Q & A: Keep the Competitive Fires Burning

Q. Hi Gale-
I'd like to keep competing in the offseason (whether in a local sprint, a Thanksgiving 5K or a race to the stop sign during a group ride), but I know I'm not going to train as much. I may even skip three to four days at a time. Is it sensible to do this? Am I risking injury? If I do this for the next three months, will this prevent me from starting my base-training in January or February in good form?

Basically I want keep the competitive fires burning, but without dedicating much time to training because of the holidays/school/work/just-want-to-relax. What should I do?


A. Your questions are good ones, and they are issues that many athletes wonder about. Let me address the main themes below.

Time Off and Recovery

After a season of competitive racing, I believe it is important for athletes to take a break. I recommend all athletes have at least one break per year and preferably two. The break in structured training is to give your body and mind a chance to repair after a season of high-intensity training and racing.

My general guidelines are:

  • Take two to four weeks of unstructured training and workout only when you feel like it.
  • Keep the training mostly aerobic and under about two hours.
  • You can do some speed work in one or two sessions per week, but keep the duration of the speed segments at 60 seconds or less, with at least four minutes of easy recovery between each speed bout.
  • At minimum, one or two days off per week.

Keep Competing?

After your break from structured training, the question is what should you do with the extra two to four months between your recovery time and the beginning of more structured training for the next tri season (beginning early next year)?

There are several routes you can go:

Completely unstructured training and jump into races on a whim
This format can work for people that are very intuitive about keeping some training intensity—but not too much. They keep active with some time spent swimming, cycling and running. These athletes are also intuitive about taking rest when they need it and are completely in tune with their bodies.

If you are not completely in tune with your body, you can still be unstructured; but it's best if you keep a training journal so you can track your sport volume and intensity. Log comments about how you feel and any aches and pains you have. Watch for patterns of too much volume, no rest, too much rest and comments about feeling bad. If you see these patterns, give yourself a break by reducing training volume and perhaps intensity as well.

Some structure, but not too much
This format is for athletes that keep a normal routine of fitness that is manageable most of the time. They may swim one to three days per week, run one to three days, bike one to three days and do something else (strength training, team sports, yoga, etc.) one to three days per week. The structure may be driven by group workouts.

There might be some intensity in the workouts, but only in one or two workouts per week. Speed bursts might include chasing a basketball or jumping into a 5K race.

These athletes try to be active at least every other day, but also have at least one to two days off from athletic pursuits each week. They may have blocks of two to four days off of doing workouts, but more than likely these big blocks are few and far between.

Structured, general preparation training
There is more structure with this format, but it can still include some cross-training. These athletes likely have a regular sports routine for each day of the week. Over the course of a year, it is the volume and intensity done within each workout that change.

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