You may have heard on my Faster Podcast, how some of the world’s fastest Masters crews and scullers, look at their performance from the past year, and plan for the season ahead. The Wallingford crew looked at very element of the HOCR and what they needed to do to go 3% faster. Greg Benning, multiple HOCR winner, examines his training plan from the season and asks the question. “What do I need to improve and adjust, to be better than last year.” Click Here to listen to the Faster Podcast.
So you may have just finished one of your big goal events for the year. Maybe it was Henley Masters or the Australian Masters Regatta, or maybe it’s still to come, like the HOCR (October 27) or the Silver Skiff in Turin (November 7).
If you are like me, you are probably thinking about how you can go faster at the same event next year. This is part of the appeal for events that feature the same course year after year.
No matter where you finished in the standings, you can always return and race the course to better your personal performance. So, if you have roughly 12-months from this year’s finish to next year’s start, here are some of my personal tips on what you can do to go faster next time.
Step 1: Mental and Physical Recovery
Even if you are fired up to beat this year’s finish time, your body and brain need a break after months of regimented training and heightened focus. And, of course, there’s the fact that goal events like those mentioned above leave you physically exhausted and a bit beat up.
I typically recommend very light activity during the two weeks following major goal events, unless you have subsequent events closely following the goal event. If instance, you’ve just completed your National Champs regatta, then short and easy rows, runs or bike rides for 2 weeks is a good way to physically recover and achieve a mental break. Use this time to catch up on some of the work, family, and relationship priorities you put on the back burner as you focused on your main event.
Step 2: Order a new boat or ergo if you plan on getting one.
A new boat is not going to be the key to going faster next time, but considering supply chain demands at the moment, if you want a new boat for any reason, best to order it now.
If possible, keep your current boat until you have the new one in hand. By now you know I use and recommend Filippi boats. They are beautifully made, can be tailored to your requirements and very fast. You can check out the boat range by clicking here.
The same goes for training equipment upgrades, like a new ergo, seat pad or a new set of new sculls. Pre-COVID it wasn’t necessary to think so far ahead for equipment needs, but these days it’s wise to plan well in advance so you’re not at the mercy of back-orders. If you live in the northern hemisphere, you need to be organised for the winter ahead and potential possible C-19 restrictions. Expect the unexpected.
Step 3: Maintain fitness with unstructured training
After taking it easy for about two weeks, most of the world’s fastest Masters Rowers start training again. At this point, though, the primary goal is to maintain the fitness you worked so hard to gain. You want to avoid substantial detraining because fitness is easier to lose than it is to gain.
Reducing your training workload by up to 50% for a few weeks will only result in a loss of 5-10% of your current fitness level. I typically recommend 3-4 weeks of unstructured training. Unstructured doesn’t mean optional, though. Consistency is still crucial; you can just take a break from structured interval workouts. If you normally train 10 hours a week, drop this back to 5 hours. If you normally do 6 hours a week, cut this back to 3 hours a week. Go for a bike ride instead of a row. Don’t worry about speed, heart rate or duration. Just go out and have some fun doing what ever you like.
For context, when I reduce my training workload by ~70% results in a ~15-20% loss of fitness, which is what I typically see in Masters Rowers who take a prolonged break in the autumn. While it’s not the end of the world, regaining 20% of your fitness can take months, and the total timeline to lose and then regain that fitness can span 4-5 months. It’s hard to make significant improvement from year to year if you spend a third of the year just losing fitness and getting back to where you started. Take a break yet not for too long.
Step 4: Figure out your Performance Opportunities
While you’re doing those unstructured sessions, think about where you can gain the time you’re looking for in next year’s event.
Like the Wallingford Masters 4+ approach to performance. These are your performance opportunities. You can go faster on a winding river course by improving your line through the corner. You can go faster in a head race, by improving your sustainable power at lactate threshold and – perhaps more important – your time to exhaustion at that intensity.
You can work on your anaerobic capacity to stay on the power longer in sprint events. If you struggled to stay with the pack at the start of a race, you can hone your start skills, and perhaps improve your power through strength training.
Perhaps you lost time in the bends, got caught behind slower boats or lost time at a big turn or turn around. You can experiment with a scullers mirror and practice taking bearings of river bank land makes like Olympian Tom Bishop. Listen to the podcast episode with Tom here.
If you feel like you are not optimising your warm-up or recovering well between races, create a better plan for getting a proper warm-up, cool down and post race fuelling. I support a few Masters athletes in preparing for their target events this year, and it was great to see them executing good warm-up activation protocols and post race recovery throughout their regatta weekends.
Step 5: Start 2022 at a higher base than you started 2021.
This is a generalised recommendation that might not be appropriate for every Masters Rower, but a goal you could set for the rest of 2021 is to keep your base or for those using Training peaks, your Chronic Training Load (CTL) from dropping below your starting point from the beginning of the year. CTL doesn’t address specificity the type of training you’ve been doing, just the average Training Stress Score from the previous 42-days.
Starting January 2022 at a higher base or CTL than January 2021 means you have the capacity to handle a higher training workload right from the beginning of the year. That means you have the opportunity to build to higher peak fitness later in the year.
Obviously, this is a very simplistic way of evaluating whether you are “fitter or better than last year”. A more nuanced goal for the end of the year would be to target improvements in specific aspects of your aerobic or anaerobic performance. For example power (watts) on the erg at your aerobic heart heart. Power (watts) at threshold etcetera. But as a more general recommendation, retaining or increasing CTL gives you a specific target goal than “avoid detraining”.
Keeping your fitness is important for athletes over 40, and really important for Masters over 60. Masters are fighting normal consequences of aging that reduce VO2 max and make retaining or building new muscle mass more difficult, among other changes. You can improve fitness and go faster next year because there is still room between where you are now and your maximum potential (even as that potential gradually declines). But you have some challenges young rowers can overcome more easily, so do yourself a favour and stay on it!
Step 6: Build other events into your 2022 training calendar
Poorer-than-expected 2021 race performance is one of the consequences we’re noticing from the cancelled 2020 regatta season.
Some Masters did a lot more training, but the racing intensity they missed out on made a difference. With that in mind, it’s important to schedule preparation or B and C races into your 2022 training calendar so you can achieve those all-important fitness bumps.
They are also opportunities to practice those skills or tactics you identified as performance opportunities. If you missed out on getting into an event, consider racing it on the ergo or on the water if possible. Go through the race day preparation, like you would if you were actually racing. This way, you can simulate the race and test out your performance.
On top of these steps you obviously need a solid training plan for 2022. I recommend that you work with a professional coach, and a group of experts that can help you to go faster. Find a good nutritionalist, a strength and conditioning expert, someone that can help you with planning or your mental game.
When you want to improve your performance from 2021 to 2022, I recommend you start working with a coach NOW. Waiting until you know you have an entry means a significantly shorter training roadmap, and even if you don’t get into your goal event you’ll be able to switch to another event more easily.