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Design it better... and follow the instructions!

Training Schedules


I’ve never found even one laundry or cereal box that opens (and closes) according to the design!

Þ Good design is vitally important

Þ Following the instructions is important too, I guess!

So it is with training schedules.

How do we design a training schedule well?

As summer in NZ comes to a close it’s the perfect time to design your training for the upcoming season.

Good design

Of course, an experienced coach is a great option (and I can help you if you want). However, from my 40 years of racing coaching and research, there’s a lot you can do yourself:

Here are what I consider the 9 keys to opening your lid to effective training:

1 - Check that your goal is important enough

Is it truly inspirational? Does it support your purpose or core values? Does it give you goose bumps, make you feel excited, or at least put a smile on your face?

We need this level of emotional response to give us the all-important intrinsic motivation that will trump obstacles, pain and adversity.

People often ask me if I still feel nervous on the start line after all of those years of racing. My reply is YES! If I don’t feel nervous then I know I haven’t set my goal high enough. Nerves are an excellent sign that this goal is truly a worthy one. The trick is to then transmute the nervousness into excitement!

“Life truly begins at the edge of our Comfort Zone”

A good way to test whether a goal is aligned with our core values is to ask ourselves;

“If I achieve this goal, what will that give me that’s more important than the goal?”

You can repeat the question below, again and again until it leads to a big, zen kind of answer:

“If I achieve that fully, what will that give me that’s even more important than that?”

With each subsequent answer, you can quietly observe in the background how this is leading you to a powerful place in your mind, heart and gut.

If it doesn't lead your soul to a motivational place, then perhaps your goal is not aligned with what really matters to you, so go ahead and choose a better goal. Or maybe you just need to adjust the goal, eg set it a bit higher, or adjust your reasons for doing this.

2 - Turbo-charge how you imagine your goal. Give it reality!

NLP research shows that successful achievers imagine in vivid and intricate detail what they’ll see, hear, feel, smell and taste on their pathway to achieving their goal. What signs of progress would confirm to you that you’re going to get your goal? Could it be the satisfaction of completing and reading your Grade II kayaking certificate? The pleasant exhaustion of a fantastic training run over Goat pass? Or what people might be saying to you on the finish line and, the excited tone of voice you’ll be internally congratulating yourself in? The feel of the medal around your neck? Etc etc etc…

3 - Periodisation

Dividing your year into phases of training ensures that you’re building on the right foundations for each phase of your schedule. If you’re doing the same training all year round, you won’t be getting the most efficiency from your valuable time, and perhaps worst of all, you’ll get bored without some bigger, planned and purposeful variety in your schedule.

Here are some of the basic principles of periodisation over 12 months:

  • Over winter it's useful have an “off-peak” season where you’re doing related training, but without pressure or expectation.I call it adventure training. For example, over winter, playing Canoe Polo, or weeks riding the Te Araroa mtb trail, or running orienteering /rogaining events, or hiking weekend/overnight trips.

  • Build a base of long slow, endurance in the first months of your season, showing your body the typical length of the event you’re training for, but without the intensity.

  • Strength phase is next. You can only build speed and power if you first have the base of strength. Eg hills phase of 2 or 3 months before doing interval training.

  • In your final training crescendo in the 2 or 3 months approaching your race, Arthur Lydiard, the wise and famous Kiwi coach advises limiting your intense interval phase to a minimum. He opines that 6 weeks is enough so long as you have the months of base training to build on. Otherwise you risk mental staleness and the mental characteristics of overtraining. Personally, I start my intense interval phase, 10 weeks out from race day, because I include a couple of recovery weeks spaced equally through my hard weeks, and I add in 2 weeks of taper before the race.

4 - Recovery between hard sessions and hard weeks is just as important as the hard sessions.

Make sure there are 2 – 4 days between hard sessions, and you’ve programmed an easy recovery week after every block of 3 hard weeks. Don’t skimp on recovery, because without recovery after hard stuff there are no gains.

