• Drew Dillman

#7: Peaking

Updated: Aug 10, 2020

Welcome to the Coach’s Blog powered by Dillman Coaching. The goal of this blog is to transfer my knowledge of racing and training to your brain. The primary audience intended are the athletes I personally coach, but I also make these available for any eager reader to enjoy.

In Blog #6 I discuss how running can be a valuable addition to your current training program. I’ve been running for years and believe that it is good both physically and mentally as a cyclist. Check it out if you want to learn more.

Cyclocross Nationals is right around the corner and many of the athletes I coach are in the “Peak” training phase. For this post I want to focus on what it means to peak, the method behind peaking and why peaking is so important.

What is Peaking?

Take a look at Mike Schultz’s definition from TrainingPeaks:

Peaking for a single day race means you are arriving on race day as mentally and physically prepared as possible, with potential for your strongest performance of the season. The art of peaking requires smart, creative scheduling for a proper taper.

Before you can fully understand Peaking, first you must have a basic understanding of Periodization. Periodization is a training methodology in which you go through different periods of training known as “phases.” Each training phase has a different focus and uses different methods to accomplish those goals. However, each training phase is combined to help the athlete reach peak fitness for goal events.

A common mistake made among cyclists is that they try to be at top form for every single race throughout the season. This is simply impossible. There is no way for your body to maintain top cycling form for even a few months, much less a full season of racing. Once you grasp this concept you are forced to pick and choose a handful of events you really want to focus on and then work to be on top form for these few events. This is what it means to peak.

The Fitness Pyramid


When I think of Periodization I picture a pyramid. We can call it the Fitness Pyramid. At the bottom of the Fitness Pyramid is the Foundation or Base. As a cyclist you should be familiar with the phrase “base miles.” That’s what I’m referring to. The bottom portion of our fitness pyramid is the biggest portion of the entire pyramid and the size of this foundation determines how tall the pyramid will end up being when it’s all said and done. In other words, the amount of base miles and endurance rides you do in the winter and spring will determine how high you can build your fitness in July when you want your fitness to be at peak condition.

The primary focus during this training phase is the aerobic system. When you spend time doing long endurance rides and building a huge base you are improving your aerobic engine. And as we all know from childhood, the heart is the strongest muscle in the body. The foundation or base training phases are focused on developing your aerobic engine. Even if you’re a track sprinter who relies heavily on non-aerobic systems, the aerobic system largely determines top performance and fitness. If you don’t spend time improving and building the bottom of your fitness pyramid, the top of the pyramid won’t go very high.


Once the foundation is built we progress to the middle of our fitness pyramid which is where we focus on increasing threshold. This is known as the Build phase. This training phase includes a lot of intervals right around your threshold in the Stead State and Climbing Repeat zones. One of my favorite workouts during this phase is the Over Under workout, which all my athletes are very familiar with. By spending time at or right below your threshold your body adapts and your threshold starts to increase. Or in other words, your pain tolerance increases. Your threshold is right where you can hold your power without blowing up. We often refer to this as the “red line.” Go over the red line and you don’t have very long before you hit the wall. Enduring long amounts of time near this red line is painful, but highly beneficial.


Once we’ve spent about 2 months in the Build phase we move onto the Peak phase. This is the moment we’ve been building towards for the past 4-8 months. This is when you’ve done all the hard work and suffered through all the pain and now it is time to reap the benefits. The foundation has been laid and the majority of the pyramid has been built. Now, it’s time to top it all off.

During the peak phase we focus on high intensity, low volume workouts that will keep your fitness at top level while improving your high end power. This is where we see Power Intervals come into picture, which are the most intense workouts you’ll see all year. Power Intervals are the hardest effort you can sustain for a given amount of time. They are just as terrible as they sound. There is also a higher emphasis on recovery during the peak phase as well. This is the time of the year when you are racing your goal events so we only do enough intensity between races to keep your fitness from dropping.

Why Peak?

Because it’s the best method to build fitness. We have to accept the reality that we can’t go fast all the time. We can’t win every single race, every single weekend. Why not? Answer: because we are human. Our bodies have limitations we can’t ignore. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your fitness can’t be built in a day either. It’s a process that takes time and dedication.

Once we accept this reality, we are forced to select a few very important events that we want to focus our season around. These are our goal events. These are the races we want to win. These are the races where we want to crush souls. These are the races where we need our fitness to be in top form. And peaking is the best method to accomplish these tasks and get us where we need to be.

Notes to Users

Be Patient: We must realize that there will be weekends of racing when we won’t crush souls. But we aren’t disheartened because of this, because we know we will be crushing souls later in the season. Don’t let local races in March discourage you when you’re training for Nationals in July. Trust the process. It may seem like a slow process, but it is a proven process that yields substantial results.

Set Passionate Goals: This is the first and most important step for this training method to work. If you aren’t passionate for your goals then you’ll have a really hard time staying motivated to do Base miles in January when Nationals are in July. Personally, I have been more motivated than ever this 2018 Season because Cyclocross Nationals are in my hometown of Louisville, KY and I set a goal of winning the Pro Men’s race back in February. And that goal I am so passionate about has helped me stay motivated and focused over the past 9 months.

Set Priorities: There will be C Priority races along the way that are used solely as training. Don’t be afraid to take some risks in these and learn from mistakes. Take advantage of small local races to try new racing strategy so that when Nationals come around you know what works and what doesn’t.

Have Support: Having a strong support system is crucial for you to accomplish your goals. We need people to hold us accountable for our goals and who understand our passion and drive towards those goals. I am so grateful for a wife who understands my goals completely. CJ knows how badly I want to win Nationals and she has had to make sacrifices in her own life to help me strive for that goal. Find people in your own life who will help you strive for goals and willing to suffer alongside you.

Final Words

As days go by and goal events draw closer there is a greater importance placed upon all the little things; sleep, nutrition, pre-ride, bike maintenance, stress, focus, motivation and countless others. You have spent months building up for these few weeks when your fitness is at its highest. Don’t let something as simple as the flu or a common cold ruin your big day. This is the time when we need to make sure we have everything dialed. Sleeping good. Eating good. Training good. Resting good. It all plays a factor for the big day. You’ve worked hard and deserve to have a solid race, don’t let something preventable mess it all up.

For a personalized annual training plan created by a coach that understands and cares about your goals then search no further. Dillman Coaching is at your service! As a coach, your goals are my goals and I want to see you accomplish them as bad as you do. Don’t hesitate to give me a call if you’re interested.


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