My daughter sat down beside me recently, looked at what I was doing and said “Dad, whatcha doing? Working on a puzzle?” I responded with “yes”, because that is what programming has always felt like to me. Lot’s of pieces and parts, all needing attention at some point in time.

Some obvious connections, others require hunting through a pile of seeming randomness and all of it taking a bit of patience. The following is one way to figure out that puzzle.

Let’s start off by saying that the videos attached to this are a bit random, not quite as coherent as I wanted them. They are rough and off the cuff, but in filming them I was able to start putting together how I figure this stuff out for myself and others. In doing so I was able to make a more coherent, comprehensive explanation (I think), found here.

Watch the videos, they’ll give you some quick insight. But I encourage you to read through the process of determining your focus, creating cycles and making a plan. Why? Because a goal without a plan is a dream. And a dream that is never accomplished makes unicorns sad, and we don’t want sad unicorns running around.

In both the Programming – Annual Planning and Programming – Phases video’s I use the terms cycles and phases interchangeably. I realized that wasn’t the best way to create clear insight into this stuff. I quickly realized I needed to establish better definitions of each element.

Phase – The focus of your training. A training Phase can last anywhere between 4 and 26 weeks. Understanding the focus of your phase allows you to make decisions throughout the year, determining which training sessions should be prioritized over others. Inside a Phase, you can and should have multiple Cycles to ensure development without injury or burnout is occurring.

Cycle – A period of training, written to enhance the Phase’s focus. These are “mini” phases that allow the athlete to focus for short amounts of time, usually 2-6 weeks.

A-Event – A primary race or event. There should be no more than 3 A-Events per season. A-Event’s dictate the yearly Phases, and structure of training Cycles. All training efforts should be geared towards preparing for these events. Results and outcomes of these events are placed high in priority, i.e. we are doing everything we can to ensure success.

B-Event – These are testing events. Primarily used to see how you are responding to training in order to make adjustments to the upcoming Cycles. These are placed in a Specific Phase leading towards an A-Event. The outcome/results of these events are mid-level in priority, primarily due to the fact they are tests which create insight into how you may perform in an A-Event.

C-Event – Events that you want to participate in for fun. They can be used as tune-up events and/or in order to keep motivated and the desire to train high. The outcome/results of these events are low in priority.



Base – Either a Phase or Cycle of training in which the primary focus is preparing for an upcoming Specific Cycle or Phase. Generally, last 4-8 weeks.

Specific – A Phase or Cycle of training leading to a specific event. Generally 6-24 weeks in duration. You can have Specific Phase compromised of multiple Cycles building to an A-Event.

TuneUp – Short 2-4 week Cycle used to re-evaluate your event readiness. These are to finalize event plans, run one last hard session, and to start the Recover/Taper portion of your training. Only used before an event.

Recover – Phase or Cycle that allows for recovery from a hard training cycle before an event or after a hard effort. The sole purpose is to re-cooperate as much as possible before the next Cycle of training or key event.

Off Season – Phase of the year in which you don’t need to worry about any A or B events. This is a period in which you should be spending time with family, catching up on things missed during heavy training and performing movements other than sport specific ones. This is imperative to keep an athlete from mental and physical burnout. This can also one of the hardest Phases to adhere to.

Now that some terminology has been determined, how do we implement it? With our Annual Planner as a guide, that’s how. What’s important to remember is that this is a guide, it’s NOT written in stone.

I’ve had athletes get seriously tweaked because they missed a few key sessions during a Specific Cycle leading up to an A-Event. Not until I pointed out that they had two children with the flu, a husband traveling for work, and we had sub-zero weather did they start to give themselves a little leeway. And not until I showed them another possible race in their Annual Planner were they wholeheartedly okay and ready to move forward.

The point being is that life happens, and being prepared to make adjustments is paramount to doing this stuff in a healthy a whole way. Yes, we find our goal race, we determine how to train for it, and we do everything in a power to accomplish that goal. And we also realize that there’s LOTs outside of our control so we make sure we have a backup plan (or two).