5 - Separate endurance training from intensity

For long events like the Coast to Coast we need to prepare our metabolism and our muscles the time duration that we’re going to be out there. These endurance sessions are an important keystone of our training, but they need to be done without interruption at low intensity so that we’re training the appropriate energy supply system and fatiguing the muscles appropriately. We’ll be tired for a few days after this so allow recovery.

6 - Get the right skills - Gaining confidence is key.

And I mean get really specific.

If we have the right skills, we'll be relaxed over rough terrain/water. When we're unskilled, we will waste energy on getting stability, we travel slower, and our risk of injury skyrockets. Most importantly, when we have the right skills it's SO much more ENJOYABLE!

Being a fast marathon road runner is of little use if you’re doing the Coast-to-Coast run, because every step of the Coast to Coast is off-road, with rocks, river crossings, and only a tiny bit of boardwalk. Do all of your run training on uneven ground, ideally over rocks and in creek beds, but you can simulate this by running 5 metres BESIDE trails in Woodhill or Burwood Forest, run straight up the long grass on One Tree Hill or Mt Vernon, round up the sheep on your mate’s farm, or go fast-packing/tramping for the weekend. If you must run the roads to get to your forest park, then run the grass verge and curbs.

No good waiting for calm, fine weather to go kayaking, master the wind and waves by going out in crappy weather too, BUT do it safely, onshore winds, paddle with skilled people, take the right gear.

Get totally comfortable with fast bunch riding, join club road racing for the season.

7 - Share your goals, from the heart

You’re going to need the support from those close to you. My research shows that many people are afraid to share their goals, because they’re afraid they’ll look stupid if they don’t achieve their goals.

This is actually increasing their chance of failure because;

  • They’re not backing themselves.

  • Their “near and dear” people are still going to treat them as version 1.0, and not create “the space” for version 2.0

Share your goals excitedly with a genuine sparkle in your eyes.

Follow instructions

8 - Consistency

Even if you run out of time to do today's session, at least do something that's related to what was scheduled. Time to get innovative.

Doing something on those occasional days when scheduling turns to custard, even if it is only a quarter of what was on the schedule, helps you to develop discipline, good habits, and there is also the placebo effect in action. It also keeps your mental momentum going.

If the schedule says 2 hours biking on the hills but the kids need picking up early today from school, then do 30 hard mins on Zwift instead. Or just 30 minutes on the roadie or mtb. It’s better than nothing.

Or if it was a 60 min run, but you have the kids, then take them to the forest park with their bikes, they bike the trails, and you run beside them, jumping over the obstacles, branches and scrub. Family that plays together stays together! If they’re a 2-year-old, pop them in a backpack and do a hill climb!

Importantly, as much as possible, apply the concept of “quality, not quantity”…. When time is short, make sure training ticks off the key principles of specific skills acquisition, quality hard sessions, and remember how important recovery is between hard sessions.

9 - Recovery is super important

Don’t jam in extra sessions to make up for what you missed 4 weeks ago. Let that go.

The schedule is designed with space between hard sessions for an important reason. This recovery time is necessary for our bodies to rebuild better and stronger for the next hard session. Without it, there are no gains made, and we risk overtraining and injury.

Sacrificing quality for quantity

If the session calls for an easy ride, don’t go with your mates for a hard hill smash sesh.

Take the example of professional athletes; they focus mostly on enhancing their recovery so that they’re ready sooner for the next hard session.

Enhance your recovery by doing these things:

  • Early nights

  • Reducing stress (delegate or put off stressful decisions/tasks ‘til after your race)

  • Delete social media, TV etc.

  • Drink plenty

  • Eat healthily

  • Massage, focusing on having the therapist identify potential tight/injury spots

  • Yoga (as much for the calming mindset as for the stretching)

  • Stretching (stretch when warm, in the 5 minutes immediately after your session)

  • Integrate a warm-up and warm-down into every training session.

Design it well, follow the instructions and you’ll open the lid to training and racing goodies!

Train smart.


If you’d like some coaching help, I’m taking on a small handful of clients for the 2024 Coast to Coast. Typically clients do 3 or 4 sessions with me @ $150 per 90 minute session. This can include kayaking on the water too. We'll start with an initial 15 minute free chat to see if we’re “matched” for coaching.

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