Making the Most of the Last Four Weeks Before the Carolina Cup
We’re 4 weeks out from one of the biggest events of the year – the Carolina Cup. No matter which one of the three different races you’re entering, this is a challenging event as it’s so early in the year. And if you happen to be racing the Graveyard there are a number of additional challenges you’ll face because of the course. It’s got a little bit of everything from surf to downwind to tidal inlets to grinding it out in the flats, requiring command of almost every skill you can think of. And at almost 13 miles long it’s going to take at least 2 hours for the world’s best, meaning that the distance alone is a challenge. Clearly it helps to be well prepared for an event like this and that preparation isn’t something that can be pulled together in the last 4 weeks. That said, the decisions you make with regards to training during those last 4 weeks could have a huge impact on your results.
If you’ve been training on a comprehensive program and paddling all fall and winter, your last 4 weeks should basically be about fine-tuning and polishing. Most of your work has already been done. If you’ve trained on a thorough, well-planned program all winter that has been mostly land-based, your last 4 weeks should look a little different. You’ve really just started your on-water training so your last 4 weeks should be a bit more about work – building specific fitness and consolidating skills as much as you can. The better you use your time in this period, the better you’re more likely to do.
If you’re relatively new to training and are really just recently starting from scratch, your last 4 weeks should look different still. You should probably be preparing for the Harbor Island (3.5 mile) or Money Island (6.5 mile) races. These are great, hotly contested events that will really test your fitness and skills. These last 4 weeks of preparation represent a lot of time for you to develop both if you use your time constructively and wisely.
Let’s take a look at each of these scenarios and how you can use these last 4 weeks to your best advantage.
You’ve been training on the water all winter
If you’ve been training on the water all winter you should have completed most of your base work a month ago and more recently been working at higher intensity. This is precisely what those of you on Paddle Monster’s Spring Competitive program have been doing.
How you structure these last 4 weeks depends a lot on how your program has been periodized. But in general, you’ve got two weeks to continue to push aggressively with a considerable load of high intensity work and then two weeks to wind things down, cutting way back on volume while maintaining a high level of intensity. When you’ve reached this point you’re not trying to go faster by working harder, you’re trying to go faster by doing less, but high quality, work. It’s all about polishing and getting sharper by dramatically reducing the load you’re placing on your nervous system and the energy demands of each training session.
I generally recommend a full training load four weeks and three weeks out from a major event. Two weeks out I generally cut the load by anywhere from 25% to more than 50%. In the last week I cut it further – by as much as 80%. In fact in the last couple of days before a priority event all I recommend is very short paddles where you basically do a few bursts then turn around and head back to shore as soon as you feel good.
Of course all of this is subject to modification depending the nature of the program’s periodization and things like travel to the event. It’s entirely possible that the cycling of training will require a lower load week four weeks out from the event. In that case the load may be cut by up to 50% for that week. However in this case the third week out from the event should go back to full load.
In the last week (the week leading into the event) there is often travel which usually disrupts training. This should be built into the plan. Travel can be stressful, so training load can be reduced even further to account for it.
Here are some tips and things to think about in the last 4 weeks:
4 weeks out
- Focus on your training, not the upcoming event. I find that looking too far ahead at an upcoming race often tends to make people nervous about the event while taking focus away from attention to detail and the process of paddling as well as possible in each workout.
- If you’re an intermediate or advanced level racer, for a race like the Graveyard you should include 3 super intense workouts per week, one anaerobic-lactic, one aerobic power and one that is based on pieces from 12 to 15 minutes long. Examples of these types of workouts are:
- 8 x 1 min, all out, 4 min rest (anaerobic-lactic)
- 2 x 4 min, 3 x 3 min, 4 x 2 min, 2 min rest between all (aerobic power)
- 3 x 2000m time controls, 10 min rest
- Polarized training is important. To ensure you get the most out of the intense workouts you do try to do lower level aerobic work in between the most intense workouts. Remember you’re still training for a 13-mile race.
