Limba română / Romanian version: Click aici pentru versiunea în limba română a acestui articol
I love participating in competitions! They bring me immense joy, memorable experiences, and motivate me to surpass myself. Competitions are the main reason why I train and stay in shape. Without a target, without clear goals, it would be hard for me to run daily, through parks and streets, like a madman. But my life is not just about running. After all, I'm an "adult": I have a job, responsibilities, a social life, passions... And I want to excel in all areas. Normally, I train twice a day, practicing running, swimming, strength training at the gym, and sometimes even cycling, which I will detail below.
But how do I find time for everything? The secret lies in very meticulous planning. This involves giving up non-essential activities or ones that hinder me from a sports perspective. For example, I have reduced the time I spend in front of the TV or watching series, I attend parties less frequently, and I avoid unnecessary travel in traffic. In addition, my residence, located right across from the gym and swimming pool, allows me to save time and exercise flexibly, almost whenever I want.
About the art of planning
I am an organized guy. But I wasn't born that way, I became one... through training. Out of necessity! Gradually, I learned to structure my time and activities. I want to do a lot of things (maybe too many?), and if I don't organize them well, nothing really works out. Fortunately, I discovered that I enjoy creating meticulous plans for things that I'm passionate about, whether it's trips, training programs, or strategies for professional projects. And not only do I enjoy it, but I also see the results - the time invested in planning really pays off.
When it comes to sports activities, I plan my schedule at least six months in advance. For example, at the end of 2022, I was already registered for the main competitions that I was going to participate in 2023.
However, there's a saying that "the calculation at home doesn't match the one at the market." Meaning, unexpected things always come up and mess up the plans. I've experienced it many times, even this year, as I wrote in this article. So... what's the point of making plans?! If they never work out anyway?
Well... the main purpose of planning is not just to make a plan and blindly follow it. Of course, it's important to stick to the plan as much as possible, but even more important is the ability to immediately reorganize the plan when needed. It means being able to adapt quickly to a situation that you have no control over, so that you can reach or get as close as possible to your predetermined goals in the most efficient way. This principle applies to both long-term planning, which I call "macro" for a period of several months or even years, and short-term planning, which I call "micro" for a week, a day, or even the strategy adopted during a race.
Macro-level planning: Creating a competition calendar
I love all kinds of races. But it's true that some are more important to me than others. And of course, I can't participate in all of them - even if I wanted to! As an amateur athlete, I'm not obligated by a club to participate in certain competitions. Currently, I don't even have a coach - but I consult several sports friends and a series of specialized books for information. I make my calendar the way I want: I compete where I want, and train as much as I know and can. Here are the steps I follow:
- Set my goals: I start any annual plan by defining my goals. I usually set very ambitious but realistic targets. I push myself, so to speak. For example, you can see the goals I set for myself for 2023 here.
- Divide the year: I divide the year into 2 seasons: spring-summer and autumn-winter.
- Choose the most important events of the year: For me, the 42K road marathons are the most important at the moment - the ultimate challenge. I practically build my entire calendar around these competitions. They are also very demanding, requiring long periods of preparation and recovery. So in one season, I plan to participate in one or two 42km marathons. In 2022, I participated in two marathons in spring (Malta and Paris) and two in autumn (Berlin and New York). For this year, I have planned one in spring (Barcelona) and two in autumn-winter (Frankfurt and Valencia). I registered for these races back in 2022.
- Fill the calendar with other secondary competitions - half marathons, 10k races, swimming races, aquathlons, depending on what interests me and is convenient for me. But these need to fit within the rules I have set for myself, as I detail below.
Regarding the planning of marathons and periods of training and recovery, I follow some key principles:
- Spacing between marathons: If I have scheduled two marathons in a season, I make sure there is an interval of at least 6 weeks between them, to have time to recover.
- Specific preparation and constant training: Even if I never take a break from running (I only stop if I'm injured), I plan at least 10 weeks of specific preparation for the first marathon of the season.
- Marathon Test run: I schedule a 30-kilometer run, as a test training, about 3-4 weeks before the first marathon of the season.
