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How To Create Your Optimal Annual Training Plan

It’s the last week of December and I’m ready to renounce those unnecessary baked goods and holiday grog, get out of hibernation to brave the dark and rainy roads, and get serious about my training and racing goals. Do you have a plan in place for the new year, and are you itching to execute?

Each year, starting as early as October, I work with my athletes to create their annual training plan for the following year. A well-thought-through annual plan includes more than just a couple races with some time goals attached to them. It should consider the breadth of your goals, from the mini-wins to your most audacious ones. It should consider your weaknesses, or your setbacks from the previous year. And it should be realistic for you to be able to commit to for the year. Once you work through these questions and establish your pillars, you’re ready to plan the details of your training and racing.

Here’s a quick guide for writing your annual training plan. I’ve used myself as an example throughout these steps. If your plan doesn’t fall perfectly in place by midnight on December 31, don’t fret. This is a process. If you’ve been able to establish enough of a foundation to get you through a few weeks, then you can use the months of January and February to put the polish on the plan.

What are your long-term goals?

Think 3-5 years out, or longer. What sufferfest do you daydream about? Is it qualifying for the Ironman World Championships, or the Boston Marathon? Completing an ultra marathon, or the acclaimed Western States? Riding a century, or touring the French Alps? As you visualize yourself accomplishing this goal, think about the one or two things that the person in your daydream (you!) has that you have not yet mastered. What action should you take to get closer to that goal? Put that in your plan.

Using myself as an example - One of my goals is to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in the next 5 years. To do that, I need to be a stronger runner. In order to become a stronger runner, I am going to ramp up my running to 6 days/week, averaging 30-40 miles/week. My mini-goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

What were your successes and failures of the past year?

Allow yourself to relive the successes of the past year. Close your eyes and bring yourself back to the moment that you completed a breakthrough workout, stood on the podium, or crossed the finish line. Carry this joy and confidence with you into the coming year by planning to recreate your success. Now, revisit a moment of failure. Pinpoint one thing that you could have done differently to avoid this failure, and make sure to incorporate this into your annual plan.

Here’s my example - One of my favorite moments of the past year was coming in 3rd in my age group at the Patriot Half Iron, getting a 20-minute PR. That felt amazing! Although I want to focus on running next year, I don’t want to abandon triathlon. I’m going to do at least one triathlon where I allow myself to hammer on the bike and relish in my newfound running strength.

My worst moment of the year was not meeting my goal time at the NYC marathon. Although I came a long way last year with my running, I am still afraid of speed, so I am going to plan more hard tempo runs in my training plan.

Design a realistic schedule

A successful plan needs to fit in harmony with your home life and your work life, so that you can maintain it. For example, choosing an A-race that takes place two weekends after you get home from a big family vacation does not set you up for success. Or if your peak training weeks coincide with a big project at work, this will result in a breakdown or burnout. Be realistic, people. This might even mean that you can’t race at all this coming year (the horror!), but that doesn’t mean that you are drifting further away from your goals. Prioritize consistency.

How this applies to me - I’m getting married next year! The details of the event are still up in the air, which means that I can’t yet plan any big races between … oh… June and September. Therefore, I’ll just focus on my running and have a flexible training plan that doesn’t rely on strict A, B, and C races.

If you want to break the cycle of falling just short of your goals, consider talking to a coach to see how you can overcome some of those obstacles that you seem to run into year-after-year. What is missing in your regular training program that is keeping you from reaching the next level of your goals? Chances are, you already know the answer to this question, but talking with a coach can help draw this out and give you accountability for confronting it in the coming year.

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