The never ending season


Is it time for the off-season yet?
When I first started racing triathlons the US season kicked off with the St. Anthony’s triathlon in late April and concluded with the Hawaii Ironman in October. Then I started racing ITU, and the season started a little earlier and end a little later. Now, WTC, Rev3 and other series added races very early in the year. These new races beckon with Kona slots or mid-winter respites from the cold. Fall races offer a chance to milk a season of training and perhaps qualify for Kona almost a year in advance. Suddenly, one can race virtually all 12 months without leaving the Northern Hemisphere, something unheard of only a few years ago.
In the past, the shorter racing season lent itself to a natural off-season; a time to rest and restore, embark on other activities, rectify weaknesses, spend time with family, catch up at work. The winter was meant for base training, sitting on the couch, or snow sports. Without the lure of races in February, there was no need to get in shape quickly.
Once races started populating the schedule, though, the temptation for training and racing obsessed athletes was too great. People started signing up for races in what was once considered the off-season requiring a healthy dose of training early or late in the year (much of it, perhaps, indoors).
I am not saying I am opposed to the longer season. I am not. The multitude of racing options available are astounding and showcase the incredible growth of our beloved sport. I fear, however, that without careful planning, the risk of burnout, illness or injury is increased significantly. I am not just talking about seasonal afflictions. I am also referring to career ending setbacks.
The continued cycle of racing almost year round will eventually take a mental and physical toll. With the next race on the horizon, there will be less time to take care of muscle imbalances and nagging pre-injuries. A year-round dose of extremely early mornings of training will eventually render an athlete weary and ready to toss out the alarm clock.
This is where careful planning becomes important. If you are racing early in the season and have a key race late in the season, take some downtime in the middle of the season. This will keep you fresh and rejuvenated. And here is a key piece of wisdom. Get a pencil and paper and write this down: You cannot be in top fitness all year. Should I repeat that? You cannot be in top fitness all year. It’s true. The fitter you are, the harder it is to maintain that fitness. You must allow yourself, not only between seasons but within a season, a period of time to rest.
Likewise, it is unwise to race a long schedule year after year. Alternate a long racing season with a shorter racing season. This will allow you to race happy and healthy for a longer period of time.
Go ahead. Allow yourself some time to be lazy. You deserve it.

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5 Responses

  1. Di Tri-ing says:

    That is very good advice. Instead of jumping in to try and qualify for Xterra this year, I sort of took the summer off and was content with running with a little swimming thrown in. Then, I started missing my bike, and there were a couple of fun rides in November and December, which I thought would be good pre-season warm ups.

    When I looked at my training calendar (I'm training for a January marathon right now), I realized that the two bike rides (even at 25 miles and 36 miles, respectively) were going to be too much in addition to my weekly running mileage…so I backed off and won't do them.

    I'm still throwing a little trainer riding in here and there for variety, but have refocused my efforts on the marathon for now.

    Thanks for the reminder that we can't (and shouldn't) do it all! Aloha!

  2. Bob Mitera says:

    I agree. I know some guys who started with races in March and are doing their 2nd Ironman in November before starting to plan for IM CdA.

    I wasn't training a ton this summer – work took over my existence. In this economy… do what we must to survive. I'm working out (gradually) back to "normal" levels but my first "race" won't be until April.

    I have a 1/2M in a few weeks but that is just going to be a training day with a bunch of people and bands. The goal will be to make it a zone 2 run (until the last 5k – MAYBE). We'll see what my coach thinks.

    Good entry Joanna.

  3. kelly williamson says:

    A great post Joanna, and it is really eye opening to read it. You are spot on; and it's something I will take to heart (as I embark on my 3rd IM this season, something I said I'd never do). Thanks for posting it. You are a really good writer. I hope you are doing well and the ribs settle down long enough for you to bang out some more amazing runs! Take care.

  4. Joanna Zeiger says:

    Kelly- Congrats on a great season. Good luck with your last race. Then, take a nice break!

  5. Kelly Williamson says:

    Thank you girl, I will! The good thing is mentally I feel good; I think that can be 1/2 the battle sometimes at end of season. We head to SC to see Derick's sister (his twin!) have her first baby, right from Tempe! It'll be a great way to kick off the downtime. I hope you can get out and enjoy the snow!!