The Annual Planner

Annual Planning

Instead of talking in the abstract we will talk about one of our athletes, me, and use the first few months of the year as an example.

If you wath the video you will see my original plan, what follows below is a very revised version. That makes the plan in the video my back-up. See how that works?

The 1st thing we do is grab a copy of David Seah’s Compact Calendar. We’ve created an IRONWill version that is 13 months long and has few extra columns in order to help us organize more efficiently. Going from left to right the extra columns are used as follows.

2 Columns – To the right of the calendar you will see two small columns that allow you to quickly count off the number of weeks until an event. There are 2 columns because we can use these to count off our A-Event then count off to a B-Event, or make quick notes for that specific week’s focus.  In the example above I’ve counted out to both the A & B events then made notes as to the type of week using a waviness approach (more on that in another post).

Holidays – List of holidays that can affect training or you just want to keep track of.

Family, Work, etc – Used for any personal or work event that can affect training. Examples would be family vacations, birthdays (preparing for a 5 year old’s Saturday birthday party should take time away from your ability to train that Saturday), major work projects and deadlines, etc. I can not stress how important having a handle on these events can be. Knowing you have a major work project due the last week of March is a really good indicator that a goal event probably shouldn’t be the 1st week of April.

Races – Races or events you are interested in. Having more than just the goal events is useful for when plans need to change. It also helps in deciding how different events can fit into a training phase or cycle and help prepare for an A-Event

Note(able)s – (not shown above) This is where we keep track of random things happening. Whether it is a rib cook-off you want to go to or that BHAG race like UTMB. These sit there as reminders of bigger goals or something fun (fun is important).

Links – (not shown above) hyperlinks to all the various event and races. Quick and easy to find. This way when plans change and you’re scrolling through looking at other possibilities you can quickly find their homepage for more info.

Using the image above we can get a glimpse of how the beginning of the year could be laid out. In the video, you will see how I talk about running Grindstone 100 as the BHAG of the year, the main A-Event. But in order to do so, I need a qualifying 50k or 50 miler. Knowing that Grindstone is going to require some serious training I decided I wanted at least 20 weeks to focus on its training. That means I need to start the last week of May. Deciding on an A-Event that could be a qualifier before the end of May seemed logical. There were a couple events in my Note(able)s column like Fools 50k on 3/31 or Forget the PR on 4/14 but I wanted a B-Event before my qualifying A-Event.

Using websites like UltraRunning Magazine’s Calendar and UltraSignup I was able to find a few races that fell within the time frame, course conditions, and distance that I was looking for. Settling on The North Face 50 it was time to clarify focus for the first 1/4 of 2018.

Now I that I knew my 1st A-Event I started backtracking training, counting out 12 weeks (if I was less experienced it would be at least 16 weeks). Well, 12-weeks fell right around my birthday, which gave me an idea! 45 kilometers on my 45th birthday sounded fun and challenging. Was that possible? Well counting backward again I found that if I started training for that 45k by Dec 11, 2017 I would have 8 weeks to train. Perfect!

In about 10 minutes I was able to decide on a course of action for the 1st 18 weeks of 2018. That’s 34% of the year roughed out leading me to my BHAG of Grindstone. This gave me an 8-week Cycle (composed of 2x 4-week cycles) of Base building.  then I would have event week and 1 week of Recovery before starting a 10-week Specific Cycle for The North Face 50.  The entire 21-week Phase is considered a Base Phase because I am building up my body to be ready for Grindstone. It is a period in which intensity of sessions will be kept generally low (mostly Aerobic sessions vs anything Anaerobic) and the main focus is to see how I handle volume with a quality of training. Because if I can’t handle the volume and maintain quality for a 50 miler then I need to re-adjust my BHAG for the year.

When you take a few minutes deciding on key events then a few more minutes to see how they fit together you’ve started your year with the corners and some of the edge pieces of that puzzle that makes up your year and your training. With these pieces in place, you can start to fill in the rest with focus and smart training. That smart training will lead to accomplishing goals. And accomplished goals means happy Unicorns, and a happy you.

One thought on “Don’t make Unicorns sad

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