The time after racing season, a.k.a winter or the off-season, means different things to different types of athletes. For athletes with a one-race goal (like completing an Ironman or marathon), might have started their off-season the day after their one race. For athletes with some long-term, multi-year goals, like me, the off-season is a good time to work on things you’re bad at! Athletes who are goal-oriented know long periods without training can set you back very quickly. This poses a daunting question – should you take time off? How long should the time off be? And what should I do when I start back up again?
Rest is Important
For me, rest is a key element of starting the off-season right. I give myself a set small amount of time without any activity (a week to a month). This time helps me fully recharge whatever energy stores I’ve depleted from racing season. Taking a break also recharges my motivation to start back up again when I have to. Giving your brain a break from the grind of daily training can help you regain mental focus you’ll need later on in the year. Not taking any time off might leave you feeling stale or with less motivation to get back to the fitness you ended with. It’s important to figure out how much rest if any, you need, before getting back into diligent training. Often, this is a trial and error experiment. I find time off longer than 3-4 weeks really affects my muscles such that even easy activity when I go back to training leaves me sore. Thus, it’s better for me to start back sooner, but keep things easy, fun and maybe different.
Planning and Strategy
If you’re serious about making gains year-to-year, I’d say it’s a good idea to take some time to analyze your last race season and strategize for your next. I take a look at my races from the previous season and figure out what went well and what did not. I also determine what races played to my strengths and which ones exposed weaknesses. Performing an analysis like this can help you hone in on what things you should work on before you start up racing again. For example, if you found you performed much worse on a hilly course, but did better on a flat one, focus some of your early season training on increasing strength that will help you ride and run hills.
Starting Back Up
I like to start back easy and maybe do some different activities that you normally might not have time for in your regular training. During the regular racing season, I do a lot of training by myself, mostly due to a my schedule. However, I enjoy getting some time in with friends who also enjoy SBR. Maybe do some group runs or rides to places I haven’t been before. I don’t regularly ride my mountain bike during triathlon season, but winter is a great time to grab some trail time since it’s a little warmer than road riding. I like the technical aspects of mountain biking that can help with my bike handling skills on the road. Luckily, I live right next to a small trail area and can jump on some challenging trails right from my door. Either way, getting back into training can be difficult unless you make it fun, easy, or make it a group project.