Understanding the Pre-Season – 2014/2015 version

I wrote a similar Weekly Word last year – but I wanted to add some more insight, a new version, some new angles.

As we enter the dark months – or so I call them – the focus for training and the next event becomes difficult.  Some of us line up some winter events to keep us engaged, others lighten the load, and others take time off completely.  I have never been a fan of taking time of completely.  You work for months, sometimes even a year or more, to get to this level of fitness and being ‘in tune’ with your body, just to stop?  Yes, the brain needs a break – you can’t always be ON.  Yes, life around us needs some attention.  Yes, the body requires some rebuilding.  All of this can be achieved without being completely OFF.  And here are some reasons – some being repetitive from previous years, others being newer – for not taking off:

  1. You have all heard me say this before – why take time to get really fit, just to repeat the cycle again?  Taking time off (and this also includes the occasional run or bike or swim) puts you back to where you started, and it becomes even more frustrating retuning to fitness.  Why?  Because you have a sense & feel for what fitness feels like, so your return takes short cuts – you want it back.  If you want to progress, get ahead of yourself and your past results, you need to be ahead of your past training self.  Like they say – just focus on being a bit better each day – each week – each month.  A bit better is measured in many ways; it can be in any aspect of yourself or the sports we are training.
  2. Have you ever learned how to drive a car with stick shifting?  Those of you that have know what is like to let go of the clutch too quickly – you jump forward and stall.  Stopping and starting training is like popping the clutch.  You briefly jump, go, pop…but then you stop and stall.  Only now you are injured.  The body prefers to be training – since that allows for consistent adaptations and it helps you avoid injury.  Accelerating into a quick training build will most likely have you popping the clutch on your body.
  3. Training for endurance sports is like partying.  We used to be able to go out until 2am, sleep a few hours and be fine – maybe even do it again the next night. But as we got older, we no longer can do it.  You need & want sleep; otherwise you are wrecked for days.  Two nights in a row?  Talk to me in a week.  Our endurance training is the same.  As we get older we can no longer just put together a quick training build for the season.  We need more and more time to reach outstanding fitness.  We used to just hit it hard for 8 weeks and boom: ready to go!  Now, it requires bodywork, focus, consistency and a lot longer than 8 weeks to be ready for an endurance event!  We just need longer, gradual training builds, and too much time off just makes this all too hard to achieve without…injury.
  4. Remain attached.  It is ridiculous to think we can train at a high level year round.  The beer just tastes better when you’re not worried about getting up in the morning for a big training day or the pre-dawn run.  But, knowing you are 3-5 weeks away from ‘it’ – that feeling of being fit, fast and progressing – is what it means to remain attached.  This way, when talking about not being able to build as quickly as years past, you are not that far off at any point in time.  Remaining attached means you are fit enough to understand, feel and see (mirror/scale etc.) that if you needed to get going, you could be on your high level training within 3-5 weeks.
  5. This all said, we want a balanced season.  We want a healthy body; we want to avoid injury, as well as mental burnout.  This is the time of year to surely let go.  No powermeter, Garmin, nada.  Just listen to your body, your breathing, take in the sights and sounds of your training loops and rides.  Work on technique (light feet/land-lever-lift), cadence, relaxed feet in shoes, swim technique (send your coach videos of you swimming and swimming catch up!) – all the little items you did not feel you ‘wanted’ to address during the heart of the season.  Ride the routes you usually can’t, run the trails!  Get to know a Masters swim program.  Dial in all the training plans (track, groups etc.) so that come THE training time, you are ready.
  6. Mentally if you don’t feel it today… don’t do it.  Yes, you want your mind to have a break too, from forcing it to engage and remain ‘in the moment’, focused on your goals.  A day here or there is ok.  A week here or there is not… Exhale.  Introduce yourself to your life around you.  Sure – you might be still training, but this is the time of year to let your friends and loved ones know that you CAN be flexible…careful here though.  Just because I CAN vacuum the house, doesn’t mean I want people to know I’m good at it, and therefore have to do it all the time….

All of this of course does not apply if you are less that 32 weeks out from you’re ‘A’ race.  That would mean you are IN season, and therefore need to get on it!  32 weeks from now? late June…


Understanding the 2014 PreSeason

Here we are again – the Fall.  An easy time of year to chill out – relax, drink – eat and be merry.  We trained well, we sacrificed a lot, now its time to chill out a bit and do all those things we wanted to do many of those weekends while out training.  Some of you might have accomplished some great goals, some of you might still have an A race ahead, but in general the Fall is typically known as the off season in these here parts of the country.  Temperatures do not dictate this time of year (although they sure facilitate taking a break), the race calendar does.  While in the past there were very few races from Thanksgiving until Easter, the sport has grown to allow for a decent racing season even in the winter.  But, the majority of you race between April and November, so now is what many call the off season.

