Start Your Off-Season the Right Way: Make a Plan

One of the most important aspects of training for triathlon that is either neglected or approached incorrectly is planning your season. A diligent, focused triathlete who spends hundreds of hours pounding the pavement each year will certainly expect real returns. No one begins the season saying, “This year I want to be slower than ever before!” We all want to advance to the “next step”. Beginning the season with a plan that not only includes a list of races, but also details the type of training to be accomplished and how that training will be executed, is arguably the most important part of a successful training program. Below is a list of considerations and tips to building the plan that will get you to the finish line.

Year in review. Take a moment to reflect on the past season. Was it a success? If so, what made it a success? The best way to determine this is by assessing each race performance. Be honest when you ask yourself whether a key race was truly successful or not. And remember, results are only one factor in the outcome of a successful race. Here’s an example:

An athlete I coach began the year wanting to improve his pacing and ultimately, his result. In previous years, he had always had a decent swim and a very solid bike but would struggle to maintain pacing during the run. His training had indicated that he was capable of running faster than his race results showed. He and I put together a plan that focused more on sensible bike pacing in order to allow him to run more effectively coming off of the bike. My client’s year had several ups and downs that stifled his training consistency, thus he was not able to get in the usual volume that he had in previous years. Still, even with fewer training sessions in the bag, he focused diligently on pacing to set himself up for a great run. Going into his ‘A’ race for the season, he and I knew his fitness was down from previous years, so our expectations were realistic. We figured he’d have a slower overall race, but that he still had a shot at improving his pacing so that his running would not be sacrificed during the bike leg of the race. The strategy worked! He paced his bike better by keeping the intensity down (roughly reducing his average power output on the bike by about 15%). The result was perfect. He came off of the bike feeling fresh, and was able to maintain a pace that reflected what he was producing during his training. In fact, he ran faster than in any previous triathlon of the same distance, and his overall result was only a few minutes slower than his result the previous year. This was a serious breakthrough for him.

Also consider what did and did not work in your training. Review your training log and take note of when you might have had a breakthrough in your training or maybe when you went through a lull. What happened just prior to this episode? Were these factors reproducible or avoidable? Make a list to refer to once you are ready to begin building your training plan for the next season.

Set goals. Be specific: “Complete a 70.3 race with 8 minute miles in the half marathon,” or “Finish the swim in less than 30 minutes”. Work with your coach to create workouts that will specifically address these goals and hold yourself accountable to meeting the objective. To do this, set milestones. These are smaller goals that help you determine whether or not you are on track for reaching your larger goals.

Be realistic: Crushing Chrissie Wellington during the Ironman World Champs when, during your second-ever triathlon this past season, you failed to make the bike cut–off is probably not a realistic goal. Shooting for top 20 overall in a local Olympic distance race might be more doable. Or maybe last year, you cracked the top 20 and next year you want to reach the top 10. This gives you a realistic way to measure your improvement. Realistic goal setting will help you maintain your motivation, while keeping you from becoming overwhelmed and getting discouraged.

Create an overview. During the off-season, fine details are not yet necessary. What you do need is an overview of what you want to do, when you want to do it, and what sort of investment it is going to require. Meet with your coach to start plotting your goal races/race goals. Add to that a generalized idea of how much training you need to do to achieve your goals. If you have the experience of past years, you have an idea of what it takes to build a season of training that will lead to successful racing. Modify your plan based on the list from your year in review and your goals.

Get permission. This might seem silly now, but because there is such an intense time commitment to training, it’s best to let those in your life know when you need a little extra from them. For most of us, this means time away from other things in our lives. Work life, family life, social life: these will all suffer to a degree when the training and racing season begins. The best way to prevent neglecting any domain is to set expectations for each. Let your boss know you will need time off on certain day or that you’d prefer to have a lesser workload during certain weeks. Explain to your family that you need so many hours during the weekend set aside for training. Realistically, this will rely on compromise. Maybe you can negotiate some extra time off at the office to go to that spring training camp in the Rockies, but that may mean that you’ll need to make up the time by working extra in January and February. The same goes with family and social commitments. The key is to be flexible when you can be (when your training commitments are lower), in order to take advantage of times when you will need to put in those monster weeks of training. Setting realistic expectations and planning ahead will reduce any undue stress later.

Pick Your TeamPut together your team. We all need support. Preparing for triathlon requires more than just training hard. An athlete needs to have the support of those around him or her. For many of us, this support comes from our family. And as if it’s not difficult enough to build a family, add to that a grumpy, over–trained triathlete, and you’re suddenly throwing yourself into a lion’s den (see ‘Get Permission’). Putting together a good support team is crucial. Most of us are self-sufficient individuals, but having people around you that understand what our goals are and what they can do to help makes a huge difference. Emotional support is probably the most difficult, yet most important job your team can tackle. Knowing when you need encouragement or some time alone can take a huge burden off of you and allow you to train successfully.

Building a plan for success can be complicated, but learning from your recent past, setting goals and taking the right steps to allow yourself to succeed can minimize those complications. The key is to think about what you want to accomplish and how you can best accomplish this.

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