- Start to consider your pre-race warm up by practicing it before your most intense on-water workouts. Assess your readiness to go all out each time and experiment with tweaking the warm up to see if you can find a way to warm up that enhances that readiness. That’s the warm up you’ll want to go with for the race.
- Begin to nail down your in-race hydration and nutrition strategies.
- Find time to do some work on your skills like beach starts, drafting, downwinding and surfing (you should have been doing this all along, but if not it is extremely important you build these into your training this week). You will need these on race day.
- Continue with your strength training
- As this week should be intense with reasonably high volume, nutrition, rest and recovery strategies are important. Eat well and eat a lot so that you are well fueled for the training load you’re undertaking. Get enough sleep and find time to relax between workouts if possible. Experiment with recovery strategies like massage, hydrotherapy, stretching, etc. if you haven’t already. Find out what works for you and apply these strategies, especially after your most intense training sessions.
3 weeks out
- This should be similar to four weeks out in terms of the balance of training, the intensity and the volume. Depending on your periodization you may even add volume this week.
- Nutrition, rest and recovery strategies continue to be very important.
- You should be continuing to experiment with your pre-race warm up, but should be closer to narrowing down exactly what works for you.
- Finalize your in-race hydration and nutrition plans. In the last two weeks there won’t be enough volume in the program to allow you to really experiment with this.
- Continue to find time to work on refining the skills you’ll need on race day
- Continue to do your strength
- Carefully monitor your fatigue level, especially in the last half of the week. Taking your resting HR every morning is a good way to do this. If there is a high level of cumulative fatigue you see it considerably higher than normal. If there is any doubt about it, err on the side of caution and begin to cut the training load (volume) back slightly towards the end of the week.
2 weeks out
- Here’s where you begin your taper or peaking process. Volume of training should be reduced by 25 to more than 50%, largely depending on fatigue levels identified at the end of the third week out.
- Maintain the intensity in your training. Lighten the load by reducing the volume of each intense session. So if you were doing 10 x 1 min all out in the third week out you should now be doing 4 to 7 depending on your fatigue levels.
- Be self-disciplined and resist the urge to pull hard strokes or try to go fast in the lower level sessions between intense sessions. You want to ensure your nervous system fully recovers between intense sessions.
- Continue to focus on nutrition, rest and recovery strategies
- Continue to do your strength, but start to cut the volume. For example you may want to reduce 3 sets of each exercise to 2 sets.
- You should have your pre-race warm up pretty much refined. Use it before each intense training session so you are comfortable with it and are programmed to perform optimally immediately after the warm up. This will help you immensely on race day.
- You should have all of your race logistics organized so begin to develop your pre-race plan. You can also consider your actual race plan.
- Begin to visualize how each training session relates to your race and visualize yourself performing calmly and confidently in the race while doing your training session.
1 week out (culminating in race day)
- Maintain intensity in training but cut volume of intense training sessions and all other training by as much as 80%. You want to do enough to feel sharp but no more. For example if normally you’d do 10 x 1 min all out, this week you should be doing no more than 2 to 4 of them.
- Understand that all the work is done. You can’t get faster this week by working harder. If anything that will make you slower.
- Do your last strength workout for the week on Monday
- Thursday and Friday do short paddles, if at all, of no more than 20 to 30 minutes total duration. Do a few bursts and as soon as you feel really good, turn around and head back to shore.
- Finalize your pre-race and race plans
- Build your travel into your training schedule so that it doesn’t impact training in a negative way. Remember travel is stressful. You don’t want to subject yourself to too many stressors in the last few days before your race. On a travel day plan to do a very short paddle just to loosen up after sitting on a plane or in a car rather than a longer, more structured workout.
- Eat with your race in mind. This means consuming additional quality carbohydrates in the 2 days leading up to your race. You want a full fuel tank on race day.
These tips are not an exhaustive list. Know yourself. If you’ve been training properly all fall and winter and especially if you are an experienced racer, you should have a good idea of things unique to you that help you perform optimally. Make sure you tick off all these boxes and don’t neglect any of them. Leave no stone unturned. You need to take responsibility for your own performance. If there’s something you know from experience works for you, build it into your plan!
