As you take time to evaluate your last race season and contemplate what to do with next year, consider not only your goals for next season but all the seasons to come.
Is your training and racing focused on strategies to obtain faster race times, or would you rather step-up to longer-distance racing every year? For me, solid race performances are certainly fun; however, I'm in multisport for the long haul. Even when I "train" for mountain bike races, I keep swimming and running in the mix. Essentially, I want to swim, bike and run forever.
I didn't realize that I wanted to be a triathlete forever until I had been active in the sport for just over 10 years. I was in the process of writing my first book when I realized I felt overwhelmed. I was frustrated that my training was not producing the results I normally expected, and I constantly felt anxious. I simply had too much going on in my life to recover from the stress of high intensity or high-volume training.
The Need for Balance
Over the years, I have consulted with many athletes who have too much going on in their lives. They come to me seeking advice on how to add the right intervals, restructure a training plan or add more volume to their current training.
After they explain to me all the things they are juggling (a job change, a move, a new relationship, kids, volunteer activities, more hours at work, travel, etc...), I can easily take an objective view and let them know that something has to give.
I have had to give myself the "something has to give" lecture more than once. I'm sure I'll need the lecture again in the future. There comes a certain point in life's hurricane of activity that I can finally admit I am not Superwoman, there are not 30 hours in a day, and I don't do well on four or five hours of sleep per night.
The year I wrote my first book was the first hurricane year that I had to give myself the lecture. That season, after the self-lecture, I decided to eliminate some of the stresses in my life. One of the items I decided to eliminate was racing.
At the time, it was hard for me to give up my normal summer racing routine. I had grown to expect a certain level of competition and performance, and now I was giving that up.
Back then, "racing" meant a certain level of performance in all events. What if skipping a year of racing meant I would never perform the same? What if all of my speed and endurance vanished? I was worried about giving up my routine and normal racing expectations, but it was necessary.
New Lessons Learned From the Absence of Old Habits
For roughly six months I maintained the routine of a triathlete—without the performance expectations I normally imposed on myself. I continued swimming, cycling and running when time would allow. If a workout was more stress than stress relief, I would take a day or more off.
There were no lactate threshold intervals and not much intensity in my workout routine. I swam, rode my bike and ran with friends, and did it because it felt good and it was fun. As time passed, I didn't care how fast or slow we went.
The mostly aerobic workouts kept me fit and kept my stress level manageable during a busy time. After I turned in the last chapter of my book, there were still a few races left on the summer calendar. With all performance stress removed, I entered one of my favorite Olympic-distance races. After all, what kind of performance could I possibly expect sans speedwork?
I didn't expect what happened. Not only did I have fun at the race, I was shocked to see my race time was within five minutes of my best time on that course. How could that happen?
I think the solid race time performance happened for several reasons. First, I had been racing for over 10 years and I had a solid foundation of fitness. Additionally, I kept my basic routine of swimming, cycling and running two or three times per week in each sport, with a reduced volume week thrown in every three or four weeks. I stayed fit. Finally, with all of the performance pressure removed, I was able to relax and just enjoy the race. This experience was a great lesson for me.
After that season, I did return to structured workouts and performance-oriented goals for some years. I will occasionally take breaks from structure and intensity to refresh my love for the sport. Sometimes the break is a few weeks and sometimes it's several months.
Do I still race? Absolutely, but racing no longer means the goal of a personal-record performance or performance pressure. It doesn't matter if my season is centered on a triathlon, a trail running event or a mountain bike race, my training plan and routine still contains swimming, cycling and running.
For me, triathlon is a lifestyle. How about you?
6 Tips for Life-Long Triathletes
- Take a minimum of one to two weeks, once or twice per year, to do unstructured and easy training. Recharge your batteries.
- Take a one-week midseason break in training so you can finish the year strong.
- Consider doing new events (triathlons or other endurance events) to keep your triathlon batteries charged.
- Participate in some events with no performance expectations.
- Consider participating in team or relay events to spice up your race routine.
- Mentoring a new triathlete can recharge your batteries and it's a great way to give back to the sport.
Gale Bernhardt was the 2003 USA Triathlon Pan American Games and 2004 USA Triathlon Olympic coach for both the men's and women's teams. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow training plans. For more information, click here. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.