I don’t think we’re going to race this year. Not to sound dramatic but I don’t think there’s any way we can suddenly start hosting 1000+ person events. Sure, I think there will be some local stuff, a gravel race, small 5k, shoot, I’m racing a local sprint triathlon this Saturday! But if I’m being totally honest, I don’t think anyone is doing an Ironman, Ironman 70.3, or marathon in 2020. I hope I’m wrong.
I think many of us have already written this season off as a wash. 2020 is the “year that didn’t happen.” Let’s just move on and forget about it. We’ll have a chance to refocus and train again when events are able to be held again. Except, that’s not how the human body and endurance sports work. Your aerobic system doesn’t know if you raced or not. It knows the dosage of training you give it every day and it knows that there are a couple of days a year where you give it a really BIG dose (race day). It knows that sometimes the demands placed on it are high and sometimes there aren’t any demands placed on it at all (offseason). The aerobic system is constantly evolving and adapting based on what YOU, the athlete, stimulate it with.
Not racing is certainly a bummer but it’s not the end of the world. It’s also an incredible opportunity that you may never have again. Racing is a ton of fun but it also keeps us from training. When we race, we have to rest, then we have to recover. For the average age group athlete, the number one limiting factor in race performance is their ability to train and recover. The more you train - the more you can train. The professional athlete is better than us because they train more. For many of us, just training more is going to be the number one thing that helps us train harder in the future.
Below, I have some training data from two of my athletes over the last two years. These charts are a simple bar graph of weekly training duration. Both of these athletes are very good, consistent, dedicated athletes that rarely miss a training session. Their trainingpeaks is usually green.
You can see that Consistent Cassidy keeps her weekly volume roughly the same from January of 2019 through August of the same year. Cassidy is a runner and so a weekly volume of 5:07 hours, or 307 training minutes, is pretty good for someone who’s just running. Cassidy had no races in the early part of 2019, which ended up being the same for 2020. You can also see that this year, Cassidy has increased her average weekly training volume up to 7:45 a week since January 1. That’s two additional hours per week she’s averaged, a huge 50% increase in weekly hours for 2020! This athlete has now taken her training durability to a whole new level that will allow her to run faster and recover better off the same (or slightly less) volume when she prepares for a specific race again. By no means is this work wasted in 2020. In fact, 2020 is her best year of training EVER. She’ll be able to reap the dividends of this quality work for many, many years in the future.
Cassidy 2019 Average Training Volume: 5:07
2020 Average Training Volume: 7:45
Training Tim's 2019 season is something we often see from a triathlete. An early-season marathon followed by some rest, then a quick build to an Ironman 70.3 event, followed by a nice long break with some general exercise but not what I would call “training.” The average training volume for Tim in 2019 ended up being about the same as Consistent Cassidy at 5:25 hours a week. Contrast that with 2020 where no races have led to an incredibly consistent 8 months of training. Tim has averaged close to 10 hours a week, almost double what he averaged last year!
Tim 2019 Average Training Volume: 5:25
2020 Average Training Volume: 9:40
That's the secret sauce to lifelong development in sport. Big weeks don’t matter. Stringing together 48+ weeks of consistent training per year is what matters. These charts obviously don’t show the type of workouts done, how often they did intervals or what pace their easy workouts were done at, but it does highlight a basic metric that makes a big difference over time: how much you train. Everyone has different lifestyle commitments that limit the amount of time they have to exercise. For both Tim and Cassidy, they probably aren’t going to see much improvement in the future from just adding more volume. Their improvement will continue to come from improving their anaerobic threshold and marginally improving their Vo2Max. But this year of training consistency has helped them lay a foundation they would otherwise never have been able to establish. That will only help them improve faster when they add additional layers of training in years to come.
I’ve felt this for myself and included my own training data below. In 2017, I trained for and raced my first Ironman. In 2018, I raced two Ironmans, and last year, I also raced two. That’s five Ironman I trained for and raced over the course of three seasons. And the crazy thing? 2020 has been my highest average training volume of all those years.
2019 was certainly a good year for me. I averaged over 13 hours of training through August and qualified for Kona. But as you can tell from the chart, I was pretty inconsistent in January due to various reasons (mostly work). I began 2020 with a run focus since I was planning on racing a marathon and didn’t swim or bike at all until mid-march when my marathon was canceled and I transitioned back to triathlon training.
The result? I’ve had my best year of training that I can remember in a LONG time. And I can feel it. My recovery from sessions is the best I’ve ever felt due to consistent volume all year.
Mark 2017 Average Training Volume: 10:04
2018 Average Training Volume: 11:12
2019 Average Training Volume: 13:16
2020 Average Training Volume: 13:53
I don’t really care if I get to race this year or not because I know I’ll be so much faster and able to train so much harder when racing comes back. I’m more excited about my future in sport than I’ve been in a long time because the coronavirus gave me an opportunity to train un-interrupted by the distraction of racing.
So what’s the takeaway from this? Is training more always the answer? Yes and no. Volume isn’t a fix-all solution and ramping too fast can lead to injury or overtraining. But training more certainly helps. If you average 4-5 hours of training per week for a year (that's 200-250 annual hours), you will probably see improvement from increasing that weekly average up 1-2 hours. Not by making your bigger week bigger, just by making your average week a slightly better average. You don’t need to suddenly double your long run or ride 100 miles every weekend. What you do need to do is train consistently 48+ weeks out of the year.
If you already have a very consistent training volume over the past 3-5 years, improvement will come through other means and it will come much slower. It takes precision and specificity to find improvement when you're already maxed out on the volume you can due to work, age, kids, etc. It's still possible to get faster but the training will have to be more nuanced and specific to your unique physiology and lifestyle. This is where a coach or training plan can be invaluable. To all my athletes and the many of you that have been doing this already - chapeau!
To those of you who’ve had your “A” race canceled and are struggling with motivation - get to work. 2020 can still be your best season yet.
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