Reach your peak fitness level at the right time

Many are training towards specific goals, like competitions and races, and have weeks and months of training behind them when entering the starting line for the race. What is the smartest way to train the last weeks and days before the start? Although many have a good training basis and have achieved a good physical basis, nobody can maintain their maximum shape – their peak fitness level – throughout the year.  During my career as a runner at top international level, I experienced many times the challenge of reaching my peak fitness level at the right time. The main lesson I learned from this was that it is smart to reduce the training somewhat towards races where I wanted to perform on my maximum level. Ask yourself this question; Do I want to perform at my top level in the competitions and races, or do I want to be a “World Champion of Training Sessions”?

What should be done before reaching the peak fitness level?

There is no doubt about the fact that it is the total amount of training that is the main foundation for achieving results. Therefore, you need to have a certain volume of training. This should however be “spicened” with a few intensive sessions during your weekly training. The basic training should be rather similar whether you are training for 5 km, 10 km, ½ – marathon or marathon. If you are training towards a marathon, you need however to prioritise some more volume training, for example through one long distance run per week.

Is it smart to have specific training sessions?

It is often said that you become best at the activity you are spending the volume of efforts on. This is quite logical, and very often right, in particular if you are training for races shorter than ½ – marathon. I was myself training almost similar before 5km,10 km , ½ – marathon and marathon. The main difference was that I had one long run lasting 2-3 hours, every week during the periods when I was preparing for marathons. I very rarely ran longer than this. As the time of the competion came closer, I was focusing on keeping the speed in the training sessions that I planned to have in the competition. Meaning the following: I was running 5 – 10 km in the competition speed, if the competition was a ½ – marathon or a marathon. If I tried to run longer, I quickly got tired and exhausted, so this was not so suitable for me. It might however be suitable for you. These specific sessions were so hard that I could not do more than one or two of them per week. If I did more, I became overloaded, with the result of degradation instead of progression. Therefore, it is very important that the easy long runs are very easy in the last period before the competition.

Should I reduce the training load?

To ensure surplus and accumulation of energy, it is smart to reduce the training load the last 2-3 weeks before the competition. This means reducing both amount and intensity. The long runs should be fewer and shorter, and the intensive sessions should be shorter.

Below you will find some suggestions for what you should do the last weeks prior to competitions and races:

Three weeks prior to the race

Keep your normal volume of training, including two interval sessions as usual. However keep in mind:
• Don’t empty yourself this week. Remember: it is short time left to the competition, in which you want to perform well.
• You shall end this week in such a way that you have energy and surplus when starting the last two weeks before competition.
• You can increase the load in the hard part of the interval sessions, but then double the resting time between. Uphill running is good form of training in this period.

Two weeks prior to the race

• Reduce the total amount of training
• Reduce the interval sessions and double the resting time between the hard parts. Do not run long and heavy sessions. If you do so, it will empty you for the surplus you will need in two weeks.

One week prior to the race

• You may have a medium hard / hard session a week’s time before the race. But don’t make it too long, and remember that you shall keep your surplus.
• If you are going to run with new shoes or other new equipment, test it the last week so you know that it works well.
• Make sure that you have a good surplus in every way the last week. Now it is too late to increase the training in any way.
• You may run a moderate session, 30 – 40 min, 2-3 days before the race, where you can have some easy intervals. This may for example be 4 x 1 min, where the pauses are very easy jogging.
• Have a rest the day before the race.

What do I do the day before the race?

Just rest, ensure that practical details are in place and that you are physically prepared:

  • Pick up your start number the day before
  • Check that your shoes and running gear are ok.
  • Don’t go to bed too late. Enough sleep is important if you want to have surplus at the start.
  • Eat and drink normally. Do not experiment or do things your body is not used to.

Good luck with your race!

See more articles about fitness training and the physical systems and building blocks here:

Author: Ingrid Kristiansen

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