- Pre-marathon period: In the last 2 weeks before any marathon, I no longer do long runs - I run a maximum of 15 km.
- Half marathons as training: I can schedule some half marathons in place of "long run" training, kind of like public training, but at a distance of at least 3 weeks from the 42km marathon. This way, I have time to recover.
- Using the treadmill: Although running on the treadmill seems very boring to me, I prefer it on bad weather days or when I want to do specific training, such as uphill running. In the center of Bucharest, where I live, there are no hills. The treadmill is also useful for recovery training or when I want to combine running with a gym session. I also believe that the treadmill helps increase mental endurance - so useful for marathoners! I'm talking about the psychological ability to perform long runs, without having external stimuli (except, perhaps, music from headphones).
- Relaxation period: Outside of marathon preparation periods, I reduce the volume of runs - that is, I run fewer kilometers.
- Competitions abroad: I try to schedule as many competitions abroad (or at least outside of Bucharest), to change the scenery and avoid monotony. I definitely need these "escapes", as I explain below. Plus, I choose the most beautiful ones.
- Prioritizing profession: The profession comes first. Even though I am passionate about sports, I am still an amateur athlete. I play sports to live well, but I don't live off it. Professional projects are a priority, regardless of training or competitions. That's why I plan a year ahead for the dates of major competitions - I organize things so that I can cope on both fronts.
- Importance of rest and nutrition: Rest and nutrition are extremely important. I don't have room to detail here - maybe I will do it in future articles.
"Micro" level planning: Building detailed calendars
After setting the dates for the main competitions and specific training periods, such as those for the marathon, I move on to detailed planning. This involves organizing training at the week and even day level (at what times). Usually, the detailing does not exceed 4 weeks. It is useless in the long term, as events that will lead to rescheduling will always arise.
In this process, I also take into account personal and professional events that cannot be missed, such as after-work meetups with friends, business meetings or trips. For example, if I know I won't have access to a pool for a few days, I schedule more running workouts during that period, and condense the swimming workouts for the days when I'm at home.
Here is my general strategy:
- Every day, I schedule one or two workouts, usually two.
- I prefer to do the first workout immediately after I wake up, and the second in the evening, after 6:00 PM. If the workouts are not very difficult, I group them and do them one after the other, in the evening.
- I avoid scheduling two demanding workouts on the same day. For example, I try to combine a intense running workout with a lighter swimming or strength training session. I perceive strength training sessions as being much less demanding than, for example, interval running sessions; at least that's how the ones I've planned are.
- To plan the workout itself, I keep a journal, especially for strength training. I note for each exercise the number of sets, number of repetitions, weight used, and how I felt (if it was too hard, too easy, etc.). This way, the next time I repeat those exercises, I know if I need to modify the parameters - to increase, decrease, or maintain the number of repetitions and weight.
Types of training
During the 7 days of a week, I try to include the following types of training:
- Running: 4-5 workouts per week during marathon preparation periods and 3-4 during recovery periods. I guide myself according to specific training plans for the competitions I'm preparing for. Training sessions include intervals, light running (jogging / recovery), hill running, fast / tempo running, and long runs. Durations vary from 30 minutes to 3 hours, but generally, a session lasts about an hour.
- Swimming: ideally 3 workouts per week, but at least 1. A workout generally lasts an hour. I usually have special training plans that I follow, depending on the type of competitions I've planned. Some workouts are very demanding, for strength and endurance, others are easy, for recovery. Almost all include technique exercises as well.
- Strength training: ideally 3 workouts per week. A workout lasts about 1h:20m. If I don't have time, I might not do any in a week, but no longer than 2 weeks break between muscle groups. Generally, though, I stick to them. I do them to increase strength and endurance, but especially because they significantly help reduce the risk of injuries.
I'm not really interested in bodybuilding or "puffing up muscles." In fact, I don't want to accumulate too much muscle mass. This is because it would increase energy consumption during running, which would sabotage me. Instead, I've designed special programs that allow me to work all muscle groups in just 3 sessions: Session 1, the hardest, focuses on chest, legs, and abs; Session 2, the easiest, on biceps, shoulders, and abs; and Session 3 on back, triceps, and abs. As you can see, abs are omnipresent; only that each session has different exercises for abs, for different groups.
