Peaking for Performance: Running to Win

Winning can mean very different things to different runners.

For some, victory comes with the completion of a challenging task such as the marathon distance, losing 50lbs and being a healthier person, or overcoming a chronic injury and being able to compete again.

For others, winning is a more literal entity coming in the form of overall, age group, or championship victories.

No matter how you hope to “win” at your next race, full-body peaking can help you achieve the goals you desire to fulfill.

Peaking the Mind

First of all, the body can only be as strong as a firm, fully-resolved mental foundation. If you are doubtful of your goals, generally flaky towards their importance to you, or lackadaisical in regard to their outcome, then you will be far less likely to achieve them.

It often helps to tell your loved ones, friends, or training partners specifically what your goals are for an upcoming race or season. This way, you have some verbal accountability to the path needed to make your goals a reality. The mild pressure of keeping your word in terms of a goal can be motivating, as well. Just make sure this remains a positive pressure by not boasting about what you hope to accomplish.

Believing fully in your ability to overcome a challenge, though cliché, will be the prime factor in mental peaking. As your training progresses towards a race, weight loss goal, or other source of motivation, your confidence should naturally grow as well. This is where the body (training) links with the mental aspect of running. The two have to merge definitively at some point during your training, an “ah ha” moment where your self-belief is just as important as any workout.

Tips for Mental Peaking

  1. Run your harder workouts without music (IPODS, IPHONES, etc.) to enhance mental focus and clarity.
  2. Try to push your training partners a bit during hard workouts to learn what it feels like to race. While you never want to “race” most training sessions, a little friendly competition can spark your competitive spirit.
  3. Visualize how your optimum race would unfold. Picture yourself passing rivals, hitting your goal splits, surging hills, and feeling good as often as possible while training.

Peaking the Body

Peaking the body for a top performance is a bit more cut-and-dry than peaking psychologically. When your mind is in a good place to train, you will absorb your workouts, better handle training volume, and make the most of intensity in your pursuit of a new PR or other goal.

Training should work in a progressive fashion.

Training should work in a progressive fashion where every element of your running builds towards a goal race, not incrementally declines as the season goes along
In college, our team would often “peak” too soon because we would start to reduce our volume, length of intervals/tempo runs, and strength training six weeks before our biggest races. This is like pulling a table cloth out from under a well set dinner arrangement- you lose many valuable elements at the expense of the few things still standing. In order to optimally peak, you have to have all training elements at their maximum within 2-3 weeks of a major competition.

There is a tricky balance when planning training towards a specific competition.

For the marathon, you have to build equal parts general endurance (easy, frequent long runs), fat-burning ability (faster long runs close to race effort), and stamina at your goal pace (long tempos, long intervals). This requires a great deal of focus and preparation before you embark on a true marathon training cycle, and you don’t want to lose any of these trained skills as the race nears.

Many people overemphasize the “taper” in the last month before a marathon.

Some runners will all but injure themselves with a full-on training onslaught for several months, and then hope their taper will allow them to recover from weeks of under-resting. Recovery has to be built into every training day and week as you build your training progressively, meaning you cannot isolate recovery into a magical window and hope it will pull you out of a deep rut. This recovery will come in the form of planned rest days, running easily on non-workout days, good nutrition, and proper sleep.

Tips for Peaking the Body

  1. In the final month before a goal race, keep your workout volume and intensity intact, but be sure to run your easy runs at a GENTLE pace to properly recover from your more important sessions. While moderate running has a big place early in your training, this is not the time for medium efforts every day.
  2. Keep up your core, strength, and flexibility routines to maintain full-body integrity as your training becomes more intense. Gym and longer core workouts can be continued to within 3-4 days of a big race.
  3. Eat like you mean it. When you are training with the goal of specific intensity, you are working muscle fibers and tissue to the max a few times per week, so you have to eat especially well to repair any damage from workout to workout.

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