Triathletes that have successful race seasons consistently do two things very well:
1) Master their winter triathlon training 2) Eliminate weaknesses
You may be thinking the off-season is the time to have 3-4 months off, eat what you want and party hard?
Sorry to break it to you, but not really!
Off course, we train hard during the season, and we deserve some time off for sure but if your winter training is poor, or a bit random, you will spend the first few months of the next season, struggling and playing catch up just to get back to where you were at the end of the previous season.
What if you used the winter training season to get ahead so by the time spring rolls around you are in far better shape to spring board forward instead of starting from scratch?
But this does NOT mean continue at the same pace doing the same training you did during the season.
Of course you need a break mentally and physically to repair, to rest and to change your pace to come back mentally and physically fresher.
But you are probably wondering:
• So how do I continue to progress as an athlete in my winter triathlon training without getting burn out? • How do I avoid the temptations of staying under the duvet when it is freezing wet and dark outside?
Every triathlete looks forward to the off-season.
After months of hard training, rigid diets, monitoring heart rates, watching power meters and measuring % body fat, it is a luxury and quite frankly REALLY important to have some time off to rest, and recuperate.
But how much time? Can I eat what I want? What training should I do to give me a head start on everyone else next year? How do I best spend the off-season?
These are the usual questions we ask ourselves as we finish up our last race and are still keen to squeeze out best performances…
But after a few well earnt weeks of rest and recovery, when there is no prospect of a race for a few months and the cold, dark nights of winter draw in, it is easy to lose motivation, to head to the café instead of the gym and gradually lose our way, lose focus and end up losing fitness…
One of the worst feelings is the first few rides or runs of the new season when you remember how hard it is, and even worse when you are breathing hard, you can feel the extra pounds of weight jiggling and you are suffering intense lactic burn but your mates seem to be handling it fine!
For some athletes, a winter training victory is that they ONLY put on 5kg of fat…. But I’m sure you could do better than that
Even picking one new strategy and actually doing it- could make the difference from being at the end of the pack next year to the top half, or even better!
This is a long read, but chose 2 or 3 headings that grab your attention and stick with them. You won’t regret it.
1) REVIEW YOUR SEASON AND PLAN A 90 DAY GOAL
It is silly to keep training blindly without stepping back and reviewing what happened this season.
The beginning of the off-season is the perfect time to review and reflect on the last year..
What went well? What went badly? Where could you improve next year? What would you do differently?
Review your training journal. Try to identify patterns of sleep, patterns of eating, certain training sessions that made the biggest difference.
Think about next year:
What you do want to achieve next year? Think for a minute about a goal that would really make you happy proud and glad to be alive.
This should not be your coaches goal, the “appropriate” goal you should be going for but a really cool goal that would stretch you, challenge you, maybe one that no one else thinks is possible…
What would it take to achieve this? Be specific.
If you wanted to experiment or change your diet, the off season is a great time to try it. Never make any drastic changes when you are training hard or have a race coming up.
Once you have got this- then extrapolate backwards- what therefore could you do in the next 90 days that would set you up to achieve this goal?
If the swim is your weakness and holding back your times- perhaps your 90-day goal could be:
By 'x' date, I will be able to swim 2km in 30 minutes
What about if you would love to do a half Ironman but you always get knee pain when you run longer than 1 hour?
What if you use the off-season to see a professional, get a gait analysis then learn what stretches and strengthening you need to do?
Maybe your 90-day goal is being able to run for 2 hours without knee pain
Maybe you keep getting muscle tweaks from your hamstring and calf muscles. Maybe you do not stretching- ever!
Your 90 day goal could be I will do yoga 4 times a week for the next 90 days”.
This is not something you would have to do forever and maybe just knowing there is an end point will help you stick at it. Once you have made big improvements in flexibility, it is so much easier to maintain through the rest of the season.
Make the focus of your planning your “A” race then work back from there with other smaller races you keep you sharp, give you race practice and mini celebrations along the way.
But remember to not book too many races- you will need recovery time and a mental break throughout the year.
You want to enjoy the year not feel stressed about competing every weekend!
Also remember to allow for unforeseen events, Life always throws up the unexpected so allow for this. Allow a little flex in your race schedule for illness, work deadlines, friends weddings, kids school plays and so on.
He or she who is most prepared…wins!
2) GET THE RIGHT GEAR!
There is a saying: “There is no such thing as bad weather- just bad clothing”.
If you are serious about off-season triathlon training, and want to continue to get outside to train, get the right gear. You will need warm gear, wet weather gear and some extra lighting so you can see in the dark and be seen in the dark.
It is absolute misery trying to go on a ride or a run with numb fingers, numb toes, never warming up and hating every minute. Winter cycling changed for me and became less hateful the day I bought bike overshoes and heated insoles. Consider your weak areas and how you can overcome the cold.
Obviously in many parts of the world, winters are very harsh.