If you haven’t been paddling all winter, your run into the Carolina Cup is going to look at little different…
You’ve trained all winter but have only been on the water for 6 to 8 weeks or less
If you haven’t been paddling all winter and only returned to the water in early March or later, you’ll be behind on your specific base and will have been playing catch up with lots of long paddles and longer intervals through March. This is a program similar to Paddle Monster’s Spring Base program. Near the end of March you’ll just be starting to introduce higher intensity work into your program.
If you’re racing the Graveyard it’s likely going to take you 2 ½ hours or more to finish. Doing lots of short intervals isn’t going to help you much if you haven’t done the base work to allow you to continue to paddle effectively for that duration. Whereas those who’ve trained on the water all winter should be doing three really high intensity sessions per week, I’d generally recommend those in this group only do two during the final four weeks, committing the one other workout to another longer paddling session or development of skills like beach starts, surfing, drafting and downwinding.
Because most of your first few weeks on the water should have been dedicated to accumulating a base on the water, the introduction of these more intense sessions is likely going to be occurring in the last 4 weeks leading into Carolina. This means that while most of the things discussed in the 4-week summary for those who’ve been paddling all winter apply here, the balance of training and the length of the peaking process are going to be a little different.
Here is a summary of tips for those who’ve only been on the water for 6 to 8 weeks before the event:
4 weeks out
- Follow the tips for those who’ve paddled all winter listed above. You’re racing the same race as they are, your approach should be the same other than the balance of work.
- Include 2 “high intensity” paddles a week. I’d focus on high intensity sessions of a little longer duration like the aerobic power and 2000m time control sessions mentioned above. I’d drop the all out anaerobic-lactic minutes for all but the most advanced trainers in this group. While developing the speed that comes with that workout might be desirable, the lack of training time means that you’ve got to make some priorities in your training. In my opinion doing extra work aerobic power or 12 to 15 minute all out pieces like in 2000m time controls will contribute more to your ability to do a solid Graveyard run than doing a session of minutes all out will.
- Replace the third high intensity workout with another longer, lower intensity workout that develops your specific aerobic base
3 weeks out
- This week should be pretty much status quo from 4 weeks out. Depending on the periodizaton the training load can increase marginally. Otherwise things are the same as 4 weeks out.
2 weeks out
- Unlike 2 weeks out for those that have paddled all winter, you should be starting the week with no noticeable decrease in training load. Try to maintain the same volume and intensity as 3 weeks out up to and including Wednesday, then begin to reduce load by about 30%. Remember this means you’re cutting the volume of training, not the intensity.
1 week out (culminating in race day)
- Start the week with training load cut by 50% and maintain, if you can, through Tuesday before cutting to about 30% for Wednesday and Thursday and making Friday a very short paddle where you only stay out for 20 to 30 minutes and return to shore as soon as you feel good.
- Everything else you do should be the same as what those who’ve had a full winter on the water are doing.
You’ll note that most of what you’re doing here is the same as those that paddled all winter are doing. That really shouldn’t be surprising as you’re racing the same race after all.
The main difference is that your peaking period is more condensed. You’re seeing the decline of workload occur in a shorter period of time. This allows you to get a little bit more necessary work done and still get enough time to rebound from hard training and be rested on race day.
If you’re new to training and really just starting to prepare for your first Carolina Cup
If you’re relatively new to training and have just started to prepare for your first Carolina Cup your last four weeks are going to look different still. Here’s what I suggest for you:
- If you’ve been training 6 times per week or more, even if you’re new to training you should probably plan to taper like those who have been training on the water for 6 to 8 weeks. Follow the same reduction in training load recommended for them.
- If you’re training only 4 times per week or less your training plan should look a little different. Here’s what I suggest your last 4 weeks look like:
4 weeks out:
- You should be training as normal. For you the race is a long way away. If you’re a relatively novice trainer, 4 weeks is an eternity and you can do remarkable things in terms of improvement just by getting consistent time on your board. So relax and get completely focused on your training and don’t really worry about the race at this point
- I’d suggest doing three longer, lower intensity base workouts per week on the water and one at higher intensity.
