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Are You Race Ready?

Photo Credit: Talbot Cox

There is no training program/workout any coach can create that can make up for a lack of consistency in training. The higher your goals are as an athlete; the more important consistency is. If you’re consistent in your training, you will improve. If you’re inconsistent, you will have a difficult time making performance gains.

That concept is pretty simple and yet it’s easy to get caught up in the plethora of training metrics that I'm about to describe. Remember to focus on the macro before you focus on the micro: eat nutrient dense food, sleep well and make training a daily priority if you want to achieve the goals set in place.

As an endurance athlete, how do you know when you’re at peak form and ready to race? Did you hang onto the “A Group” at the local group ride? Did you steal a coveted KOM on Strava? Did you shave time off of your favorite run loop? Did you crush a swim time trial? These are certainly all indicators of fitness, but they're all quite subjective.

TrainingPeaks utilizes a few key metrics to help determine your fitness level: Training Stress Score (TSS) & Critical Training Load (CTL). These metrics are tools that we can use to establish peak fitness for your key event.

What is a Training Stress Score (TSS)?

TSS is an estimate of the training load created by a workout based on intensity and duration. A 1-hour cycling activity at maximum steady-state intensity is 100 TSS (112 for running). TSS can be used to determine how much recovery may be needed after a given workout. TSS is also used to calculate Fitness (CTL).

What is Chronic Training Load (CTL)?

One of the best ways to see how consistent you are in your training is to follow your Chronic Training Load (CTL) in your Performance Management Chart (PMC). The PMC is a Premium feature within TrainingPeaks.

Your CTL is a 42 day exponentially-weighted average of your daily Training Stress Score®(TSS®). It is very representative of your fitness level since it rises slowly as you accumulate workouts but falls very quickly when workouts are missed. Your daily TSS score is determined after a swim, bike or run automatically provided you have set your Functional Threshold Power, Threshold Pace or Threshold Heart Rate values. On the bike, power is the most accurate way to measure TSS while on the run pace is the most accurate measurement. In both cases, heart rate can also be used to gain an accurate TSS value. An accurate daily TSS is crucial to maintaining an accurate CTL.

How rapidly should your CTL rise over time?

In other words, what should your ramp rate be? A reasonable ramp rate is one that you maintain for a few weeks before taking a break for a few days. While it varies from athlete to athlete, I’ve found that an increase in CTL of about 6 to 9 points per week is typically spot on. Less than that and you’re probably not very focused on your training. More than that and you’re beginning to teeter with injury. Overly aggressive ramp rates will lead to negative consequences such as overtraining, injury, illness or burnout.

Obviously, if your CTL doesn’t rise your fitness is probably stagnant. If you reduce your training load, your CTL will drop indicating a loss of fitness. This is called negative ramping. A lot of zeroes back to back, meaning missed workouts, quickly lowers your CTL indicating without a doubt a loss of fitness. However, don’t let a falling CTL deter you from taking time to recover and adapt. Rest is necessary if you want to absorb your recent workload and get fitter. Additionally, during race week it's normal for your CTL to fall 5-10%.

There are also likely several life stressors or “limiters” that will materialize no matter how well you adhere to your training plan. These are unique to your personal performance development and should not be ignored. Some of these limiters include: financial stress, divorce, new job, relocation, etc. Communicate these limiters to your coach and work together to create a clear plan of action.

Lastly, CTL is not an expression of your performance but rather a proxy for fitness. Performance and fitness aren’t the same things. You can be quite fit and yet perform poorly. Use your CTL as a guide to optimal performance and provide your coach with corresponding qualitative data.

Alan Couzens crafted the tables below. These tables describe an athlete’s optimal weekly TSS and target CTL for a key event.

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