How to Pick Offseason Races

The leaves have turned. The air is crisp. The medals from a summer's worth of triathlons are pinned to your board in the kitchen. But now the calendar is blank until the end of the year. Should you be racing in the offseason? If so, what races should you pick to enter?

Ask a few people and you will get a surprisingly diverse set of answers. To arrive at the best answer, you will need to decide what is most important to you. Consider which of these three (very different) goals is at the top of your list:

  1. Build the right base for next year.
  2. Strengthen your run.
  3. Stay fit, but having some fun.

The Big Picture

If you have signed up for either a spring full- or half-distance triathlon, Craig Vitale, owner of C4 Training in Greenwich, Connecticut, wants you to think twice before you sign up for the late-season trail run. He advises you to resist the urge to push your luck.

"Personally, I would not do anything that could cause an injury. If I were not familiar with the sport, I would not risk it," he said. "It takes too much time and dedication to train for these races that you would not want to take the chance of injury. The only thing I would suggest doing is strength training."

Craig will, on occasion, suggest a half-marathon or century ride for his triathlete clients to help keep their feet wet with the triathlon disciplines.

Running to Win

You can lose on the swim or stay close on the bike, but you will win on the run, or so common race wisdom goes. With cold water and slick roads, winter makes a perfect time to build running skills that will help get you closer to the podium.

Bart Yasso, Chief Running Officer for Runner's World Magazine and inventor of Yasso 800s, thinks the winter is a perfect time for serious triathletes to build running strength. "It's a great time to concentrate on running," he said at a recent fundraising event for Team in Training and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. "I'd focus on the half marathon distance."

He also suggests that triathletes use the colder weather to increase leg turnover and gain speed.

"Shoot for a run in the 1:30, 1:20, or even 1:15 range. It will be really beneficial during next year's season," says Yasso, five-time Ironman finisher. "You'll lose only 5 to 10 percent of that [new] speed when you start the run."

Recharge Your Batteries

An intense season of triathlons can take its toll. Aches or pains may linger. Or maybe the level of training required for the events took some of the fun out of the sport. If this is the case, variety this winter is not only suggested, it's required.

Because of different fall and winter climates, the offseason races that you can enter will vary significantly from region to region. Think about the changes that will give you as much of a needed break as possible.

  • Vary the muscles: Try a trail run. A scenic trail race could help you run lighter on your feet than you do on the road. You'll also see parts of the country you probably never have.
  • Change the sport: Look for a cyclocross event. Take your old bike with some mountain bike shoes and pedals and just give it a try. If you are in an area with snow, enter a snowshoe run. In the last several years, these have increased in popularity, particularly in the New England region.
  • Reconnect with friends and family: With the eye off the stopwatch, this is a perfect time to find events where the company is more important than the clock. Look for 5Ks where you can run with your family or slower friends.

Wherever you may be in your fitness plan, take advantage of the change in season and enter offseason races that align with your goals.

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Paul Tyler is founder of Triessential.com. Triessential offers an iPhone application that provides training tips and motivation every day throughout the entire year.

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