Lessons from the off-season

As daytime gets longer and with pre-season training under way, this time of the year lends itself to looking ahead, getting energized about early season races, warm sunny days, and training outside. However, there are certain times when I find it just as important to look back as I do to look forward, to reflect on a “block” of the year gone by, in this case, the off-season.

In particular, here are three lessons I learned during the past few months:

1) Allow the body to recover, but do so without loosing your conditioning

After eight months of Ironman training plus two months of marathon training, my body was ready for some rest and recovery by the end of October 2014. I experimented with taking November off from triathlon and most forms of exercise. Physically, I definitely needed time off from training. Mentally, I knew I was not going to be able to find the motivation to wake up early to go swim, to log miles on my tri bike, or to pound the pavement. Later, in December, my training regimen consisted of swimming twice a week plus a few short bike sessions on the trainer. No running except for a couple of social fun runs. In January I focused on biking — though only about 3 hrs per week — plus one swim per week. It was the first half of January when I realized I had lost significant conditioning.

In the later half of January I hired a coach. This was not as a result of being out of shape, but rather something I had been considering to take my competitiveness to the next level. Initial conversations were a wake up call in helping me realize I was taking the off-season a little too easy. I was behind on training relative to competitive athletes I would be racing against in a little over three months. I got the kick in the butt I needed to get me training seriously again, six days a week. Starting to run again, however, was another reminder of how out of shape I had gotten. It’s amazing how quickly the body can go from Ironman fitness to being out of breath!

In summary, I learned it’s ok to listen to what the body wants for a few weeks. This is highly beneficial for physical recovery and mental sanity. After this period, it’s essential to stay active in all three triathlon disciplines. Trying to maintain fitness in one discipline will not carry over to the other two! And if feeling unmotivated to exercise, adding a little cross training variety into the mix will help.

2) Keep training, but remember to keep the off-season enjoyable

Throughout the off-season winter months, I find it extremely difficult to get motivated to head to the pool in the dark, frigid hours of the morning. I dread this. Once I get to the pool and start swimming I am ok, but anything before this makes me grumpy and unhappy. Since triathlons are meant to be fun, there are two things I did to make my off-season enjoyable:

  • I decided to wait until March to start swimming twice a week, when daylight saving goes into effect and temperatures warm up a little. Luckily, I am a strong swimmer and the performance losses from the reduced swim sessions are negligible. The happiness gains are far greater!
  • I joined Masters Swim practices to find greater motivation to get up in the morning (I used to swim by myself with my own workouts). I now feel a sense of belonging to a group and accountability. This has definitely helped!

3) Don’t wait too long before planning your season ahead and committing to races

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 7.06.29 PMMany of my friends signed up for 2015 races months ago. As for myself, it wasn’t until early February when I finally decided what my racing season would look like. I spent several weeks debating in my head whether I wanted to do my second Ironman in 2015. I was considering IM Maryland in September and was under the impression that the race wouldn’t sell out anytime soon. I thought I could wait to decide. One day a few weeks ago, I learned there were handful of spots left for this race, freaked out, and before I knew it, the race was sold out. So much for doing IM Maryland.

In the end, a number of other reasons led me to say no to Ironman in 2015 (I could have looked into other 2nd choice race venues). I also learned that I should not put myself into the situation of having to make a rushed last minute decision when it comes to some as big as committing to an Ironman. Once I made the decision not to race an Ironman in 2015, all others followed much more easily and with great confidence. I am now signed up for half-iron triathlons in May, June and August. Eventually I will add a fourth one in the Fall, and I won’t wait until the last minute to register!

Cheers to becoming a better, smarter athlete!