Many who read this will know that at the end of July I competed in and completed the Alpe D’Huez triathlon.
In a 20-year span of racing triathlons, from sprint to ironman distance and from local to World and European Championships, I can honestly say that the Alpe D’Huez triathlon is the hardest event I have ever done. It is everything it promises to be…big, bold, beautiful and brutal! Although it is not an ironman distanced race, it certainly feels like an ironman effort level race. After completing it my transition or post season phase began.
Whatever distance or type of race, or indeed whatever sport you compete in it is important to realise where your season ends and to plan in an off season/transition phase of comprehensive recovery and restoration.
I know some athletes will balk at this suggestion arguing that they feel great, that they don’t need a break or that they don’t want to lose fitness. I can understand why some athletes may argue this – they may have just reached their peak for an A race or a team cup final and they may be on a psychological high from those events.
As coaches it is important to present logical reasons why the rest is required.
The first point I would make to athletes about taking some planned time out is to make time to reconnect with family and friends. When the focus is centred on training for an event inevitably time is taken away from family and social times. Partners, spouses and families can often sacrifice a lot in support of the athletes’ quest for a PB, a qualification, a medal or podium spot. It can sometimes take the focus away from life’s bigger picture of quality relationships and time spent with loved ones.
Secondly the mental effort of following a plan and training day after day, week after week, month after month is tiring! In addition to following the plan there is the weekly analysis and planning meeting/call with the coach, all of which takes psychological/emotional effort. As motivated as the athlete is, I believe that time away from the daily email with work out details or logging into the training platform every day is healthy. (Time away from screens isn’t just good for athletes but that is a different blog!). I am also increasingly a fan of the mid-season break to enable a mental and physical re charge.
The third reason for the end of season break is to provide the athlete with a real chance for physical recovery and restoration. The multisport season can be long (as are team sports seasons) and over the months of a periodised plan fatigue will accumulate. If planned well the athlete will experience several ‘super compensation’ adaptations, however, as the season progresses with races, fatigue accumulates, and an extended rest period is required to allow a more complete recovery.
Lastly, by taking a break the athlete has time and space to reflect on races and the season and to think about planning future races away from the heat of the moment and emotion associated with training and racing. It allows coach and athlete to get together to review, reflect and then look forward.
Every athlete is different so the way we approach the transition phase reflects that and every athlete will want to use their break differently.
Generally, however I would recommend the athletes do some different activities, maybe social activities they can do with friends and family e.g. hiking, walking, easy cycling, tennis etc. Keeping moving is always good, however there is no pressure to do anything much if they don’t want to!
During this time there doesn’t need to be any data collection – no need to wear training devices, use power meters etc!
I also then encourage some mobility work, this can be done in a gym or at home and for triathletes, follow this with some unstructured swims and rides with running re introduced last. During this time, I encourage them to view their activities as general health and fitness exercise and not training.
Following my event in July my transition phase looked like this:
Thursday – race
Friday – gentle walk and exposure to water for a leisure swim
Saturday – Day off
Sunday – Gentle walk
The following week on holiday included unstructured leisure riding/ hiking and lake swimming
Week 2 – return to work and into the gym for flexibility/mobility work and sports massage with an unstructured pool swim
Week 3 – Continued mobility work and Pilates, unstructured swimming
Week 4 – Gym activation work and re-introduction of cycling and an easy run
This has been a great time off for me and I am feeling fresh and motivated to start some base type training again. As I said every athlete is different and what has worked for me might not be right for another. The important thing is to take some time out, have fun and enjoy the free time!