These sessions depend on the equipment available at the gym. However, for times when I'm traveling and don't have access to a gym, I've designed a special "remote" home workout program that doesn't require machines, just body weight.
- Cycling: I train either on a road bike, on the road, or at home, on a trainer with virtual race simulator (when the weather is bad). I usually do routes of at least 40km. I schedule these as "optional". I do them only if I have time and energy left - so quite rarely. Their goal is to ensure efficient recovery after intense running. Sometimes I just do it for fun - I like to cycle at speed.
On the other hand, I want to gradually get used to cycling, because I have plans for the future to become a triathlete. And by practicing cycling along with running and swimming, I am preparing and adapting, in small steps, for this complex sport.
- Physiotherapy: I do rarely, but I found a few sessions very beneficial, after recovery periods post-injury.
- A day of total rest: at least once a week. That means no training at all, just walking, at most. Most of the time I don't want to take a break, but I know that if I don't, it would affect the efficiency of the next workouts
To better illustrate the planning process, I present in the image below a concrete example. This represents the planning of my training in the period leading up to the Barcelona Marathon. It's about a 10-week period, between January 9 and March 19, 2023, during which I trained intensively, including swimming. I keep all this planning in Google Sheets, a free and very useful tool for organizing and efficiently visualizing my schedule.
Let me give another example. This is the distribution of my training in the last period, specifically in the first half of the year (January 1 - June 30, 2023):
- 99 running workouts, of which 49 on road and trail, 31 on the treadmill, and 19 on the track.
- 60 swimming workouts, conducted exclusively in the pool. I haven't yet had the opportunity to train in open waters this year.
- 65 strength workouts, of which 61 at the gym and 4 at home.
- 6 cycling workouts, of which 4 on the road and 2 on the trainer.
- 10 physiotherapy sessions
- I took part in 7 official competitions, including 6 athletics and 1 aquathlon.
It should be mentioned that during this period I suffered an injury that kept me away from running, swimming, and cycling for a month.
Over the course of a year, numerous unforeseen situations can arise. These require an urgent reorganization of the training schedule or competitions. I experienced this during this year, as detailed in this article, when, following an injury, I was put in the situation of restructuring my entire spring season schedule. Aspects such as: must be taken into consideration:
- Fatigue - sometimes the body demands rest - and I listen to it! In such situations, I cancel the scheduled workout (I move it to the next day, if possible) and choose to do lighter exercises. Or I even take a total day off from training if necessary.
- Injuries - sometimes minor injuries occur, such as blisters or local pains, which heal by themselves in a few days. However, there are more serious situations that can keep the athlete away from physical activity for a longer period, even for several months.
Personal events - weddings, christenings (or other marathons of eating a lot and at odd hours), trips, or other social activities may require adjusting the training or competition plan. Though if an invitation to such a social event coincides with a 42km international marathon for which I've been preparing for three months, I tend to decline - no offense intended!
- Professional activities - delegations or special projects will affect the training schedule. In such situations, it is necessary to adapt the training to the professional schedule and the conditions of the eventual trip.
- Sporting opportunities - interesting competitions or training camps may appear in the calendar and must be considered in the replanning process.
- "Escapes" - There are moments when I feel the need to "escape" from the usual routine. It gets tiring at some point to see the same lines on the running track, or from the bottom of the swimming pool. Or to train in the same places and at the same hours. So... I "run away" for a few days either abroad or to Constanța or the mountains, and I adjust the plan to train there. My advantage is that I work remotely, and I can organize my activities from a distance, avoiding frequent trips to the office.
Let's stay connected!
I invite you to follow me on Instagram at @davidiftime. There we can interact and talk about running, competitions, and training. If you have questions or want to share your own experiences, don't hesitate to contact me. I'm always happy to interact with other sports enthusiasts.
Limba română / Romanian version: Click aici pentru versiunea în limba română a acestui articol
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