As a coach it's my job to plan athlete schedule's. Most of my knowledge has come from making mistakes which I feel is crucial for my ability to help athletes succeed. Coaching really is about preventing an athlete from making mistakes (not really about telling them how to do it, but how NOT to do it) and if you haven't made those mistakes then it's hard to see them coming. I'm not going to tell you how I plan my athlete's schedules but I am going to tell you how I plan my own.
The first thing I always do is lay my schedule out on paper. I make my training log a personal thing to me and I buy a blank, nicely bound book and I mark out each week with a ruler and a nice pen.. it's kind of anal but I have 12 years of logs that are more valuable to me than almost anything else I own! My training is deeply personal to me and my logs show it. I think it's critical to lay out a schedule in rough draft (pencil) form and get an over view of the entire training periodisation.
Then counting back from my goal race and only allowing myself 2 "A" races per year, I start to fill in the basic structure of periodisation. I also "step back" and pencil the rest periods that should be in place. Looking at 24 weeks of training makes it easier to see where rest is lacking. At this point the only real details I fill in are total weekly mileage goals and long run mileage goals. By looking at a 24 week schedule it is easier to plan a progression that makes sense.
That's really the easiest part- the structure of good weekly schedule is where the "art of coaching" comes in.
Below are 2 pictures (click on them to blow them up) of my pages from my training log book and are examples of precisely how NOT to plan a week. It was 4 week blocks like this that prevented me ever nearing my potential as an Ironman athlete.
If you look at several key components to the schedule you'll see that there was VERY little rest. Technically there were only 2 true rest days out of 19 with the last 2 days of the schedule being forced rest because I was "wasted"..
I planned my long run on Sunday but overlooked the overlapping training of Monday's workouts which had total time's of 7:05/ 6:15/ 8:10 (!)/ and 7:30 respectively. A true recovery workout is designed to simply increase blood flow and loosen the muscles (likened to a massage). On the bike it should never be longer than 1:30, on the run never longer than 45:00 and HR should be well below MAF. It is critical to look at your schedule in 2 week blocks because the overlapping training is often times overlooked.
I swam long on my recovery days- big mistake (in my opinion). Swimming was always my weakness and a 5k swim fatigued me more than a 9 mile run! My recovery swim days should have been 2k MAX and focused only on form.
I lifted weights during this period- huge mistake. In the bodybuilding world the athletes only lift legs hard 1-2 times per week because in order to grow and heal you need that much time between heavy leg work. As an endurance athlete there is a difference- but the recovery concepts remain the same. I was working my legs hard every single day and often times, multiple times per day.
I didn't have a son and I have the most supportive wife ever so my responsibilities were only to myself. I became a better coach (for my athletes) when my son was born. I retired from Ironman because I didn't want to come home and collapse on the floor unable to be the father I want to be. When I plan my schedule now- I write down (in permanent PEN- big difference from a pencil) the things that I plan on doing with my son and wife, these are non-negotiable activities.. running takes a backseat. If I see that we have a big day planned, I look at what I am doing the day before and do not allow a long run. No hard run either. I want energy to spend on the important things.
I feel that a self coached athlete (myself) needs to stay "fluid" with their schedules (this applies to you whether you have a family or not). Plan your week but if you have unplanned extra time you might think about "taking it when you got it" and doing one of your longer runs that may be scheduled for later in the week.
I plan my schedule 2 weeks in advance, then when I fill in my log for each day I glance over the upcoming schedule and look for mistakes. Stepping away from a schedule allows you to come back later with a different perspective. By staying fluid with your schedule you can also listen to your body more effectively and take rest days (or add more) when you feel the need.
You know the old adage "never grocery shop when you're hungry"? A similar rule applies with schedules. If you are extremely motivated you may "over coach" yourself. This means that your motivation is beyond your fitness, which is another reason I lay out the schedule in it's entirety and plan for gradual progression. By using the preplanned mileages as a guide you have a greater chance of sticking to them later.
This week we are driving to Montana for 10 days. We'll be canoeing, horse back riding and hiking in Glacier National Park so this week I am trying to load my week heavy on the front end so I can rest later in the week. I'll still get my mileage, but I am realistic about being able to run much when were there. I am also trying to waste myself a little this week so that a rest week will be warranted while we are on our trip. Look ahead and plan around the important things. Be realistic with your fitness level and whether or not you actually can race on Saturday then run long on Sunday.
I think the most important thing you can do as an athlete is to examine how much training you REALLY need to in order to reach your goals. Avoid looking at other peoples training and then trying to mimic it. I study the science of training and what the best athletes in the world are doing, it's my hobby and my job, but when I plan my own schedule I try to simply use that information as a guide and then apply it to myself. In the schedules above I simply thought that if Mark Allen was doing it then I would reach success if I did it too. If I heard that 'such and such' pro triathlete was cycling 350 miles a week... then 400 MUST better! Right?
ps- 6/17 was the most impressive day of the bunch. I was fit for sure! Even being wasted tired I was showing my potential in training. That was a solid day. The swim workout should have read "6 X 200 in sub- 2:30".. I was too tired to write.