I haven’t had an off season for a couple of years, I’m not used to choosing not to train. Engaging in the process of rest and recovery proved to be nearly as stressful as the sessions it replaced. It may not have been physically taxing, but the mental strain was notable. The experience was amplified by feedback from athletes I guided through their own off seasons.
Stuck between the desire to be at your best and the reality of lost fitness, miserable weather, short days, illness, work and everything else that comes with winter. The memory of summer’s training remains, how easy it was, how fit you felt when everything clicked. The pace you ran today that felt like you were bursting a lung had you barely drawing breath in June. You’re miles from the athlete you need to be in the coming year and unsure how you made it through the last one!
December was a month of doubts. My athletes were emailing me with concerns about the coming season. Were they doing enough? Were they getting the intensity right? Obsessed with every detail of training they saw shortcomings and not the work being done. Focus is good so long as you see the wood for the trees.
One wondered if he should be adjusting his goals for a race in July uncertain he could run as fast as he hoped. It wasn’t hard to reassure him it was too early to be concerned when he admitted he’d run his second fastest 5K time in the midst of hard training. What he saw were the missed sessions and a bout of illness not what he’d achieved. Compared to previous years he was handling a higher training load and doing well.
No one has a perfect track record. As long as we’re progressing the path doesn’t have to be smooth. When set backs happen you have to be pragmatic and look at what you can do not what you can’t. I coached an athlete through a few months of injury preventing her cycling or running, we made the most of the situation. As the knee injury finally heals her bike and run aren’t where we might have hoped, but her swim is better than ever. There’s enough time to ensure she’s more than ready for a great performance later in the year.
In the off season you needn’t worry about missing sessions here and there, in isolation they aren’t that significant. On race day it’s unlikely you’ll be able to say you’d have been a few seconds faster if you’d not overslept and missed that pool session in December. The period is about transitioning through to the real training, getting ready for the work to be done. That doesn’t mean easy, but it does mean there’s more breathing room.
That breathing room is gone, the off season is officially over! Forget the problems, the inconsistencies and the setbacks, they’re all behind you and there’s nothing that can be done. Think about the training that’s needed to take you to race fitness. Perhaps race pace takes some effort at the moment, but six months down the line following a taper? When you’ve trained well and practiced every detail of your race strategy it’ll be a different story.
It’s time to focus on your goals and the work required to achieve them. Consistent training is going to be the key and that requires commitment. It may mean training when you don’t feel like it, going to bed earlier or adjusting the diet. What matters is that you’re working towards your goal whatever the circumstances when it gets tough you don’t bail. The casual approach of recent months won’t cut it, choices need to be weighed against your goals for the season.
Inevitably some things won’t go to plan, however focussed you are sessions will be missed or won’t be on target. Remain proactive, deal with the situation and make the most of it. If you’re injured or ill what can you do to speed up recovery? Resting may be the only option, but perhaps there’s training that can be done. No time for the scheduled long run? Can you manage half an hour in instead? You may not always have the perfect training, but you should aim for the best you can.
Last year I was ill before I flew to Kona losing four days training two weeks from the event. You’ll not find that scheduled in any program, but there was no point stressing about its impact on my race. Once in Hawaii I continued my taper as intended, it was too late to make up lost time. I worked with the fitness I had and did what was needed to get me ready for race day.
Though I’ve written ‘you‘ throughout this just as easily applies to ‘me‘. My own off season has been riddled with inconsistency and doubts. I’m certainly not as fit as I hoped to be at this point of the year and when I described a run pace as ‘lung bursting‘ that was mine! Even with my changing goals it’s time to put the off season behind me and get on with it which means that even though it’s wet, cold and dark out I need to go for a run.
From nutrition to pacing - a collection of CoachCox blog posts focused specifically on Ironman training and racing.