What Should I Do During the Off Season?
The end of a racing season can be a stressful and confusing time when athletes are unsure what to do next. This is a critical time of year when an athlete can make big decisions that will affect the next season’s racing and results. Rather than filled with stress, triathletes should spend this time of year full of excitement for the upcoming months of preparation and hard work.
Here are some simple ways to make a huge impact on your training season and start it off in the right direction.
Take Some Time Off
Triathlon is very much a sport of attrition. It is usually the athletes who are able to endure throughout the training and racing season effectively that make their mark, and eventually achieve and exceed their goals. Aside from smart planning, this comes down to utilizing rest and optimizing recovery. We all know (or at least we should!) that planning rest weeks throughout a season and getting some R&R after a hard training session are important, but what about on the bigger scale?
The off season is the time to get that well-deserved rest and recovery in! Let’s face it – your body has just been through 10-11 months of continual physical stress and adaptation. Your body is aching for an opportunity to recover in order to avoid withering away and falling into the deep dark chasms of overtraining and fatigue.
Be good to yourself; your body needs it. Enjoy some activities you might not get to enjoy during the rest of the year: hiking, kayaking, mountain biking – there are so many options! Follow the guideline of unstructured training: It is fine to get out and go for a ride or a run, but make sure you are not pushing the intensity, and keeping it to a simple session guided by what you want to do. Don’t fall into the trap of going back to your favourite pre-season threshold session. Now is not the time.
Get in that extra massage a month. Enjoy sleeping in some mornings (but don’t make it an everyday habit). Soak in the chance to take it easy. Remember that it is during recovery that our body is able to adapt and become stronger. This prolonged 3 to 4 week period of “off-time” will give your body the time to adapt and rid itself of fatigue before starting that next training season.
We aren’t our best at the end of a hard workout; we are ready to rock after the rest.
Sit Back and Reflect on the Past Season
You’ve been through a lot this season. You’ve most likely had your triumphs and successes – you’ve most likely had your losses and disappointments. It is great to take in how you feel in those moments of self-discovery, but also important to reflect once again on those moments after the dust has settled. Look back at your season.
Really dig deep – reflect upon what you feel went well, and what could have gone better. When were you prepared? At what points did you feel you hadn’t prepared enough? Not only is pondering over these points going to help you set some clear goals for next season, they should give you some sense of motivation to do better, and some confidence in knowing that there were moments of greatness in yourself.
Training and racing logs are fantastic! This is a wonderful time to look back at those entries and enjoy sifting through the memories of both the best and the worst sessions and races. There is much to be learned about the past, but make sure the past motivates you to make a better future for yourself.
Keep Yourself Focused on What is Truly Important to You
What is this? More Reflection?!
It is time to decide for yourself what is the most important thing to you. Maybe it is your family, your career, your collection of mint-condition comics collecting dust in your basement (a small peek into my geeky self). It really doesn’t matter. But chances are there is something extremely important to you – YES! Maybe even more important that triathlon. GASP!
This is a critical moment at the beginning of your season, and something that is so important for every athlete to do. You need to determine where triathlon stands in your life. Determine what you need to do to protect and take care of that MOST important thing in your life, and then decide what commitment you can give to triathlon. It might be that you can give all your time and effort to it. There is nothing wrong with that. But make sure that you are realistic and if it is not at the top of your list, make the necessary changes in your training plan and schedule.
I’ve seen so many times in my coaching career athletes who are dishonest with themselves, and end up losing those things in life that they thought were important to them. If you truly love the sport of triathlon, you will see that you are still able to enjoy the sport while not abandoning your meaningful things in life. That may mean you can only train 3 to 4 hours per week – that is perfectly fine.
What commitment are you going to have this upcoming season? Whatever you can afford, make sure you make the best of that commitment to yourself.
Set Specific Goals
There is nothing worse than not knowing what to do next. If you’ve truly reflected on your past season, and made an inventory of what is important to you, you will be much better able to set a goal that is realistic to your situation and reflects what you most want out of the sport.
You’ve all heard it – “SMART” goals. They are important, but what is critical is that you reflect before making these goals. Goals without reflection are merely a wish list. There are a million blogs and articles about setting goals. You can spend your time learning about all the logistics there are to setting goals, but unless you are able to set them from deep within yourself, your goals will simply be words on a page.
Do your homework. Set goals that matter. Set goals that mean something to you.
Find a Mentor
Having someone you can look up to is an invaluable asset. We are living in a world where it has become just as much about the people you know, as the person you are. Networking has become a household name where once it was an unfamiliar term. Networking has become an essential part of every successful business and organization.
Believe it or not, networking has great value outside of the business world. You sometimes hear amateur athletes refer to their athletic hobby as their athletic career. You do have a triathlon career! And an important aspect of that career is surrounding yourself with individuals that will motivate you, inspire you, and give you sound, objective advice when you need it.
It seems we are always being bombarded with quotes about how you are the product of the people you surround yourself with. It is so true! Surround yourself with gloomy people, and you are going to find yourself on a direct-flight to grumpy-town. Negativity cultivates negativity while positivity cultivates positivity. You want to be a positive, hard-working triathlete? Surround yourself with positive, hard-working triathletes.
Not only will sparking these positive relationships and mentorships help you, you may actually find yourself being a mentor to someone else.
You now have the tools to start your upcoming season off right. Relax and take some time off, ponder and reflect over your past accomplishments, contemplate where you want to go, and build the relationships with those you want to go there with. Now go and make this a season of purpose and meaning.