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The importance of off-season goals

The close of the triathlon season means there's now time to try something new in lieu of your usual training schedule.

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— By Chris Willer

Congratulations on enjoying this year’s triathlon season! I have no doubt you’ve pushed hard to achieve your pre-season goals or persevered by way of a valiant effort to get close to your stated race ambitions.

It’s common as the race season draws to a close to feel a sense of restlessness or anxiety about what’s next. Your season’s A race probably brought some stress as well as an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. As those feelings fade away, you might feel left with a lack of purpose or even an emotional downturn.

Not to worry. This is the perfect time of the year to re-commit to news horizons, novel goals, and a fresh training perspective heading into the off-season. Here’s a few tips on how best to transition from the fast-paced-high-octane race season to a more deliberate, focused, and rewarding training season and how to gain perspective on what you want out of triathlon for 2017.

Go back to school

As the world heads back to school in the fall, it’s a great time for triathletes too to learn from the current season and make a game plan for the next. Assess what went well for you in training and racing and what you need to do differently for the next one. Have a video analysis of your swim stroke as you join a new Master’s club for the fall. Consider joining a run clinic or arrange a gait analysis to gather intel into how to improve your biomechanics and reduce risks for injury. Take a bike course at the velodrome to work on your bike handling and measured effort on a fixed gear bike. Talk to a nutritionist about how to differently approach your fuelling. Meet up with a mentor triathlete to pick their brain on how they have achieved their goals, or read one of the many excellent professional triathlete blogs to see what else new you could apply to your off season training regimen. It’s time to learn.

Go the distance

The off-season is the best time to build the aerobic and muscle strength base to move toward a goal of a longer distance triathlon. After a summer of speed focus and going for personal bests, relish in the off-season’s invitation to slow down, build up, and go longer as you consider moving up a distance.

Speed up

Alternatively, use the off-season to depart from the long distance racing and re-commit to speed. We often get into a pattern where we continue to train the same way, race the same distances, and do more of what we are already good at. We tend to avoid what we’re not as good at. Consider re-jigging your mentality by focusing next year on speed if you’re more accustomed to long races. Get back into speed sessions with fast paced 50 to 100 m efforts in the pool. When running on the track think about boosting your max heart rate and push the turnover on the run. Maybe elevate the RPM and do higher cadence work on the bike when you are out for the group ride enjoying the turning of the leaves of autumn.

Do something new(ish)

Consider blending what you already love about triathlon with small increments of new(ish) training options. Start formal racing in your swim club, do some cold water training in the open water, or take up water polo! Bring it inside, join a program like Zwift and ride weather-free with hundreds of others from around the world. Take the bike down to the local spin group to engage with others and improve your FTP values. Learn to teach a spin class. Slightly tired of standard triathlons and the road run? Well maybe do some trail running or cross country races that fill the calendar in the fall season. The varied terrain works different muscle groups, taxes the cardio system, and improves weaknesses in running technique. Think about doing some cross-country skiing or enjoy winter triathlons on the fat tire bike or even ice skates as our country looks forward to embracing winter multi-sport racing even as most others hibernate. All great options to take what you know and do well already and just spice it up a bit with some variation.

Take a break after your end of season triathlon. Enjoy some rest. Then know that the fall represents a great time to think honestly about what you need from yourself, the sport, and your team as you strategize on what you want for 2017. There’s so much out there to motivate and inspire you to achieve next year. Good luck.

Dr. Willer is a sport psychiatrist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and an avid triathlete for the past 18 years.