good data in the previous season. If you didn’t, let’s begin by making that the resolution for 2011. If you did, here is what to look for:

  • Performance: Identify a performance measure that you have multiple data points on across the season. This may take the form of field tests such as a MAF test or it may take the form of global training data such as average power:HR for each week or your VO2 score. I would advise against relying solely on race data due to the small number of data points and the lack of controllability of the variables that go into race performance, especially long course race performance.
  • Load: Identify a measure of how much load you were doing at various points of the year. My preferred number here is CTL (Chronic Training Load) because it takes into account the nature of delayed training effects, that is, if you put in a big month of training you’ll likely see the effect of it one to two months down the road. If you don’t have CTL data though, volume and intensity by month is a useful metric.

Those with a little Excel savvy can compile this data into a chart such as the one below which puts the load versus performance into a scatterplot that makes the relationship between the two easy to see.

Once you have the relationship established, it’s time to don your prognosticator hat and answer the question, if I want to reach “X” level of fitness/VO2 score, how much will I need to increase my training load?

In my “what it takes” series (part 1, 2 and 3), I suggested that in order to be in the hunt for a Kona slot, a young male AG athlete would need to be in the range of a VO2 score of 65.

So, looking at the above athlete’s load:performance relationship, for him, this amounts to the ability to handle a Chronic Training Load in the range of 130TSS/day (.2469*130+32.76 = 65)

I call getting to this point Level 2 goal setting Most folks will stop at Level 1 — identifying the performance goal. Some will get to Level 2 — identifying the true “price” of achieving said goal but very few will get to Level 3, identifying….

How much load CAN YOU ACTUALLY DO?
In other words, do you have enough money in the proverbial bank account to pay the price to achieve your goal. This is where a deep retrospective analysis of last season comes into its own. What stopped you from doing more last season?

  • Time limits: For many folks, the answer will simply be time. If that athlete’s goal is to throw down 130TSS per day, they had better have three hours a day open to train and have nine or 10 hours open for recovery. The combination of these two time limiters is without a doubt the No. 1 global limiter for age-group athletes.
  • Energy/Constitution limits: When an athlete begins approaching the breakpoint volume, the limiter shifts from time to energy, in other words, how deep a hole can the athlete dig and consistently climb out from in less time than it took to dig? In volume terms this number will change greatly over the course of the season and the athlete’s long term development. While a 12 hour training week may be a deep enough hole in the early season, it may take a 25 hour week to create the same level of fatigue when the athlete is fit.

This abstract concept can be readily quantified with the use of WKO+’s TSB score:

In this actual performance chart from one of my athletes, CTL (blue) & TSB (yellow) are shown over the course of a season (smoothed to one week) with the range of (non camp) TSB floors shown between the two red dashed lines.

In a non time-limited athlete, I’ve found that, once the athlete is in the meat of training, the depth of hole that they are able to dig and climb out from is (with a couple of exceptions) quite consistent. I term this depth the athlete’s “TSB floor.” This is the number that I feel safe approaching without increased risk of sickness, injury or overtraining. In the case of this athlete, in a non-camp situation, a range of -12 to -17 seems safe based on their ability to back up training blocks from this level of fatigue.

So, the next question becomes, how many “leaps” is it going to take to get from the athletes current fitness to their goal fitness given the athletes proven TSB floor? This sets the “time bound” reality of the goal.

An athlete who can handle digging a deeper hole with each block of training will obviously be able to accumulate more load and consequently get more improvement over the course of a season. A few numbers to illustrate….

Constitution/TSB floor/ CTL after 12 blocks (assuming CTL/ATL constants of 42/7 and initial CTL of 50/VO2 of 46)

  • Poor Constitution/-10 TSB floor = CTL of 106 after 12 blocks (VO2 = 60 for athlete in question)
  • Average Constitution/-15 TSB floor = CTL of 131 after 12 blocks (VO2 = 66 for athlete in question)
  • Strong Constitution/-20 TSB floor = CTL of 162 after 12 blocks (VO2 = 74 for athlete in question)

So, in the case of our prospective Kona qualifier, assuming that he has sufficient time to train and recover, a large part of the reality of the goal comes down to his constitution.

For the sake of argument, let’s say our athlete is one who has only proven the ability to handle consistent holes of -10 TSB. Is he condemned to be a mid-packer for the rest of his life? No, while the goal may be out of reach this season, the other number that will progressively rise from season to season (assuming proper use of the off-season) is the initial CTL (in the range of three to 15 per year for the first three to four years of training). So, a 130CTL is still within the realm of possibility given sufficient time, however, this may then (realistically) become more of a multi-year goal than a 2011 goal.

So, right now, assuming that our athlete can put together 12 back to back cycles of a -15 TSB this should put him right in the ball park of a 130 CTL and, based on his current load:performance relationship, a fitness level that is appropriate for a Kona bound athlete. But, is there anything we can do to better guarantee/hasten the process?

Right now the net “grade” of load versus performance is (from the scatterplot above) ~0.25. Wouldn’t it be great if we could accelerate this, so that the athlete gets more performance bang out of the same training buck? This is where the art of coaching and the science of coaching collide.

Sometimes when we look at a chart like the one above we will see that the points that are above the trend line consistently came from a given phase of training. In other words, perhaps the athlete improved the most when we were doing a lot of steady training or a lot of strength training. These hints can provide the coach with a clue as to what to include more of in the coming year, with the hope that the grade of improvement can be increased. This is the essence of training smart.

By addressing questions such as:

  • Where was greatest rate of growth in 2010?
  • What are your weakpoints along the power-duration curve?

The coach can begin to set specific objectives and craft the phases of the upcoming annual plan to attempt to ensure the greatest rate of growth for the athlete. We’ll talk a little more about identifying these more specific objectives, benchmarks and phasing the annual plan in part 2 of this series. Until then….

Train S.M.A.R.T.

Categories: Planning

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Alan Couzens

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