Many of you know I call this time of year the PreSeason.  I wanted to follow up with all of you on why:

This sport continues to mature.  Gone are the days that participating in this sport allows you to achieve some remarkable results.  It has grown in numbers, it has some incredible depth to it – meaning that your result in the AG gradually falls off if you remain doing the same times:  more participants and faster times = more competitive fields, with many more fast, gifted athletes squeezed into those competitive time ranges.

You could look at any other sport, but marathons give us some comparable insight.  Back when the marathon participation craze began (jogging/Nike?), everyone was stoked to complete a marathon.  Then the sport began to mature and times got faster, more competitive.  Qualifying standards were added to Boston in the 1980s and just recently this standard became even more competitive with qualification times being readjusted in 2011.  Today you are stoked to just qualify for Boston, let alone participate (that is its own logistical nightmare due to speed of that marathon filling up).

Similar in triathlon participants were stoked to finish an Ironman in the beginning.  The sport matured to the point that the Kona Ironman needed qualifying slots, and those now have become crazy competitive:  more participants, more depth of incredibly talented athletes flowing into the sport…and LESS slots due to more races being added around the world (although I believe this will soon change to Age Group rankings).

The World Championships are truly becoming a World Championship.  While this might spur a lot of debate on Slowtwitch and other triathlon forums, it’s a normal (and healthy) progression for a sport.  With the marathon example, none of us look to take part in the IAAF World Championships, nor the IAAF World Marathon Cup, or if we are over 35 (!), the World Masters Athletics Championships….yet Ironman Hawaii carries this cache that anything is possible.

What am I trying to say?  That the typical focus in this sport on qualifying for Kona is no longer just achieved by walking in and giving it a whirl.  It takes a methodical, focused, multi year plan to make an attempt at qualifying.  As in other sports (running, biking, swimming, team sports, heck, ANY sport) it requires continuous progression and building ability, fitness, technique, strength 12 months out of the year.  While I am not willing to say 10k hours like many coaches in developing younger athletes claim, it is surely something in between taking an OFF season, and those 10,000hrs.

If Kona is your goal – then we need to sit down and have serious planning session and discussion.  Can we – how will we – when can we expect this to unfold.  And what do the years in between look like?

For many of you Kona or an Ironman might not be the goal.  But you have goals of progress, improvement and results that mean something to you.  If you were not attached to some sort of achievement, some goal, some finish line, you would not be receiving this, since you would not be coached by me.  You took that step to work with me so that we can achieve something together.  To feel that finish line today, and every day in your training.  Finishing is what you define it to be – the emotions you want to feel at that point in time: marathon, Half marathon, Olympic distance, 100 miler, 50k, Ironman, Half Ironman, Ultraman, open water swims…all of them have a finish line.  Those finish lines are always filled with emotions.  What do you want to feel?  Pride or questions?  Satisfaction, a deep sense of accomplishment, or wondering what you could have done?

This is not about hours of training.  This is not about how hard or easy you train.  The emotions of the finish line are yours, and they are defined by your every days actions towards that finish line.  As I have recently written:  did you do your best today to feel the desired emotions of your finish line?  This is an applicable question to all of you:  since our life circumstances, our families, career, health and progression are YOUR best…not someone else’s definition in hours trained per week etc.  YOUR best is given your life, your circumstances, your abilities in the now.  And it is YOUR finish line:  your finish line explains what that means: winning?  Time?  Percentage in the age group?  YOUR personal best? Finishing? You define both input and result.

Now that we have defined this value, lets take a closer look at the concept of an off season.  A time to take off from training and focus on other things?  A time to just exercise, not really train?  A time to be unstructured and train on feel?

How does any of this help you achieve your finish line?  Every year, the majority of participants in this sport take time off, then spend 12-16 weeks to get back the fitness they let go of for this ‘off season’:  they let go of feeling incredibly fit.  They let go of truly feeling fitness which allows you to identify where the shortcomings might be – what needs to be worked on, the blind spots, the technique, the missing strength/core/stability work.  Take 8 weeks off, spend 12 weeks getting that fitness & feel back, now how many weeks remain to get stronger, fitter, better prepared for your next goal, for that progression. We have yet worked on race specific fitness and new, uncharted phases of your training.  And trust me: there is always a progression….

