Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The "Off" Season- Part 1

In case you are now concerned that the quotation marks mean I'm not really taking an off season (a valid concern), let me reassure you: I am!  So far it has been an "off" season in several senses of the word, and that's why the quotes are there.

As I started writing this post and thinking about what I've been up to lately and why, I realized I had far too much to say to make this a single post (at least, if there was any chance of anyone making it through to the end).  So I'm splitting it in two: part 1 (below) will contain some off-season advice for the other competitive athletes in the crowd, along with a general update about what's been up in my tri-life.  Part 2 will follow later and be more specific about the activities I'm incorporating into off-season training and why, as well as provide some ideas for others.
 First of all, what is an off-season, and why take one?  There are many good articles out there about this, so I won't be exhaustive here.  In a nutshell, it is a mental and physical break from the training and racing demands of the rest of the year.  What this means specifically for each athlete can vary widely, and should vary according to each athlete's personality, background, previous season, upcoming season, and life outside of the sport.  For some triathletes, it may include a short (or not) period of no athletic activity; a period with no swimming, biking or running, but other sports; a period of unstructured swimming, biking, and running, with other activities mixed in; a combination of these; or something else entirely.  LET YOURSELF GET A BIT OUT OF SPORT-SPECIFIC SHAPE (probably more like "less in shape") for a short time before beginning to lay the foundation for the next year. By the time next August rolls around, your body will thank you!

kayaking is a lovely off-season activity!

Ten suggestions for a happy and healthy off-season:

1.  Spend extra time with your friends and family.  Make sure they know how important they are to you, and how much you appreciate their support (and patience!) throughout the year.  Indulge in some of the social activities you might skip while in serious training mode.  Let loose with an occasional late night with good company.  Make an effort to meet new people, too.

2.  Remind yourself why you love the sport.  Ditch your power meter and heart rate monitor and take some time to just enjoy being outside, and being active!  Grab a friend or two and ride to a coffee shop for treats.  Volunteer at a race, without racing: it's so rewarding to share in the joys and accomplishments of others, whether they're out there to finish, to PR, or to win.

the view from the other side of the results printer, at the Madison Marathon
3.  Learn a new skill.  This is a great time of year to learn a different stroke in the pool, learn how to cross country ski, etc.  So much of training can become routine at times- this is a chance to put your mental energy somewhere new, and improve your body awareness.  It takes concentration and practice to move your body in a way it's not used to and start developing the neural circuits to efficiently perform the task.  Aside from the reward of simply learning something new, there is a chance that the new skill may also transfer into improvement in elements of your primary sports. 

4.  Work on your core strength.  One of the great things about core work (as opposed to lifting, for example) is that it is something that is safe to do every day, and you will improve by consistently spending time on it.  Core strength affects power transfer in all 3 sports, and  helps prevent injury by allowing the body to move efficiently and maintain good form under fatigue.  It's definitely worth taking the time to develop!

even more fun in a group!
5.  Catch up on all of the things you tend to get "too busy" for during the year.  Clean the garage.  Go to the dentist.  Cross those things you keep procrastinating about off your to-do lists while you can: you'll probably feel a great sense of accomplishment once you're done!

6.  Take care of any nagging problem areas in your body.  Many of us end the season close to developing overuse injuries as the result of tight muscles and repeated stresses.  This is a great time to let your body rest and heal itself, and for you to help it to move better.  Depending on what specific issues you might have, it could be a good time for physical therapy, massage, active release, and other myofascial work.  You can get a good start on injury prevention on your own with your favorite torture instrument: a foam roller, marathon stick, Trigger Point kit, tennis ball, etc.  Ask a coach, PT, masseuse, or experienced athlete if you're not sure how to use these.

tools of the trade
7.  Do something out of the ordinary.  Take a road trip, hit up a museum, go to a concert.  Read a book.  Try a new restaurant.  Switch up your routine, in whichever way is fun for you.

Matt and Kim at Madison FreakFest
8.  Take an honest look at your past season. What did you do well,  in terms of training, recovery, and race execution?  What things can you improve upon?  This process is most useful when started on your own, then continued with your coach.  It's a good idea to have an objective eye weigh in- sometimes our feelings and emotions can cloud our perceptions.  You're probably doing better than you think you are!  The next two items on the list are also most effective with a coach's feedback:

9.  Identify your limiters and the steps you can take to improve them.  This is the perfect time of year for a muscle balance assessment, one-on-one technique work with a knowledgeable coach, etc.  It will be easiest to improve in the areas you are currently weakest, so the most "bang" for your time and effort is to specifically address those weaknesses.  Pick a few things to focus on, and make a plan.

10.  Plan your goals for the coming year.  These may include race and training goals, but also general life goals.  How do you want to be better in the next year?  Who says resolutions have to wait until January?  If you decide you'd like to improve yourself, what's the point in waiting?  Get a head start now and start moving down that path!

Picking your 2014 races? I have a suggestion!  Share it with friends (or keep them all for yourself!) 
I personally enjoy the "unstructured" approach to the first part of my off season, before starting to build in all of the things that will help me in the coming year.  This year, for some reason, my body has been responding kind of strangely to being out-of-season.  I've been feeling, well... "off."  My workout performances have been sub-par (even for off-season) pretty much across the board.  I've had some symptoms very similar to overtraining, even with a training load below what I have easily been able to handle in the past.  I did have a very long season this year compared to past years, so maybe I need additional rest: my coach and I are trying to build that in right now and hoping it will help.  Luckily, this is not the time of year that I need to be in peak shape, nor would it be good to be.  So I'm doing my best to be patient and enjoy the variety in my schedule without stressing out about workout numbers.  Upon hearing experiences from other athletes, I'll also be popping in to a doctor to get my iron and other levels checked, just to make sure that nothing else is going on.

In other news, I am happy to be returning to Team Rev3 next year.  Since it is an Age Group (amateur) team, I have committed to racing at least most of the 2014 season as an age-grouper.  When I last checked in on this blog, my training capabilities for the winter and my future past May were looking uncertain, and this is still the case, so I'm very comfortable with my decision to postpone upgrading to Elite for now.  If I'm positively killing it late next year, I can always re-evaluate.  Besides, one year has not been enough with this crew!  My teammates continue to inspire me and make me laugh every day, and I'm looking forward to sticking around to meet the newbies.  The 2014 team announcements are now being rolled out on the  Team Rev3 Facebook page, so tune in there to follow along!

Team Rev3 has been participating in a Secret Santa exchange this year, and no surprise, my teammates are doing a lot of fun and creative things.  The big reveal is on December 15- I can't wait- I'm super excited about the gift I bought!  Whose name do I hold?  Here's a hai-"klue":

 A twelve-month past, now:
 nerves, anticipation, then...
 note from Momma Bear.

Follow the final days of the Secret Santa madness if you need a little bit of entertainment:
on Twitter:  @SummersSanta   @PamsSecretSanta   @NotahoSanta   @AnnesShhSanta  @DixiesRev3SS
on Facebook:   Rons Revthree SecretSanta     Feed Speed     ItsaVeryZody Secret Santa

I feel like this sums up Team Rev3 Secret Santa pretty well.

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