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The Six P's of Race Prioritization
Properly Planned Priorities Promote Perfect Peaks
By Eddie Monnier*
If you haven't already done so, it's time to start planning your 2003 season. Properly setting priorities - the races for which you want to peak - is a critical planning step in periodization. What is a peak? Tudor Bompa, "the father" of periodization, defines a peak as "a temporary training state in which physical and psychological efficiencies are maximized and the levels of technical and tactical preparation are optimal." In short, peaking is the ultimate objective of periodization.
Race prioritization greatly impacts the quality of the peak that is achieved. Properly planned priorities promote perfect peaks while poorly planned priorities provide poor peaks. I advocate Joe Friel's theory of assigning one of three priorities to each event:
Designating a race as "A", "B" or "C" has nothing to do with wanting to win the event. We all line up at every race with the hope of an Eddy Merckx-like dominating ride to victory. Setting race priorities properly has everything to do with maximizing the ability to realize your A-race objectives. It's a complicated but absolutely critical step in periodization and one to which many athletes and coaches don't pay enough attention.
Because the entire training week is affected by an A- or B-event, when there are two events within a weekend, they share the same prioritization with the higher prioritization prevailing. The weekend counts as only "one" event for the purpose of counting types of priorities. For example, there's a road race and criterium on the same weekend. The road race is a B-race for you and you are doing the crit to get in some anaerobic work (i.e., it would be a C-event if it was the only race that weekend). The whole weekend counts as one B-event. Stage races also count as a single event.
The first step in laying out the upcoming season's Annual Training Plan (ATP) is to schedule the A-races. You work backwards from the initial A-race to determine when to start training. To enable a true peak, you need a longer period of training before your initial A-race (generally 17-22 weeks) than you do before subsequent A-races (as little as 6 weeks, but more is often better.) In other words, if you hoped to have your first peak for a race at the beginning of February but you just started training in December, then is wise to choose a race later in the year as your initial A-race.
How many A-races can you have? That depends on a number of factors, including your responsiveness to training overloads, the type of events for which you are training and the similarity of your A-events. Someone training for long stage races may only be capable of realizing one true peak per season, whereas another athlete competing primarily in single-day events can realize two or three, or in some cases, four peaks. If you followed a periodization approach prior years, study your old plans and results to gain some insight into how many peaks you attained and how the quality of the peaks differed (e.g., for some, the first peak may always be the best). Generally, most cyclists can achieve between one and three peaks. If you're uncertain as to how many peaks to schedule, I suggest planning two in your first attempt.
I suggest at least six weeks between A-events and more is often better. Since peaking is about timing, you may find that you can maintain a peak for up to two weeks. Longer and better preparation contributes to more sustainable peaks. An exception to this rule is back-to-back A-weekends. Be forewarned, however, that there is often a dramatic drop-off in performance following a peak. This season I planned to peak for the middle of three consecutive late season races. I had a great first race weekend but disastrous performances the next two weekends. My peak came a bit earlier than I planned and was not sustainable because it was on a weaker foundation than usual. (I had to stop training for several months during the middle of the season due to my corporate job.) It's best to plan a transition week after each peak to begin the process of physical and mental regeneration.
B-races are important enough to warrant some reduction in training volume and/or intensity leading up to the event. You need to be careful with how many B events are scheduled and when they are scheduled. How many B-races are too many? It's probably difficult to have more than 10-12 B-races without negatively impacting the overall training load and it's perfectly fine to have fewer. In addition to limiting the total number of B-races, you should also consider when the B-races take place. Too many B-races on consecutive weekends leading up to a peak may be counter-productive because your training load is reduced. For example, if you have three weekends in a row of B-races beginning in Week-1 of Build-1, then you are significantly reducing the volume for the entire phase. I suggest limiting the number of consecutive weekends with B-races to two.
The remaining races you plan to do are C-events and are scheduled as hard workouts. Because there is no reduction in training volume or intensity, you need to be careful that these do not push you from overreaching into overtraining. Realize going into these events that you will be tired and most likely unable to perform at your best. Keep this in mind when setting your race objectives (yes, you should have objectives for C-races, too). This is a great time to experiment with different race strategies.
As you can see, there is a lot to consider when setting race priorities. You might want to revisit your 2003 race schedule and consider these questions:
And remember, properly planned priorities promote perfect peaks. Best of luck in achieving your 2003 objectives!
Eddie Monnier focuses on helping road and mountain cyclists train intelligently, whether they train by perceived exertion, heart rate or power (or better yet, all three). He is a member of Joe Friel's handpicked coaching staff, an Expert level USA Cycling certified coach, and a Category II racer. Eddie can be reached at email@example.com.