How to Train like an Elite by Nick Simonin
What 4 years of races and training camps looks like.
I was asked by Jeni to write some thoughts and ideas about how I train from pre-season all the way up until a major season goal of mine. In the last years this has been WOC in the summer time. To sum this up in a blog post only scratches the surface of training and being an elite athlete. It’s important to point out that this is what I find works for me. That’s what makes elite level sport so interesting. We are all trying to find the way that works for us.
The coming year always starts with me reflecting on the one that has just passed and looking forward to the season ahead, and what I want to aim towards as a goal/competition. Based on this I see what aspects I will need to work on to achieve this. Then the plan is laid down.
I’m going to split this up in two main training periods winter and spring. The analogy I would use is to think of yourself as a sportscar. At the start of every season it needs to be rebuilt to improve. During winter you spend your time building this sportscar and putting all the parts in place for the season ahead. Then the spring time is spent fine tuning the car and tweaking it to see what’s best to get the absolute most out of the car, which is you, the athlete. You know about the 3 cornerstones of being an athlete that need work: physical/mental/technical. All these 3 are equally important and depend on one another to make you into the best athlete you can become to reach your goals.
This is something that I see is a key to improvement and moving in the right direction towards reaching your goals. It’s easy to put a in 1-2 weeks of 10/10 training then 2 weeks of 3/10 training. Think what is realistic training wise and aim to do it consistently. You also have to weigh up everything else that is happening in your life because everything has some effect on your training. Below is a graph which shows in general terms what I mean.
Training with Consistency
– Green line = consistently training during the season. Here you will see the benefits at the end
– Red line = Training well for a period and then not training well for a time. You will at best only sustain a similar level through out the duration of the season
– Blue line = It usually looks like this due to injury or sickness. This difference here is the top elite athletes refocus and get back on track.
So, my main goal during the winter is to be able to train well for a longer period of time and get plenty smart kilometers under my feet and also have a good fitness base coming into the spring time and competitions. Listen to your body everyday and what it’s telling you. One of my strengths is being able to tell whether my body is just sore from training or if it’s telling me an injury is coming and I need to ease off. This comes from doing enough consistent training to tell the signs. The best training is running, but doing good alternative training like pool running or strength is really important to build a strong base. I have tried to put some focus on what I think about in my 3 cornerstones below
– Physical training is a mixture of long and steady runs where I let my body recover between the 2-3 high intensity, high quality sessions I do during the winter weeks. If I manage to do these well then, I know I’m going in the right direction. If I’m not getting the results I’m looking for, or should expect, then I have to rethink my training.
– Mental training can be done during training sessions. Putting your mind in situations that you think you might face at JWOC. It can also be gathering information from the internet about your goal. Everything from maps to what kind of weather it will be. If you have done your mental training correctly then standing on the start line of JWOC should be familiar and relaxed but totally focused for the job in hand.
– Technical training. Getting out on good maps, either at home, or going away on trips. Getting experience in different types of terrain is really important. The chance that your main goal is in your back garden is pretty slim and therefore being able to adapt and understand what is needed for different terrain types is really important. Looking at what you need to improve on, and making a conscious effort to improve is also important. I find it’s also better do to 30-40min of fully focused orienteering and get lots of feedback rather than say 90min of semi-focused orienteering and not sure if the mistakes were made due to lack of technique or just bad focus.
WOC 2016: Final meters of one of my biggest goals of that year
By the time spring comes around I am always looking forward to seeing how my winter training stands against previous years and my competitors. I am a firm believer that the best form of training is racing. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to be in top physical shape for every race. During the spring I start to ease off on the overall mileage at times to be in better shape for some key races, and also to get even more out of my high-quality sessions. To finally get to the best shape of the year for my main goal I from a period from about 4 weeks out, up until 2 weeks/10day out from my main goal I train extremely hard (maybe the hardest I’ve done all year). I then spend the last few days doing very, very little training. These weeks before the race is are key. Training sessions are planned in great detail. There is method behind this madness. By doing all this high intensity training I put my body into a state of shock and it goes into over-drive to recuperate the energy lost. Then when I rest, my body it still in shock but the levels of energy keep building up so that on race day my body is more than ready for this extremely hard session it has been waiting for during the last week to 10 days.
Other things to take in to consideration when trying to get the most out of your body is. are:
– Eating well, and getting the correct foods into your body, to give you the best chance to recover and perform.
– Resting well. Sleeping consistently and putting your feet up from time to time. Going to for naps in the afternoon is also good (easier to do when you are a student!).
– Think smart and long term. It can be hard to skip a training session because of a slight sickness or niggle but think instead what is best for me 2, 3, 4 months down the line.
– Motivation. We all have days we might not be super motivated to train but, trust me, the satisfaction of getting sessions done on these days is much better then having to think about the sessions you weren’t bothered to do.
Many people have come up to me during the years and said it must be really hard to succeed as an orienteer from Ireland. My answer has always been that it’s the best place to come from because nobody expects anything from you, and you just keep surprising them. So, think positive and embrace the challenge. If it was easy it wouldn’t be as fun or as rewarding. I hope some things here have been of some benefit for the months ahead. Best of luck with your goals. See you all at the Irish Champs. If you have questions feel free to write to me via Facebook messenger or Instagram. You can also follow my training on Strava where I post all my runs and maps.
Goals and enjoyment can even be shared as a team in this purely individual sport