What’s next without racing and what’s next for the following year? Whether I went into the off season on a high note or after a terrible year end race, my knee-jerk reaction was usually to immediately try to figure out what to do the following season. That was a mistake and here’s why.
Big victories at the end of the year gave me a huge emotional boost. Winning the IRONMAN World Championship was amazing to say the least. It gave me an immediate feeling of wanting to do another race if for no other reason than to be out there in the world of triathlon even though that voice inside kept telling me to rest.
Falling apart at that same race and losing was just as emotional, but on the other end of the spectrum. It was devastating. I wanted to make up for it immediately, which of course was impossible. Falling apart in Kona meant I’d already gone well below empty. No race a few weeks later would go any better. And getting it right in Hawaii wouldn’t come around for a year.
Neither of those all to common scenarios are points of clarity from which to decide the next step.
Whatever it took I waited until the immediate intensity of the end of my season had passed and I found myself thinking more about what I was going to be doing with my family that day. I wouldn’t plan my next season until I noticed I had become absorbed in projects other than racing.
Then I’d start planning. Every year I gave myself that breathing room I saw what I wanted to do immediately after finishing my final race was different than what I became important a month later. Here are a few thoughts on managing your off season so that it gives you the perspective to put the right plan in place for the year to come.
FOMO is “Fear Of Missing Out”. That’s the biggest hurdle to overcome if my season ended on a lesser note than I had hoped. I’d have an immediate feeling of needing to make up for what was not accomplished. It was a panicked response to enter an unplanned race and make up for it right away. That was FOMO: a fear that if I didn’t race again right away that I’d miss the best opportunity to set the record straight.
It also became that little voice in my head saying I needed to start back training early to get a head start on the next year. It didn’t matter how tired I was, a bad end to my season left me with FOMO about training. In the middle of my disappointment I felt like maybe I needed to do more and that taking it easy would be missing the chance to sow some solid early season seeds of fitness. Neither worked!
I’d be excited by the results and feel like I didn’t want to waste my fitness by getting out of shape with a long off season. I’d want to add another race right away fearing that maybe I’d never quite get back up to that level again. Strike while the proverbial iron was hot.
That too was a mistake. A well planned taper that led to a great race meant that I had dropped my training down to be as rested as possible. That meant I was also close to seeing big slides in my fitness. That added race never made the grade! My body was always going into recovery mode and was not what I would need for another big effort.
Here’s a strategy I found that worked extremely well to overcome those pitfalls. Before I went into my final race of the year I had it fairly set in stone how long my off season would be. I knew how long I would cut way back on training and take care of all the other parts of my life that had been put on hold during the season. Usually that was about two months.
Then I’d divide that time into two parts. The first half was a no-decision zone. I would not make any plans for what I was going to do for racing the following year. I didn’t strategize on how I was going to modify my training to make the next season better and to not repeat any mistakes I’d made the past year. Yes, I would reflect on the past season because that was essential for learning. But no thought would be put into how to go forward.
After the halfway point of my off season, then I’d start to strategize about what was next. I’d plan my race schedule. I’d solidify the lessons learned and make commitments to any changes I felt I needed in my preparation. It was easy. It was clear. The immediate emotion that I had at the end of the season have passed and I had a good vantage point to see the best path forward.
The biggest decision I had to make each year was about whether I wanted to race again the following season.
I knew I would race professionally for a finite period of time, but had no idea exactly how long that would be. A lot of athletes reach this point after a long season of juggling work, family and training. And just like me, if the effort was tremendous, regardless of whether they had a good season or a bad one, it may feel like it’s time to make the big decision. Do I keep racing or do I move on.
Since competing in my final IRONMAN World Championship in Kona in 1995, I’ve reflected a lot on how I knew that would be my last Ironman. I’ve reflected a lot on what kept me going year after year when I was not winning. It all came down to this.
That’s a very simplified explanation of it, but an easy way to implement the Big Decision process. If you are wondering whether there will be a next season for you or not, ask yourself if it all makes a good story yet? And that does not mean did you have a good season or not. It’s not about whether you reached your dreams. Yes, those are good stories. But sometimes the story that is great comes from a very different perspective. Here is one.
With almost everything broken in her body, the doctors told her she would likely never walk again and to forget about competing. (See her complete video here.)
Janelle knew that was not the story she wanted. She fought her way back to competing and in 2012 finished third at IRONMAN Canada in her first race back after the accident. But there were still goals she had in her racing. She wanted to post a faster marathon split. She wasn’t satisfied with 3rd, she wanted first.
She continued to race until late-season in 2014. She completed the IRONMAN 70.3 Silverman in Las Vegas on her 37th birthday. The day after the race it all became clear. She didn’t need to race anymore.
Janelle knew she could leave the sport on her terms, not on the terms of the doctors who said she would never compete again. That made a great story!
Feeling complete and completely happy, Janelle walked away from triathlon and has never looked back. So the Big Decision is not always about ending on a high note, but rather about completing a great story.
Have you made your great story yet? If not, keep going! Use the first half of your off season as I did to get distance from the previous year. Then take the second half to plan the next steps. That is the key to setting up an amazing year to come!
See you at the races,
I am the Founder and CEO at Mark Allen Coaching. I am proud to have been voted in an ESPN global poll "The Greatest Endurance Athlete Of All Time." During my multi-sport career I won the Ironman Triathlon World Championship six time, the inaugural Triathlon World Championship at the Olympic Distance in Avignon, France, and at one point in my career I won 21 straight races across every derivation and distance. It was a great career, but that's all it would ever be unless I was able to share all of the experience and methodology we invented long before smart watches, power meters, and flashy uniforms. That's why I started Mark Allen Coaching, as a way to return to others at least the part of the gifts I received.