Friday, 23 November 2012

The Offseason

Last year's off-season blog focused exclusively on deliciously anti-performance foods, and had virtually nothing useful to contribute to any athletic pursuits (I'm not about to give 'competitive eating' athletic status anytime soon despite my love for food and excess).   I do still stand behind my top burger choice: one year and many, many burgers later, I still have The Stockyards as my top burger in the Mega-City.
Holy Chuck makes a good burger - but not good enough for the GTA title.
I wrote a blog recently for the Morning Glory Cycling Club on the topic from a pretty high level, focusing on the need to take a break, which is important physically but also (and maybe more so) important mentally.  When that break is over, reflect on what went well, what didn't, and where you want to go from here.  Here's that post:

A nice complement to a break in training is time spent doing virtually nothing on a beach that looks like this:
Bermuda beachin' - focusing on Dark n' Stormies instead of FTP and VDOT.
From a triathlon perspective, here's my thoughts on how to treat the fall/winter period in Canada:

Get Wet!
A couple years ago I fully bought in to the Endurance Nation concept of 'don't swim' in the winter.  I was a very weak cyclist back then compared to the swim and the run, and I liked the idea of biking a lot and 'saving' that time commuting to the pool, swimming and commuting home again, especially in the cold months.    So for the 2010 season I didn't swim.  Not only in the fall/winter 'out-season' as EN calls it, but all summer as well.  I swam 44.5K for the entire year, and almost 10K of that was in races.  The result?  Swim splits around the same as previous years, but despite significantly improved cycling and running fitness, those splits remained the same.  I was just way too shelled from the swim effort (despite it 'feeling' about the same as prior years) to race to my potential in the latter stages of the race.  The last two years I've swum right through the winter and seen very modest swim improvements, but dropped huge time in the bike and run.  

At the pro level, swimming is significantly more important than in the age group race - with the huge mass-starts, age groupers can be way off the pace on the swim and slingshot themselves through the field on the bike.  In the pro field, if you can't make a swim pack, you're in for a lonely bike ride.  

If you find it hard getting motivated to swim when it's cold and dark out, consider joining a club team - the coaching is great, the camaraderie makes it fun, and 3-5K of swimming goes by a lot faster when you're doing interesting sets with interesting people.

Trainer Time
The Toronto winter was so mild last year you could ride outside virtually all winter. The darkness, and not the temperature or road conditions, is the limiting factor for me.  I rode with the MGCC until the end of October this year, but when your entire workout is done in the dark and often in the cold, it's way less fun.  The increased risk of 'incident' due to the darkness also sends me indoors.  

Even if you're racing an Ironman next year, I personally don't believe you need to slog it out doing 4-5-6 hour trainer sessions.  My longest ever trainer ride was 2:45 and I don't think I'll go over 2:30 again.  Since your training stress is a function of volume and intensity, I prefer to hammer the intensity in the controlled indoor environment, and get a bit of volume through frequency but will save the long stuff for when the weather improves.  For a July Ironman, you can be outside in March which gives you four full months outdoors before backing off in July.  Consider high-intensity intervals, building in duration, over the course of the winter to get that FTP as high as possible, then when you get outdoors work on maintaining that FTP while adding the durability to go long through smart volume.

Cool Runnings
Ah, winter running - by far my favourite season for long jaunts outside.  In the cold climes, you get low humidity and nice cool temps that allow for long runs with no real need for fluids or overheating.  I can run 150 minutes with no liquids in the winter, so nice to leave the house with a couple of gels and nothing else.
The iceman cometh.
I advocate lots of running, and a decent amount of quality running in the winter.  That base of mileage holds up well for the whole summer season when you start biking longer and may see a slight reduction in running totals.  Be careful with fast running on snowy/icy roads - be smart about getting your quality in.

Gear Upgrades
The offseason is a good time to think about your setup from this past season and consider what you want to upgrade for next year.  Make those upgrades now, don't wait until the nice weather comes in March or April!  That way you're ready to get outside as soon as the weather improves (and you miss the early season queues at the bike shops).

Be a Tortoise, not a Hare
Resist the urge to come out guns blazing at the start of the season - the race season is a long ways off, so don't burn all your motivation in the first four weeks and be burnt out while there's still snow on the ground.  Build volume gradually and remember that it's long-term consistency that builds success in this sport.  Enjoy the process!

And that's what'd I say about the offseason.