Coach’s Corner

How to use goal-setting to achieve Your peak performance

I hope you’ve had a good break over the holidays. Now is a good starting point to begin the journey for 2018. You may already know what you would like to achieve in the coming season, or at least during the first 5–6 month cycle, culminating in a peak distance race in the spring.

If you haven’t quite determined your goals for 2018, that’s fine. But in any case, you should be starting to develop a solid foundation, so there is no reason to delay as it takes time to develop an endurance base. These initial weeks should focus on base-building and hill work, which will progress as your body adjusts.

Here is a list of things I feel are important for you to consider as you plan for 2018.

Be realistic, and flexible

One of your key challenges is how to attain peak performance at the right time. This is no easy task, even for world class runners who often fall short of their desired goals at major races and track meets. To run is to take risks, like when you dare to set new running goals but risk injury in the process.

Before you begin training toward your specific goal(s), be realistic in assessing your own capabilities. A coach or another experienced runner can help you with this process. To a large degree, your present and past performances and the effort made in attaining those performances should give you and your coach insight into what can reasonably be expected.

You must also consider all of the factors that will influence your training – lifestyle, family, school, work, volunteer and social commitments, current physical and mental health and so forth. These factors are all dynamic and subject to change, so you have to be flexible and adaptable.

Goal selection

In choosing your racing goal, the starting point should be your present fitness level. From there, you must decide what is the shortest and safest time period in which to attain the necessary fitness level to reach your goal(s). The minimum period for a moderately fit runner to achieve top performance is 12–16 weeks.

On the other hand, training hard beyond 20 weeks without a break can become draining on you as well. The 12-16 week time frame fits well for:

  • anyone planning a spring marathon in May or June
  • anyone who plans to run the ATB 30km in late March
  • anyone who simply wants to attain highest aerobic base by early April and then use that to focus on shorter spring races in the 5–15 km range

Once you have chosen your key race(s), take a calendar and count back the number of weeks you have to attain the required level of fitness. Then you need to consider the key factors and demands of your event, and your current strengths and weaknesses in relation to those demands. The next step is to lay out a training framework that will systematically allow you to acquire the physical and mental toughness and fitness level to coincide with the time of your goal.

Success occurs when preparation and opportunity meet. If there are temporary setbacks, for whatever reason, you may have to adjust the timeframe or goal accordingly. Patience and perseverance are both necessary if you wish to achieve long term success. Achieving racing excellence is an elusive goal, especially for those not committed to long-term planning!

Your training progress

Once you have established a realistic goal, your program should be geared toward that goal based on your individual training needs but within a supportive group environment where possible. This will require a progressive build-up of mileage and specific work geared to your primary goal.

Leave no stone unturned in your preparation. However, if you are prone to injuries, be mindful — you are only as strong as your weakest link. Also don’t get caught up in changing your program to meet new short-term goals. Give your program a chance before making changes.

A good approach for newer runners to attain the best result (reaching your goal) with the minimal work possible. Then as your goals become more challenging, the training will reflect the need to meet the new goal. But make no mistake, if you have high goals and the potential is there is to achieve them, there is no shortcut to success – it will require increasing workload.

Keep in mind it can take on average up to seven years for even an elite athlete from the time they start to train properly to reach their true potential!

Of course the good news is that we have many examples in Victors history of runners who have made significant improvements within a period of 1–3 years. But then the progress slows down as the bar is raised, and even doing increasing amounts of work will bring less gain than in those early years. That is how progress works.

Consistency is the key

If you ever hope to improve, your training must be consistent and progressive. Once you have made a commitment to do the required training, then do so, barring any minor setbacks (i.e. injury or illness).

About two-thirds of injuries are related to training error, I have found. It’s usually a case of too much, too soon, without enough rest. Injuries are realities, and the difference in your success or failure will in part, be determined by your attitude in coping with these detours.

The human body is a marvellous machine but everyone has their limitations. A careful review of past injuries or illness in your running log may help you to pinpoint your own redline. This is where a coach needs to hear your honest feedback on a regular basis.

We can’t know what you are feeling without your input. A coach needs to also advise you when we feel you may be doing too much. In my own experience, I have found it harder to get runners to do less than to do more – because you are a motivated and committed group.

Adaptation and rest

Adaptation is really part of progression. In order for you to progress, the body must slowly be introduced to new and/or higher level of workload. This requires a period of adaptation. “Use, don’t abuse your body” is a worn truism. Injecting periods of active rest between hard days is a must. This can vary greatly from one runner to the next. Always err on the side of an easy/rest, if in doubt. Generally, after a hard day it is wise to follow with 1-2 easy quality days. This same hard-easy concept can also apply to weekly cycles. I do believe almost all runners can benefit from at least one day off per week as complete rest.

Specificity of training

Training cannot totally simulate race conditions, but it must include components that systematically and progressively replicate the demands, pace and stresses of your prime event. Consider you training as a continuous dress rehearsal for that ultimate stage performance – your Peak Race(s). Some early season races may simple be used as benchmarks for charting progress, race tactics, training benefit etc., without tapering.

While cross training has many benefits during periods of active rest or while recovering from an injury, it should not replace running as the main activity. You must run, if you wish to maximize your running potential. Training must be event specific, as much as possible. The effects are even specific within running, with sprinting, middle distance and distance running each requiring and producing different actions and effects.

Types of training

The current methods/options of training that make up the general pattern of endurance training include: general long distance running, steady state running, progression/tempo/pace running, interval training, and fartlek training.

All successful competitive runners use a combination of the above, accentuating the methods that most closely enhance the demands of the key race(s).

For example, Interval training has come to mean many things to many runners. The prime purpose of this type of exercise is for the development of the heart muscle, to increase the stroke volume (the amount of blood the heart can pump in a single contraction). It also allows your body to adapt and cope with lactic acid levels encountered in your races at a set pace. It’s what we’ll be doing in the Victors winter track workouts, starting Thursday, Jan. 11.

On the other hand, some of the key purposes of the long run are to develop muscular endurance, running economy, mentally learning to be out there for hours, so you can successfully complete longer races at your target pace.

Other components include:

  • enhancing your ability to store and utilize energy stores (glycogen/fats)
  • developing your mitochondria (the energy factories within each cell), to avoid the dreaded “wall” in a marathon
  • increasing your biomechanical efficiency
  • and of course, becoming mentally tougher to handle the challenges of distance races

The key to any program is to know in what sequence, combination, intensity and time frame you should follow to achieve success. Like making a cake, knowing how to bake the perfect cake is the challenge, using the right mixtures is the key, and knowing how long to cook it is the knack.

Every runner is different and responds differently to training, so the key for you and your coach is to find out what works for you and then sticking to it. Keeping a training diary can really be helpful in this process.

— Tim Uuksulainen, tim.uuksulainen@rogers.com