Now that the Season’s Winding Down!
By Chuck Graziano, USAT Certified Triathlon Coach
So the days are getting shorter, the mornings cooler, the weekends are wetter; all signs that the “racing season” is coming to its annual conclusion. We have all had varying results from extraordinary to disappointing, but the common thread most of us feel is the vacuum that’s created when our structured training is missing from our daily routine. So, what do we do now? How do we maintain the level of fitness we’ve achieved during the season? How do we fill the void created by the “missing schedule”? These are all natural feelings. In fact, someone coined an acronym to describe what ultra distance athletes go through- PIDS, or Post Ironman Depressive Syndrome.
Here are some suggestions for staying fresh and fit, and laying some groundwork for next year to be the best yet:
1. If you’re feeling like you’re “fried” from training, take some down time to refresh yourself. The BEST down time is not spent in front of the TV or with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s (yeah, we’ve all earned it) but with some alternate routines. If you belong to a gym, take a Pilates class. Do some mountain biking at a recreational or leisurely pace. Do some strength training, play tennis, hoops, etc. You get the idea. Staying active will maintain your fitness while you refresh yourself. The key is to do some “fun stuff” that you haven’t had time for during your peak training and racing season. Generally (and depending on your race schedule and other individual factors), Mid-October to Mid-December is the best period to go “unstructured”.
2. Slowly get back into some structured training after you’ve had some unstructured down time. Start in Mid-December (depending on your key race schedule for next year). Don’t be obsessive about it, but get yourself into a disciplined routine so that the “habit” becomes part of your lifestyle and built into your daily schedule. After a while, if you miss a workout, you’ll feel something was missing from your day. For some, first thing in the morning before the business day gets started is dedicated to training. Be committed to not having anything interfere with these hours. Try to swim, bike and run at least twice each per week during early winter.
3. As the weather starts to turn, start thinking about your winter schedule. Cycling and running (for the joy of it and not necessarily for a training purpose) are great into late November. You can get an indoor trainer pretty inexpensively and set it up in front of a TV and fan for the deep winter months. Indoor training (especially if you’re following a workout plan) can produce extraordinary results in your cycling performance. Cross country skiing is a GREAT activity during the winter. You can be totally recreational about it OR skate away and get your heart rate up to the red line! Snow shoeing is also excellent for maintaining your cardiovascular fitness. Back pack some snacks and go have some fun.
4. Watch your diet. All mammals gain fat in the fall and winter months. It’s unavoidable. But “fitness mammals” like us may gain more than our share if we continue to eat at the same rate as when we were maintaining a full training schedule. Monitor your calorie intake, but more importantly, monitor your quality. Shop as much as possible in the outside perimeter of the supermarket. That’s where the fruits, vegetables, unprocessed foods, fresh meats and fish are kept. Eat good quality grains and keep an eye on the glycemic index (GI) of the foods you eat. High GI foods tend to spike your blood sugar, leading your body to respond by carrying away the excess sugar and converting it to FAT! Watch your “low fat” or “fat free” foods. They’re usually higher in sugar than their non-reduced fat cousins. Read the labels of the foods you eat. They offer a wealth of great information, and may take the temptation away!
5. Start thinking about next year. What is it that you want to accomplish? What’s your high priority, or “A” race that you are targeting? What are the “B” races that you’d like to do? For some, it may be just to finish a longer distance than they’ve done before. For others, it may be to do a “personal best” for a race or distance that they’ve done already. It’s a good time to outline your goals for next year, while this year is fresh in your mind. Write them down, so you can refer back to them constantly. Write down your target split times (including transition times) for next year’s “A” races as soon as possible, while the recollection of this year’s races is still fresh in your mind.
6. Evaluate your season. What were your limiters this year: where could you have performed better, what held you back (an injury, a discipline that you’re not strong in, equipment issues?)? What were the high points that you want to repeat for next year and what caused them? Write yourself a “post season wrap-up” with everything you learned about yourself and the sport this year.
7. Identify what preparations you need to make during the fall. Maybe you need to start shopping for an indoor trainer so that it’s ready for the start of your winter training program. Do you plan to join a gym to do some strength training? You might start looking around for a pool to train in, and maybe a masters’ swim program that you can join. Are you going to hire a personal trainer or coach to set up a structure for you to accomplish your goals? Now is the time to identify what you need to prepare, and start making those preparations.
8. Take some “down time”! Hmmm, didn’t we start with this above? Well, perhaps it’s important enough to repeat. Changing your routine during the fall and early winter will allow you to maintain a disciplined training schedule later on without losing motivation and getting totally burnt out. You may de-train somewhat, but that’s a healthy process, not a counter-productive one. Remember that the body gets stronger while resting, now while working. A bit of detraining will allow you to come back even stronger when your structured program begins for next season.
When you think about it, it’s pretty simple. Follow some “common sense” guidelines and you can have a well balanced, healthy, fit lifestyle and excel at your races. Add variety to your fitness training, take some time to refresh, watch your diet, evaluate last year’s accomplishments and outline plans for next season. Being just a little organized about your training makes a world of difference. The alternative is found in one of my favorite quotes: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road you take will get you there”.
Chuck Graziano is a USA Triathlon Expert Level (II) certified coach, is an Elite Level Training Bible Coach and is a Level III Alpine Ski Coach, as certified by the Professional Ski Instructors of America. He was Head Triathlon Coach for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s New Jersey Team in Training from 2000 to 2012 and chairs the USAT Age Group Committee and National Championships Selection Committee. Chuck is available for one-on-one coaching in endurance sports, general fitness and alpine skiing. He can be reached at email@example.com.