When it’s training time, we mostly do it with lots of gusto. It feels great. We gain speed, endurance and strength at the things we love to do. But what about now when the season winds down and the next big carrot goal is way, way off somewhere in the future? What’s most important to be doing now in the off-season to set up another great year in 2019?
This is the best time of year to tally up what worked and what needs improving. It’s time to ask what will next year’s inspiration be, not just within the world of sports, but also in life. It’s when all the intangibles that make us human can be taken stock of. What lessons were there to learn from races last year, not just in the successes but also in the events and times when things didn’t go as planned. And those lessons that are golden are the ones that have nothing to do with how you will improve your numbers. It’s the ones where you learned how to keep going even when faced with feeling like it wasn’t worth it.
It’s the moments where you found strength deep within to refocus in an impossible moment and just take the next step. Those are the lessons that come with some reflection. They are not the analyzing that will tell you how many more quarters you will need to do to gain that those extra 10-seconds per mile. They are the things that will help you get that 10-seconds extra even when it seems impossible to do it!
Anytime huge amounts of focus and energy are put into something, there is a need to rebuild the reserves that were tapped into. Now is the time to do that. I know that the athlete inside doesn’t want to lose the hard earned fitness that came from months of solid training. But without letting that go some, it’s impossible to take another step up in the future.
Can you workout? Absolutely and you should. But dial back the intensity to very conversational. Cut out the structure and only do a workout because you like the feeling of moving keeping the length of the sessions short enough that you know it’s not enough to keep you in top shape. Indoor cycling or running is great as the weather cools and the winter storms push through. Enjoy some music or watch your favorite series but do it on a stationary trainer or treadmill dialed back to easy. Get online with something like Zwift for some real world exercising in the comfort of your heated home.
Also rebalance the support you have from family and friends for your endurance endeavors. Now’s the time to take time to let them know what it meant to you to have their support and to overlook your overtrained moments where you felt like your world was falling apart! Help them with the things they have passion for that you’ve been too busy to be their domestique for.
Go into repair and recovery mode for a good month or two. This means focus on doing all the things that recovery requires. That’s good solid lengthy sleep. Eating all good things for your body, which can be a challenge as we go into the holiday season. Work on flexibility so that as your body is given a break from lots of training it can develop the range of motion that can end up a little less than ideal after a long season.
I’ve said it already, but I’ll say it again. Dial back the training! Reset the gauge of normal back to more of a truly normal level. If you feel you are pushing in a workout it’s likely too fast. If you are having to talk yourself into getting up for a planned training session, it’s likely too much. If you are not enjoying the vast majority of your workout, it’s time to cut it short and let repair happen. This isn’t being undisciplined. It’s being wise!
From the very early years of my days racing I saw two kinds of off-seasons. One was the most typical. It was about two weeks off after the last big race. That was followed by “not really training” that was barely much less than what the athletes had been doing during their season. It was just that they may stop at the bakery halfway through a ride and load up on sweets rather than stick to healthier fare during a bike. Then after about two weeks of that, they wanted to get a leg up on next season so they would just add in a few fast sessions just to “keep things interesting”.
These folks were super fit by the early part of the winter. They raced well in the first races. But by the midpoint of summer they would start to struggle. Then by the fall when the really big events all happened they were burned out.
Then there was a second, and much smaller, group of athletes. These were the ones who really did take an off-season. They would have 1-3 months of very unstructured workouts. They did alternate sports. They dialed the intensity and volume gauges way, way back. They let their fitness go without letting their health go. So they did some training, but it was just to have that great feeling of moving and had nothing to do with trying to get fit our maintain fitness. Workout frequency went way down. Volume was cut way back. There was almost nothing done fast.
These athletes got “out of shape” by their top standards at other times of the year and were slower than that first group when they stepped back into structured training. It would take 1-2 months to start to get the playing field to equalize with the ones who didn’t really take a true off-season. But they were the ones who kept building all through the next year and showed up in peak form for the biggest races at the end of the season.
Yes, a good off-season does take discipline. But to get you to do the opposite of what you normally do the rest of the year!
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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.