Save the end of your racing and training season from burnout.
Assuming you’ve wrapped up your goal Olympic-distance or 70.3 race by the end of September, you’re likely feeling worked over. And that’s a good thing. Fatigue at this point of the season is a positive sign that you’re giving your all, and no one can take that away from you. (If you still have a lot left in the tank, we need to talk about training harder next year.)
With your goal accomplished, you’re now entering the end of the racing season, a complicated stretch of time that may last four to six weeks and include a couple more triathlons. It’s a time when you—and your mind, for that matter—benefit from taking a well-deserved break from training for competition, and your focus instead turns to training for conditioning.
I say “complicated” because for many, the first instinct after completing a big goal race is to shut down, replacing long weekend training sessions with spectator sports—either your kids’ or what’s on TV. Or more likely, you’ll swap training with a concentrated effort to work through the backlog of projects, events and tasks that took a backseat to your workouts for the past month or two. That’s fine. Taking one to two weeks off will restore your body’s energy and freshen up your mental outlook on the sport and your life.
But after that one- to two-week period, it’s time to get back to the pool, on the bike and into your running shoes to keep the fitness you’ve worked hard all year to build. The difference now is that you’re not ramping up to peak race fitness; you’re working to leverage that fitness into more permanent gains. Here’s how you do it.
Take an extra day off from training each week. At first this extra day will aid your recovery, and as the weeks go by this training schedule will better complement your day-to-day life instead of dominate it like it does in the thick of the season. A smart routine is three days of training, one day off, two days of training, one day off, repeat.
Kiss high-intensity intervals goodbye. That is, until you start a focused training program for next year’s races. By all means use your swims, bikes and runs as social outlets by corralling some training partners or showing up for a group session with a local triathlon club. Don’t think about the specifics of each workout—just go. Use your bike to explore new roads and loops. Tackle some trail runs that let you enjoy the fall colors. Reducing the structure and regimen provides an important mental break, while consistency keeps you from losing fitness.
As for intensity, you can certainly sprinkle in some short and hard efforts. Most group bike rides and runs contain a natural competitive vibe that will express itself as sprints up hills or to roadside markers. These will take care of your interval work during this stretch.
Keep up the volume. In lieu of working through, say, 90 minutes of tempo intervals, it’s important that you stick to exercising for at least 90 minutes. If your in-season interval sessions in the pool covered 2,500–3,000 yards, then your swim days during this period should cover the same distance. Overall, the daily allotment of individual training sessions doesn’t change during this off-season (except for the extra day off). Fortunately, for most triathlon programs based on high-intensity workouts, especially the ones we use with time-crunched athletes, the weekly time requirements are already relatively low.
Another benefit to maintaining volume is that it allows you to continue the training/life balance that you created and made work this season. In turn, this will make it much easier to jump into another specific training regimen in a couple of months without disrupting the rhythm of your home/work life. Once training time is ceded to other priorities, it is difficult and often disruptive to reclaim it.
Here’s what a week in the life of a recovering triathlete should look like. The length of each day’s workouts should equal the average daily time spent completing interval sessions on the given days. “Hard” runs and bike sessions should be completed at an intensity that matches the pace you can maintain for an hour.
Monday – Off
Tuesday – Swim followed by easy ride
Wednesday – Short, hard run (no more than a 5K)
Thursday – Swim followed by short, hard ride (no more than 45 minutes)
Friday – Off
Saturday – Open-water swim/run brick
Sunday – Long ride/short run (brick optional)
Nick White co-wrote this article. A premier coach for Carmichael Training Systems, he coached Craig Alexander to Ironman World Championships in 2008 and 2009, as well as 2010 Ironman St. George winner Heather Wurtele. Chris Carmichael is the founder and head coach of CTS, the official coaching and camps partner of Ironman. Visit Trainright.com.