Off-Season Training for Triathletes

“The coming season seems a long ways away and but a review now is critical for success in the year ahead”

By Liam Dolan


If you are in the Northern Hemisphere it is quite likely that your 2014 season is done and dusted. There are a few big races left for those willing to travel to sunnier locations, but most of us are tired after a long season.


So, how was this season for you – did you achieve your goals? The coming season seems a long way away but a review now is critical for success in the year ahead.
Examine what went right and, more importantly, why it went right. Look through your past season to see what type of training got the best results, as well as analysing the times when your training wasn’t as effective.


So, is now the time to put away the swim togs and runners and catch up on Breaking Bad? Yes –rest is vital initially. A good 4 to 6 weeks of unstructured, enjoyable, social exercise is recommended. Then the winter months are the time to lay a base that prepares you for the rigors of the hard season ahead. The saying “you reap what you sow” was written for winter training. A good, well thought out winter plan is a huge step towards achieving your 2015 race goals.


Your 2015 race season has an A goal more than likely – quite likely a big summer Ironman such as Lanzarotte, Austria, Germany or many other far flung destinations. Coaches and athletes alike will talk about the crucial 12-week build into that race. For those 12 weeks before race day, you require laser-like focus on your training, nutrition and recovery.


But, what about the rest of the year: 12 weeks and 1 day out from your race are you a couch potato first, the next an athlete? Unfortunately this is the approach many triathletes take, expecting to go from Donkey to Racehorse in that time. In reality you should be training before then, so that you hit those final 12 weeks ready to start the real, specific training.


The winter months, or the off season, present an opportunity to work on your weakness that often get overlooked throughout the summer months when the races come thick and fast. While I have never believed in a single-sport focus – for example, stopping all biking and running to focus on your swim the balance of the three sports may shift in emphasis.


This shift is often enforced as weather and lack of sunlight can make some training next to impossible. Five-hour bike rides in sub-zero temperatures are unpleasant and simply dangerous on icy roads. Cutting back on long cycles may allow you to focus more on your swim, and giving you time without the build-up of fatigue, to develop a better technique.


However, patience is the key with technique work: there is no point focusing on your technique and then letting it go once the main set starts. You must trust that slow, steady, focused practice is what’s required and your ego must be left aside with the stopwatch.


A milder winter climate will allow you to steadily rack up winter miles both inside and outside. Consider joining a running or cycling club to help make the winter base miles pass that bit quicker. However, don’t let these descend into races, where the “winter champion” sprints for every signpost or line on the road. They should be more enjoyable social: smell the roses and stop for a coffee type of training.


Mid-week on your own is the time to add a small sprinkling of intensity. Doing some sessions with a total of 20–30 mins of effort, around half ironman intensity, will help build your fitness. Doing these sessions alone or with a disciplined training partner will help prevent these from becoming too hard a training day.


Having someone deck-side at the pool, constantly looking over your technique, is invaluable. One-on-one sessions are very valuable but they can be intense and demanding as there is a constant stream of information from the coach and it can be difficult to take it all in.


Group swimming, with a coach perhaps pulling you aside after an interval and pointing out one stroke flaw, is often better than constantly tweaking your stroke. The information picked up in coached sessions should transfer to solo sessions. A session with intense, slow, focused swimming often is more draining than your 15 * 100s on the 10-second rest!


Finally, off season training should be based of intensity rather than pace. After an end of season break your July half-ironman run pace, will feel like your 5km run pace in December. That’s why you need to be in tune with what an effort level feels like. When a training plan calls for a run with 5 * 5mins at half-ironman intensity, you are looking to run at an effort level that you can hold for 21km after a 1.9km swim and 90km bike.


This is where good coaches earns their crust – they will help to ensure you are training at the right intensity level. While on the turbo trainer you may be dreaming of scorching the lava fields of Kona, but your coach will ensure that you don’t ruin your chances of getting there!

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