Reach a peak in race specific fitness levels, taper for high performance, race
The nature and duration of the Performance phase will also vary greatly, depending upon the event(s) being trained for and the specific athlete’s profile.
What will always remain constant however (provided all has gone to plan), is reaching a peak in race specific fitness. In basic terms, what this means, is being in the best possible physical (and mental) condition, to complete the race (or races) in the fastest possible time - in the environmental conditions they will face on the day.
The Performance phase can last anywhere from 4-8 weeks. During this phase, the finishing touches are applied to race specific fitness, with the final race specific workouts taking place. It is critical to ensure that these final workouts are not so demanding that they express a premature peak in race specific fitness. The density of work in these final workouts must be a step below the demands of race day - not a step beyond them.
For more advanced athletes, an additional stimulus of altitude and/or heat may also be applied during the Performance phase. Altitude and heat protocols should only be considered the cherry on top of a cake that has already been beautifully iced. For less experienced athletes, who do not have an established track record of ‘successfully’ peaking for an event - such advanced protocols should be approached with great caution.
For shorter events, where an athlete may be looking to compete on multiple occasions, the performance phase will be longer in duration than for an athlete who is only looking to maintain a peak level of specific fitness for a single event. For the athlete competing on multiple occasions during the performance phase, in between races, the training focus will primarily be on maintenance of specific fitness.
In the week or two weeks prior to racing, all athletes will take a slight reduction in training load known as a ‘Taper’. It is critical that the athlete doesn’t reduce their volume of training too much in this time, or they will suffer a reduction in aerobic capacity, and as a consequence, race specific power. It is also essential that the athlete maintains race specific intensity during this time - or they will lose their ability to sustain it on race-day.
Whilst it is equally important not to train too hard in the weeks prior to race day, when I look at the historical training programmes of new clients, it is far more common to see an excessive reduction in training density.
During the taper, athlete’s will also apply additional methods in an attempt to improve their endurance performance. Some of them are less well known such as Nitrite loading, whereas others such as carb loading are far more common. Whilst the athlete should never implement something without solid evidence of its potential to be effective - anything that has a good chance of improving performance, and is very unlikely to negatively impact it - should be implemented.