How does the marathon World Record fall?  How did Michael Phelps get faster?  Many of you ask what makes the Elite in our sport so different?  Not as much the training as it is the attention to detail and the daily focus on progression towards their long term (!) goal.  How many future Olympic swimmers are now prepping for a goal almost 3 years away?  Progression towards a long term goal – THAT is the key ingredient – to stay focused today on what you want to achieve many tomorrows from now.  That is what creates the 10k hours theory, that is what sets a really talented athlete apart from other talented athletes: the willingness to focus now on what will make them a better athlete many months, even years from now.  Long term vision.  Often this means slowing your progression, but you know where you are going and why.  That is athletic maturity and wisdom: the ability to see your results in the future in your training today!

So, as you approach this concept of ‘off season’, understand that no matter your goals, there is always something long term to look at, to train for, to invest yourself into.  It might not be a finish line or result, it might also be health, well being and the ability to do things later in life you never thought possible – that too takes an investment today!  I am a big believer in being prepared, fit and healthy for life’s future endeavors.  You might not even know what they are yet – but it is sure good to know you can take them on, that you are never far away with your fitness, health and ability to consider these exciting opportunities.

In my coaching I often get inquiries on what I am doing, how I am approaching training phases or prep for A races.  What am I focusing on this PreSeason? Since I just recently raced an Ironman, it allows for a crisp and specific plan:

  • My mental approach to the sport: I seem to have lost something that allows me to push myself in racing.  Physically everything points to a solid performance, but my mind is getting in the way.
  • Running: while my running is still my strength, I want to improve maintaining race pace later into the IM run, especially miles 14-20.
  • Strength training: my body has some gaping blind spots in strength.  Not only for injury prevention, but to use the strength I have more effectively – especially on the bike.
  • Technical details: for racing I need to improve nutrition.  Not as much what I am eating, but how much.  Racing at my size and my output/speed will requires more energy/calories. I need to spend time testing this in training and racing – which also means more racing.  My gear is also in need for upgrades.

My next race is not until next season, most likely some time in May or June – but I am already working on all 4 of these points.  Training, reading, planning, experimenting etc.  All this requires time, observation, preparation as well as repeated trial & error.  There is no off season for this.  This requires fitness to properly test, apply and incorporate.

I took 2 weeks off since Ironman Lake Tahoe.  The 2014 season has begun.  Are you ready for your 2014 PreSeason?  I’d be glad to sit down with any of you to determine your PreSeason plan.  We all have one.

Offseason Improvement

Off season for those looking to achieve big goals? How is it athletes think that taking months off or with less training, unstructured etc. is preparing them for a better result/performance in the next season? How long does it take YOU to return to YOUR ideal fitness? How does an athlete improve if they get back to ideal fitness weeks/months later? Here is the frustration/observation of a coach: if we constantly return to the ideal fitness (par) at the beginning of the season, 12-16, even 20 weeks prior to the key event(s), and THEN focus/work really hard towards the can the athlete improve? If we are always repeating the same training cycle, not the same training…the same training cycle/rhythm..then how do we expect to make significant improvements upon the Elite of the sport (whether AG or Pro?)…

Athletes prepping for the Olympics typically work 18 months straight into the event. Sure, 2-3 weeks lighter, or more structured rest, or even 5 days off is a different story than 6-8 weeks off or unstructured. I know this sounds like a promo for coaching, but I am also the racer, athlete…and I know that my competitors are not getting slower…I know that to reach NEW plateaus of fitness and improvement, I can’t stop training and making myself better.

What goals do YOU have for 2012? Do you think that re-engaging with them in January is going to make you that much better? Or do you want to start your ‘in season’ with a fitness level that helps you reach NEW levels, new results, new goals and faster times? Do you want to be the one that is treading water in one place or move up on the field while THEY are taking time off? Do you want to leapfrog your competition and reach your goals, or do you want to stay where you are with the same approach and structure as before? You can only move forward, progress, improve, get faster by…..moving forward – staying sharp, focused and executing your plan.

One last thing I always hear: but I need the off season to work on my weaknesses – do drills etc. to improve my form, efficiency. This is VERY true – but how can you work on your cycling strength if you are applying it when you are not 100% fit? Why work on trail running (strength, core, footspeed & strength) if you are not strong and fit enough to absorb that work? How can we expect to drill and focus on swim technique improvements when not strong or fit enough to apply those drills after 2200-2800 yrds when the body NEEDS to feel those improvements?

FIRST you need to be fit, then you can get stronger. Many athletes wonder why their off season work doesn’t translate to the ‘season’…were you fit enough to IMPROVE, vs. just get back to PAR….?

Don’t hit PAR fitness in the preseason…hit it soon and IMPROVE in the preseason. Move UP against the competition!