When the Season Ends Racers Refocus

Time to Tweak your training plan


Most athletes reach the end of their season feeling many emotions: Relief at competing in the big race; satisfaction over the time and training to get there; and exaltation of exceeding expectations.

There may be regrets from unfinished training, disappointment with results and physical exhaustion from days and months of relentless swimming, cycling and running. Regardless of the feelings, you face a different part of your year — off-season.

After the final race of the season, time away from structured training is required. This heals the body and the mind.

The mind needs time to process what happened over the past year and analyze what went wrong and what went right.

Establishing goals for the next season will start providing motivation to continue training during the long winter. The timeframe for reflection and recovery will vary based on personality, overall fatigue of body and mind, as well as the duration and extent of your racing season.  

Stopping all physical activity and eating cake for breakfast is not the best approach, but providing some variety to your routine and keeping it fun will transition you into your off-season. If the weather is nice, head outside for a run or a ride. Enjoy the mountains and go for a hike, a climb or even try a new sport.

Spend time with family and friends and indulge a little bit in the foods and simple pleasures you may have abstained from during race season. As long as the transition period is not overdone, the mind and desire to train will come back and soon enough you will be ready to commence the difficult training. This is when your next season begins.

The fall and winter is when the foundation of your next season is built. This phase of the year is often called Base Phase. The main purpose is to start accumulating miles in the body to build up your aerobic base. This increases your overall fitness and builds your aerobic capacity to get through the tougher workouts and races throughout the year.

Most of the volume at this time of year should be aerobic. This means you are able to maintain the pace for an extended period of time because there is no accumulating lactic acid in the body. You should, more or less, be able to talk during the exercise.

Fall is an ideal time to work on strength and technique. This may require hiring a coach, or joining a club to ensure you are getting proper and consistent feedback on your efforts. This is really the only time of the year you can completely revamp a swim stroke or a running stride without adverse effects on your race results. Changing technique is a long and arduous process that requires breaking the swim stroke or run stride down into basic biomechanical movements, then correcting it one phase at a time. Often athletes will become slower as they concentrate on the technique and learn to use new muscles, before they attain speed. With race season months away, this is your ideal time to work on technique. As you start heading toward spring, more emphasis is placed on interval workouts with less emphasis on technique. This helps condition the body to get race-specific fitness.

To support new technique, prevent injuries and maximize performance, a strength routine should be included in your fall and winter program. Address specific muscle groups required for your sport and don’t forget the small stabilizer muscles. There are many strength exercises that go hand in hand with changing your running stride or swim stroke.

Most importantly, enjoy what you do. Take advantage of the off-season to try something new, whether it is yoga, a spin class or a new training group. Figure out ways to stay motivated and consistent in the training and the results will come.

As you enter the fall and winter training phase, make sure you have a general plan for when you are going to race next year. This not only provides motivation to do the workouts during the dark, cold winter months, but it will allow you to identify areas you need to train for next season.

Combining strength training and technical work as part of an off-season plan will make you a stronger, more efficient athlete in 2013.

Grant Burwash, BSc Kin. is a professional triathlete and coach at Talisman Centre Triathlon Club in Calgary, Alta.