- Do your strength and land-based cardio as per the program.
- Practice your skills. If you aren’t racing the Graveyard and instead are doing one of the two races on the intercoastal, first and foremost make sure you can paddle effectively in chop about 12 to 18 inches high. Practice paddling with it, into it and across it. You should also practice drafting. Drafting is the single most useful skill you can bring to a race like this.
- Give some thought to your warm up, experiment with it and learn what works most effectively for you. That’s the one you’ll want to use before the race.
- Become familiar with the concept of pre-race and race plans. Get your logistics organized. If it is your first Carolina Cup, talk to people who’ve done the event and start to try to get a feeling for what’s in store.
- Eat well, gets lots of rest and learn about recovery strategies if you are unfamiliar with them.
- Have fun with the process. Don’t get stressed about it. At the end of the day it is just another race. It’s a big one and nearly everybody is there, but it’s not a lot different than the 3 or 6-mile races you typically do. There’s just more people there to race against. If you approach the entire process with curiosity and a sense of fun you’ll enjoy the entire 4-week lead in and race weekend to the max.
3 weeks out
- Continue to train as normal and to follow the pattern of training and preparation established in the fourth week out.
- Increase your volume slightly. Add another 10 to 15 minutes on the water to each of your 4 training sessions.
- Make your “high intensity” workout a little shorter in duration and a little more focused on speed. Don’t go crazy with the idea of going fast as you’re still doing a 3.5 or 6.5-mile race, but none the less get a little practice paddling at top speed on your board.
- Continue to practice skills as above.
2 weeks out
- For most of you, I’d recommend carrying on as you have been for the last two weeks.
- By this time you should have a warm up that you’re comfortable using on race day and a pre-race plan. Your logistics should all be taken care of.
- Don’t increase your volume, but instead return it to the level from 4 weeks out.
- Do your land-based training as normal including strength and any running/land-based cardio
1 week out (culminating in race day)
- This is the week that your peaking process starts. You’re still going to do 4 training sessions on the water but you’re going to cut volume according to the following formula:
- Workout 1 – cut by about 10%
- Workout 2 – cut by about 25%
- Workout 3 – cut by about 50%
- Workout 4 – cut by about 80%
- Do your strength and/or land based cardio on Monday, and then don’t do any more of either through the rest of the week.
- Show up on race day with enthusiasm and excitement for what you’re about to experience. Remember, focus on paddling well and don’t allow your mind to wander to things beyond your control like other racers, the results or the conditions. If it’s windy or rough and conditions are challenging, LOVE THE CONDITIONS. It will make everything so much easier.
Whether you’ve been training all winter on the water and readying yourself for your fifth Graveyard or you’re new to SUP and are getting ready for your first Harbor or Money Island race, there’s a lot you can do in the last four weeks to prepare.
The more experienced you are and the more you’ve trained, the less likely it is that you’ll get a lot faster in this period by doing more work. For you, most of the work is already done and it’s about getting sharper and more polished, and maybe refining some skills, your pre-race warm up and pre-race and race plans. It’s also about finding the right balance of work to rest down the home stretch so that you super compensate from all the hard training you’ve done and rebound stronger and with better endurance than ever.
At the other end of the spectrum, if you’re new to training and racing at this event you’ve got time in these last four weeks to learn a lot about paddling and develop both fitness and skills that you’ll find extremely useful in whichever race you choose to enter. For you, hard work in these four weeks can make a huge difference. You just need to make sure you ease off at the right time so you aren’t tired and flat on race day.
The vast majority of paddlers will find themselves somewhere in the between these two extremes. I wound guess that most will be closer to those that have paddled all winter, especially if they are entering the Graveyard. You should borrow heavily from the preparation tips offered to them but just adjust your peaking process to reflect the work that you’re making up for due to less time on the water.
Whichever group you find yourself in, the point is it’s time to zero your focus in on this event and make the most out of these last four weeks. There’s a lot that can be done this month that can make you faster on race day.
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