But the right gear will make it a whole lot more pleasant and possible
Getting outdoors in the winter is great for getting some invigorating fresh air in your lungs, getting some daylight (if you go middle of the day) and feel happy about the world again.
Invest in proper cold weather gear that does keep you warm and dry and you will be much more able to stay on track.
My other personal favourites for getting me through the winter include: touch screen gloves and a warm hat.
3) CONSIDER BOOKING A WEEK OR TWO AWAY SOMEWHERE HOT
This is a great idea- which really helps you break up the dark, cold, dreary days of winter, gives you focus and something you look forward to.
Sometimes when you are in the depths of Winter, Spring seem a long way off!
But if you have a fun trip booked in January (or July in the Southern Hemisphere) - that is not too long to wait plus when you get back Spring and summer are not that far away.
You could choose between going away for a relaxing holiday or going away to an organised training camp.
Or doing a mix: Book a week’s training and another week total chill out.
If you do make it to a training camp – you will be pleasantly surprised by learning some new ways to train or a new training philosophy through the coaching teams that will be there, by talking to like minded athletes in your position and you may even come away with some new friends who you meet up along the way at different races…
4) BOOK A WINTER RACE
Not a triathlon of course- but there are plenty of running races on all the time and depending where you live, there may be some cycle sportives or duathlons.
Having a race booked in tends to focus the mind and increase motivation to train massively.
It does not have to be long or gruelling but even a 5km or a 10km gets the motivation juices flowing.
5) ALWAYS BE GRATEFUL
Wow- if you are competing or participating in triathlons, you really are one of the lucky ones.
There are plenty of people who either do not have the opportunity to play in this arena due to cost, lack of access or lack of ability.
It give me a well needed slap in the face when I have the occasional thought of “how difficult it is for me to get to the swimming pool.”
The change of clothes, getting wet, the irritation of other people in your lane, the smell of chorine lingering for hours afterwards, dealing with bad changing rooms, the dodgy showers and so on.. but this is NOTHING compared to thousands of people in wheelchairs who manage to get to the swimming pool every day to train and make the Paralympic swim team!
They have to rely on other people to drive them and pick them up and negotiate entrances and stairs. Getting changed and showered is so much more difficult!
It makes me remember to be so grateful for my health, my ability and the fact I have two working arms and legs.
6) PLAN A STRATEGIC PARTNER…OR GROUP TO MEET
By planning to meet a friend on a cold Saturday morning to run in the woods or by meeting a triathlon club to cycle 50 miles on a Sunday, you are then committed- you HAVE to turn up or people will KNOW you are weak, flaky and cannot stick to your word.
Obviously this is not really you!
I was a member of a rowing club at one point. I was the bow girl in a coxless four.
This meant that the boat could not go out unless all 4 of us were there. Funnily enough there was NEVER a session I missed-whether rain, hail or shine. Even in the depths of winter when tipping over into the water would have meant certain death in 20 seconds, or when we had to cut into the ice to put the boat in the water in pitch dark! Crazy right?
But not one of us missed a session all year!
Public accountability is one of the best strategies you can employ to keep you on track towards your goals.
Some athletes get a lot of motivation by announcing their goal publicly on Facebook or to their family and friends or to the tri club. Then you will be amazed at how much motivation you have when other people are asking how you are going with your goal.
7) BE A BOOK WORM
Always learn more, but beware Dr Google!
Even though you may have a coach or a club that sets out your program for you (this is great for efficiency) there is always something you could improve. Use the off season to catch up on your triathlon-related reading.
You may pick up new strategies and training methods that you have not come across before or you may read something you have heard before that now resonates with you better as you are 1 or 2 years further on in your journey.
Perhaps you chose to read about nutrition and try some different fuelling strategies over the off-season. Perhaps you want to test 1 month on Paleo diet versus one month on plant-based diet and test the difference.
Perhaps you choose to read books on productivity and fitting things in.
Or books on strength training or autobiographies of amazing athletes or business people, world leaders or historical warriors and conquerors and the challenges they went through to achieve great things.
Here are the ones I highly recommended:
Getting Things Done David Allen
Open:An Autobiography Andre Agassi
Finding Ultra Rich Roll
Triathlon: Winning at 70.3 Dan Golding (my esteemed colleague!)
Primal EnduranceMark Sisson
The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition Caroline Alexander
I’m Here To Win:A World Champion’s Advice For Peak Performance Chris McCormack and Mark Allen
and there are so many more….
8) ATTACK YOUR WEAKNESS: IMPLEMENT A STRATEGIC PLAN
Off-season is the perfect time to focus on your weakness and see if you can turn it into a strength.
What if your cycling is ok but everything time there is a hill you approach it with dread, then next you your know your friends have danced easily up the hill but you are gasping for breath with your legs screaming at you to stop?
Your friends have to stop and wait for you at the top but by the time you catch up with them, they are rested and head off.
You get no rest and now have to push even harder to stay with the pack.