What do I mean by this? When we first end a long season of training and racing, we typically take some sort of break to recharge the batteries (if you don’t, you should. You can read one two-part series I wrote on the off-season here and here). Then, we get back into our training. If you’ve been following me for any length of time, then you know I espouse a more “reverse periodization” approach. In other words, less volume and more intensity in the Winter, with more volume and less (but more race-specific) intensity in the Spring and Summer. When the batteries are recharged, motivation is high and we come out of the barn with guns blazing. We tear into our training with a “do whatever it takes” attitude, even when the cold and snow forces us to do the majority of our cycling and even our running indoors.
But, at some point, it all starts to get a bit stale. It gets tougher mentally to get up for straddling the bike on the trainer yet again. It gets tough to step on to the treadmill yet again. Triathletes are, on the whole, notorious for disliking swim workouts already so when the mental drag starts to occur, getting in a cold car to get to another swim workout can downright suck, right? What I’ve found is that the tipping point between that newly energized “can do” attitude and the reality of the grind occurs just after the holidays. Call it Jan 1 – Jan 15. Somewhere in there.
This is because when we are forced to do the majority of our training indoors (or choose to), training turns into a more arduous task. And, after the turn of the year, we realize that the warmer months are still a few months away and that consistent weather for consistent outdoor training is even further out. So, how can you rekindle the spark, the zest for training that you had only a few weeks prior?
Firstly, insert more recovery days or days completely off. You can train very effectively on 5 days/week. You may need to stack workouts a little more in order to afford that second day completely off, but the mental break it affords you is so worth it. Not to mention the extra sleep you will be getting, which puts an extra spring in your step all by itself. Second, switch some things up. For example, if you’re used to doing a long ride on Saturday and a long run/short swim on Sunday, instead try a long brick on Saturday with just the short swim on Sunday. Knowing that your Sunday is not going to be totally taken up by training so you feel like you might actually have some semblance of a weekend is refreshing. Heck, you can even move that swim to another day and then have Sunday completely off. Bonus!
It's also time to start scaling back the strength training. You can even switch to sport-specific strengthening – hills on the run, slow cadence spinning on the bike, pulling with paddles in the pool – in order to eliminate the need for gym time altogether. In tandem with this, start inserting some key workouts that start to turn your focus toward your first race. If you have a Spring 70.3 race, now is the time to start inserting some SST work and some longer L3 sessions. This turns a switch in your head from getting mentally prepared for short, more intense intervals sessions to a mindset that is more related to “race mode”. This is a subtle yet effective shift in the frame of mind.
If you’re a single sport athlete, the process is really no different. Now is the time to start inserting a group ride once per week, to expose yourself to some dynamic riding – meaning, fartlek riding that is randomly based on the whims of the peloton. You can do this via an outdoor group ride, or from any number of virtual group rides on Zwift and other VR cycling programs. Or, create your own indoor workout that replicates the dynamic nature of a group ride.
To be clear, this is not just about “following a plan”. Even the best plans become grinders. This is about subtle shifts you make in how you approach your training which will serve to help keep you mentally and physically fresher. The last thing you want is to hit the front end of the racing season in great physical shape but already mentally crisp. That makes for a long season that will ultimately turn out less successful. Making these subtle shifts to your training will reap dividends when the racing season does come around in the next couple months, and do so without sacrificing your ability to be ready to race well.