Periodisation training! What is it? For non-athletes or athletes who haven’t done much research on different training styles, it is a method of training to try and improve your performance above and beyond what is possible with over simplified repetition.
You can go to war with yourself, sure. You can do this in any session, on any day, anywhere. It’s simple, you increase the lactate in your blood, then increase it some more, then some more, then try to keep going… and you are at war.
But are you winning? Is your strategy any good? What would Napoleon think? If he were to survey the battle landscape and analyse your strategy, I’m not sure he would think much of platoon after platoon or company after company charging in, straight into the enemy. You could see him with his hands clasped behind his back, a brooding frown growing, ‘imbeciles!’ He would secretly also be impressed, but to win a war you must not show just brawn, but equal amounts, and if not more, brains.
Periodisation was explained to me by a pro athlete/coach, so a reliable source, as the focus on 1 discipline at the expense of the others with specific periods of time and with specific amounts of intensity. And these levels of time and intensity are specific to the athlete and what they are trying to achieve.
I decided to periodise my training towards swimming at some point in 2018, and then thought about it again in 2019, and then finally actually followed through in 2020, towards the end of the year. It took a while to get there. It sounds easy to implement, just focus on 1 discipline! But, weirdly, you need discipline for this. How to calculate time periods and intensity? And even more difficult, is the conscientiousness to stick to this despite how you feel.
Swimming could be argued is the least important discipline in triathlon. Definitely, in terms of time spent in a race, and the only discipline where drafting counts and is legal, so you can rely on stronger swimmers during a race. So many triathletes would prefer to focus on the bike or the run. But, personally I believe periodising the swim could prove to be a keystone for my future improvement.
A keystone is the stone you’ll find in the middle of a traditional and simple stone bridge. It is called the keystone because it is shaped different to all the others and is the one that holds all the others in place. And swimming could do this for me. It is helping me improve the length and strength of my body which in turn then helps me improve my movement efficiency on the bike and in the run. But instead of having specific times and intensities I am part of a club that pushes my limits, and then makes me go further than where I thought the limits were.
It feels like I’m ‘Prince’ and it’s 1999. Or Bonnie Prince Charlie and it’s 1746 and the sea is to my back and the horde is to my front. If some rescue ships had been docked in the North Sea, north of Inverness, no doubt they would have done what the British did at La Corunna in 1808 escaping the forces of Napoleon. It’s the easy (more intelligent) option, you jump aboard, lick whatever wounds you might have, get home, take a break, set your feet on a rug, watch the fire flames dance around the fireplace, have some of your favourite homemade hot chocolate, and rethink your next move.
But, I don’t want to retreat. Perhaps my abysmal end of 2020 season was a type of retreat, however unwanted. Perhaps I should have retreated, and take some cool off period much earlier. But either way, standing firm or reentering the melee, I would use swim periodisation as my weapon of choice. And standing on the hilltop, looking down at the amassing mass of enemy, swarm the horizon, endless columns of well-disciplined, well drilled, orcs, trolls and wargs – it is the swim that will ride up to my position… in their glittering armour they observe my current situation, ‘you know you have ships back there right?’ I don’t want to look to the north, I am looking at the field ahead where the horde of red-eyed, salivating, inhuman, snarling enemy lie in wait.
I turn my gaze from the enemy and stare back at the newly arrived cavalry. It then dawns on swim, ‘you want to attack right down the middle?’ an edge of incredulity in their voice. They turn back to assess the enemy again. Swim weighs up my chances, taking into consideration that retreat is no option, ‘we will move to the west and wait by the outcrop of trees. If needed we will cover your flank, otherwise, we will time our attack as best as possible.’
Up to this point standing on this small hill at one end of the field, staring down at the enemy, the only real worry was not their demonic stares and taunting, but once the melee had begun I would be swamped from all sides. Now, with this fresh cavalry aid, I would stand a chance. I could go full heartedly down the centre, without distracting thoughts of an inevitable all encompassing enemy encircling me and forcing me to fight on all fronts.
I watch the cavalry make their deployment to the west. I see them take position in amongst the tree outcrop. Out of sight of the enemy. The plan was set. I nod to the standard bearer and the flag is raised a loft. I can feel the energy all around me. I can feel the spirits running high. The courage seeping into the veins. The attention honed in. The enemy staring back are ugly, but that is all. The previous mass of drums beating, feet stamping, faceless, nameless endless dots in the background all blended together, but now beginning to take shape. I can see their individual faces, their legs and arms, the clothes they are wearing. I can see their weaponry, and hairstyles, the shoes they are wearing. It is so clear to me. I know who they are. I could guess each one’s names, where they are from, their families, dreams and goals… and I charge, arm raised, fist clenched, and as I feel the ground pounding underneath me. The beats get faster. As the enemy grows clearer and clearer, the beats of the feet get quicker, until we reach the enemy line and we are now at full speed…
Anyone actually watching would question what was happening. They would turn to each other in their warm mittens, wooly hats, and Goretex jackets. The cold wind forcing them to huddle together a little closer for each others’ warmth. The rain forcing them to use their jacket caps and tightly pull down on the toggles to get as cosy as possible. And having looked at what I was doing with deep disturbance they would look at each other and there would be sympathy for me etched on their faces. This crazy guy on a small hill, at one end of a muddy empty field. Just standing there. Ignoring the cold wind and rain. Then raising his arm before suddenly running towards the other end. Getting faster and faster. That’s all they could observe. And they would be totally confused at to what I was doing. Putting it down to ‘he’s a bit nuts’.
And an alien millions of galaxies away looking down their telescope onto planet earth, inspecting this scene. Observing the individual, me, and the group of onlookers in their confusion. And it would roll its eyes and mutter ‘homo sapiens’.