Given the fact that the “fruit” we call bananas is so common and inexpensive to buy, it is easy to take for granted that the Cavendish bananas commercially available in stores are a production miracle brought to the United States from literal “banana republics” in Central and South America. You can read more about that process here.
For our purposes, it is enough to consider the fact that bananas often arrive in stores well before they turn yellow. At that stage, they are green and not really edible yet. The peels don’t cooperate and the fruit is tough and unripe. It usually takes a day or so for bananas to turn yellow once we bring them home from the store.
That means bringing bananas to market is all about timing. That means have a plan in place for planting, tending, ripening, harvesting and logistics. Perhaps you can see where this is going. It doesn’t pay to pick bananas too soon or too late, or they’ll spoil before reaching their market destination.
Every training plan for endurance athletes equates to a bunch of bananas. The work of doing the training is the planting phase of the operation. That’s the base endurance work of building heart and cardiovascular fitness. It can’t be rushed or the bananas will not come to fruition.
The next phase is the tending phase. In endurance sports, that’s a question of protecting one’s health as training loads increase. This is where the banana grows the most.
The third phase is the ripening phase. That’s the period in which quality training work enters the picture.
A bunch of bananas
Each banana in the bunch represents a future race. They may differ in nature, but they are genetically similar because each draws upon your base abilities to swim, run and ride.
The ripening phase is when athletes and coaches need to fine tune their approach to meet the timing of races on the schedule. This takes place when bananas are still in the green phase. That “greening” of the bananas in question will involve time trials and other methods to test fitness and adapt where necessary to bring each “banana” in the bunch to market.
For a triathlete, that could mean a series of races increasing in length; sprint, Olympic, Half or Full Ironman distance triathlons. Or it could be a 5K, 10K or other races in prep for a full marathon. There could be an open swim competition to prep for open water racing. Each race is part of the ripening phase.
The harvesting phase begins as the peak racing season truly dawns. That’s when your training and racing bananas are at their fullest, brightest yellow. And remember, you’ll be out there with people just as bananas as you are. That’s part of the fun and joy of competition.
The first couple races you may still feel a little “green” as your body adapts to the pressures of hard effort. But as the racing season progresses, the bunch of bananas you’ve stored up in your system gets brighter and lasts as long as you can sustain conditions ripe for the plucking. It’s not a perfect metaphor, as real bananas generally last only a week or so. But if you imagine that each race is a banana to pluck and peel, you get the picture.
Cashing in your bananas
There’s also a risk during all these training phases to go a “little too bananas” and overtrain during the tending and ripening phases. That results are then disease or fatigue-driven illnesses such as a sore throat, the common cold, or worse. You can recover from these situations, but typically that means you’ve sacrificed one or more of your carefully tended bananas. You’ll have to move on to others in the bunch.
Then there’s the “banana peel” of injury as well. That comes from trying to go “too fast, too soon” or doing too much volume. It’s obviously easy to peel a banana apart during periods of great excitement. That’s known in running parlance as “leaving your race on the track.” If hard intervals or speed work are done too hard or in too much quantity, the body flares into peak condition, then goes stale.
All that gets you is bragging rights about being the Big Banana in training. We all know someone like that. Remember, it’s not all about the size of the banana in this world. It’s what you do with your bananas, and how to use them. Don’t slip up in this category because an injury can turn all the bananas in your bunch rotten in a hurry.
Anyone that has trained a long time also knows that after the harvest and logistics phase in any bunch of bananas, there comes a point when the bananas start to develop spots no matter what you do. At that point, the insides of the fruit go soft and brown. The appetite for racing and competition wanes. It’s time to cash in the bananas at that point and make banana bread or a smoothie. Let the body rest.
There you have it. A model for understanding the the “appeal” of a training plan built in phases.