Ahhhhh, the offseason, time to…..
It’s the beginning of October and tri season has wound to a close in the Midwest with the arrival of fall temperatures and shorter daylight hours. For a lot of us, that means it’s the offseason, time to hang up the bike, put the wetsuit in the closet, and start prepping the feedbag for the holidays, right? No, not quite!
To be fair, some downtime at the end of a busy racing season is appropriate to avoid burning out and to reconnect with family members and activities that may not have been at the forefront of your attention for the last six or so months. But be careful—detraining isn’t a huge issue over the course of several days to a couple of weeks, but research indicates that after only 2-4 weeks off your VO2Max may decrease by 4-10% and your running performance may decrease by 3-5%. Translating that into terms that we understand much better, 3-4 weeks away from run training could increase a 40 minute 10k to a 41 or 42 minute 10k.1 That may not sound like much, but in today’s competitive environment, even for age-group athletes, the difference between the podium and a finisher’s medal is less than the time it takes to tie your shoes. Your aerobic base is the foundation of next season’s training and it takes months to years to develop a good one. As we spend time working on race speed and tapering for our goal races, that aerobic base is eroding. Loss of aerobic fitness is relative—long course athletes are training closer to zones 2 and 3, so preparing and tapering for a race will still include mostly aerobic work. Short course athletes, however, are preparing for races with higher intensity zone 4 and 5 work so the athlete could be sacrificing aerobic endurance in favor of being fresh, ready, and fast. To perform at our best, we need both speed and endurance, and this time of year is perfect for working on technique and laying the groundwork for next season.
Ok Coach, so what do I do? The first order of business should be “don’t disengage from your coach!” Your coach will help you through the off-season to minimize your losses and keep you focused on improving your swim, bike, and run technique and endurance so that you can start training in earnest when it’s time. If you don’t have a coach or are really leaning toward an unstructured off-season, here are some recommendations:
- “Exercise” and “Training” are not the same thing. Training is exercise, but that boot camp class at your gym is more fun than it is beneficial to your ability to run a 10k. There is still a place for boot camp, Zumba, and other fun stuff in the off season, but let’s call it what it is—FUN! J Mix these workouts in with your training.
- Fall, winter, and early spring are great times to work on your swim. I’ve found three times a week to be the most helpful to me and the athletes that I coach, and it’s generally the recommended number of sessions in just about any coaching book you pick up. You should be spending your time on a mix of technique sessions (drills!) and fitness sessions (endurance) to improve your stroke and your speed at the same time. Don’t wait for your technique to improve before you work on fitness; your technique may improve as a side effect of your improved fitness! Even if you only have 20 minutes, it’s better than not going to the pool at all. If you have trouble with motivation, we have Masters Swim programs in Lisle, Carol Stream, and Elk Grove Village that meet weekday mornings and evenings (depending on the location) and we’d love to see you there!
- Please please please don’t hang up your bike for the winter! “Triathletes are made in the winter” has been uttered by more than one coach, and if there’s any place to gain more speed in your race the bike is probably the most effective way to do it.
- Mountain biking is a great way to work on your bike handling skills and bursts of speed. When it’s snowy, some of the local bike shops rent “fat bikes” with balloon tires that are fun to ride in the snow.
- Outside of fun outdoor rides, an indoor bike trainer is a vital tool to maintain your bike fitness over the winter. While it sounds mind-numbing, there are lots of ride videos available on DVD and on the internet to keep your brain engaged on a long indoor ride. Even if you don’t have a couple of hours for an indoor ride, shorter duration rides can delay the loss of fitness compared with not riding at all. Indoor trainer rides are great places to work on your form and practice riding at different cadences, things that are harder to do outside. If you’re thinking of transitioning to clipless pedals, this is also a great place to practice getting in and out of your pedals without the risk of falling over at a stop sign.
- Most gyms have spin classes too—there is a place for these in your training, but be advised that the goal of a spin class is often to work into higher heart rate zones for shorter periods of time than what is advantageous for most triathletes. Some gyms will have endurance-based spin classes that are geared more toward outdoor riding; these can be a good find if there’s one available to you.
- And let’s not forget our favorite indoor cycling activity—COMPUTRAINER! Computrainer classes provide targeted workouts specific to what we need with the camaraderie of our group rides. They are a great way to improve your bike power and muscular endurance and a real kick in the shorts if you’re used to pedaling in front of a movie for an hour. ET Computrainer classes are beginning soon; if you’re thinking about signing up don’t delay because they fill up quickly! There is also a drop-in option if a class isn’t full; this is great if you’ve never experienced our Computrainer classes and don’t want to commit to a whole session.
- I have to admit, if there’s one off-season activity that I enjoy as much or more than swimming, it’s off-season running. Unlike the tri season, fall, winter, and spring are made for long distance running races. How better to maintain your running base than to train for an off-season half or full marathon? These longer distance races are a lower intensity than training for 5k’s and 10k’s and perfect for improving your aerobic endurance in preparation for next year. If you need a goal to keep you motivated, there are a variety of spring marathons in the Midwest that won’t be 90 degrees, won’t be selling out six months ahead of time, and are still Boston qualifiers. You don’t have to just do long and slow training, either, many coaches recommend tempo runs and speed work as part of your half and full marathon preparation. If you’re not up for major distance, there are still 5k’s, 10k’s, and 10 milers throughout the winter that are lots of fun and the training runs are short enough that your water won’t freeze. As the weather gets cooler, there is running gear perfect for winter running from our favorite running stores—there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing! And if you’re looking for friends to run with, don’t forget about ET Run Clubs in Naperville and Chicago and our indoor ET Treadmill Track program.
Armed with a handful of ideas, I hope you’re planning to keep training through the offseason! If you need guidance or help determining goals for this time of year, feel free to reach out to us, we have lots of ideas. 🙂 Happy Fall!
1Obeying the Law of Gravity, What Happens When You Take Time Off? Pete Pfitzinger, M.S., November 1, 2011
Judie Refvik is a USA Certified Triathlon Coach with Experience Triathlon. As leaders in the endurance services industry, Coach Judie and the Experience Triathlon team help athletes of all ages and abilities achieve success in training, racing and life. Learn more about Coach Judie and Experience Triathlon at www.experiencetriathlon.com