How was your Christmas? Did you see in the New Year in suitable style? For many triathletes the Christmas period is a time to let go a bit, put the year to bed and have the new season in the back of the mind, but focus on a bit of overindulgence and allowing yourself that extra bit of cake.
But the holiday is now over, and we start to turn our attentions to the upcoming season. Many of us are already braving the cold and getting those sessions in. Some are jetting off to early season training camps to give the body a bit of sun and a kick start to the year.
But how should we approach the start to the tri season?
What are the pitfalls that many triathletes fall into when getting started again after a bit of well-earned time out?
In this blog I want to look at a few pointers that, even though might seem simple, are so easily overlooked and can be the make or break for later on down the line.
11 Tips to return to Triathlon Training
So, as I have just mentioned, you are probably coming back into some training after either a winter break or doing some other activities to lighten the annual triathlon load. (Some of you may have been training hard for an early season triathlon, so if that’s the case then don’t worry too much about this blog and carry on as you are.)
1. Be aware of Bugs and Blues
Winter can be a really tough time for many athletes, the goals of the previous season are done, and the races have come to an end. The infamous Ironman Blues can descend and leave you feeling a little lost without your daily routine that you have grown so accustomed to over the previous months. On top of this, this winter has been awash with bugs and colds of every description making a post-lockdown comeback, and I would say that they are definitely making up for lost time. In fact, I have not had a single athlete that hasn’t been hit by one form of illness or another. All of this can leave us absolutely gagging to get back to our routine and excited about the training ahead and the new challenges and races that a new season brings. You feel invigorated, ready to go and looking toward the finish line already, and as much as this is an amazing state to be in and all is positive, it can equally be the biggest downfall for many triathletes if it isn’t looked at in a very proactive way. So where to start and why?
2. Plan your race season
You have a 2023 plan! let’s say, for a generalised example (and please look at this in regards to your own distances and challenges) you have entered an early sprint distance to get the body setup, a mid-season 70.3 and you are going all out for a later full Ironman event (or Iron distance). The first thing is that plan. It is the key to your year and needs to be project-managed from an early stage. Ask yourself:
When are these races?
What’s the spacing between them?
Where are they?
Is there any room for wiggling? This is a big one and what I mean is, if something crops up like a 10k race, or another triathlon that you may feel you would want to do, then is there any room to slot something in and ensure recovery time is enough to still tick off your races?
List your races: which is your ‘A-Race’, the one you are absolutely gunning for?
Which is your ‘B-Race’? The one you want to do well in but are happy to leave out there a little.
And even, if you want to call it this, what is your ‘C-Race’ and ‘drip feed events’ that are more about waking you up or keeping your system in check.
Planning is an absolute must, and you must be rigorous in your approach to this plan. So many times, I have athletes who suddenly ask if they can shove in a 70.3 or Half/Full Marathon, literally weeks before an A or B race. I even had one athlete who asked if they could do a coast to coast Ultra when they were only three weeks out from their second ever 70.3. Obviously as a coach I cannot stop them, but I think we can all agree that anything like this means that you won’t be crossing the finish line of your key race in particularly good shape, if at all. Have a plan and try to stick to it as best you can. Oh, and have an idea in your mind to cope with potential injury or illness within the training season.
3. Tri Training volume and timings
Think about the timing of your races as well. If you are, for example, looking at your A-Race being something like Ironman Wales or Ironman Barcelona then why are you even contemplating volume of training at this time of year? I met an athlete once who I noticed was putting in some huge sessions in the pool. We had a chat and he told me about the 100+ mile rides he was starting and building the run past the 16miles he was already putting in. It was February and so I just queried which race he was looking at, thinking that it would be an early season race somewhere on the other side of the world. (Even though I was also thinking, why are you running 16+ miles at a time? But that’s for another blog!) To which his answer was, ‘Oh I started training in December, as I have Ironman Wales this year……….’ Hopefully if you are reading this I don’t need to say anything, but this a trap that so many athletes fall into, especially if they are new to the sport or are going for their first Ironman. Please don’t let this be you! I will go through the outlines of planning and how to get around your first long distance race in my next blog.
4. Focus on training consistency rather than load
Don’t go at it like a bull in a china shop!!! You have been on a break, or you have lowered your training levels, you may have even been unwell during this period, so let’s not start by flying out the door and ramping the hours back to a pre-race block. I see this more often than not. Athletes are keen to get back so they start their season by hitting it hard and fast with some huge hours thrown in because ‘this will get things back up to scratch sooner rather than later’. Wrong! This will end up with you crashing and burning before you have even started. Get going, but get going slowly and steadily. If you have built the aforementioned plan, then you know the time you have and you can work out a route to get to your first event of the season. It’s like jumping into a hot bath: if you jump straight in it burns and you are more likely to jump back out again, whereas if you get in slowly and lower yourself gradually, maybe add in a bit of cold water, then you are going to stay in and enjoy it. Just be kind to yourself and go steady to start.
5. Ignore the training data
Ditch the Garmin for the first couple of weeks, unless you can handle figures that are not your usual. If you do use your Garmin then set it to show heart rate and time only. Again, the biggest bit of athlete feedback I get is, ‘I went out for a swim, ride or run today and enjoyed it but I didn’t go as quickly or didn’t feel as good as I did before Christmas’. Yep….. I get that….. and why do you suppose that is? Don’t look at times, or distance over time, or anything that relates to speed or performance after having a break. If you concentrate on just getting out the door and enjoying it then that is the main thing to be achieved. If you do then want to add in some numbers then look at heart rate and keeping it low and as consistent as possible, so you know that you are not pushing yourself into a whacking great Zone when slow and steady wins the day.
6. Steady effort across your sessions
Keep the time short and then build up by 10% week on week to gradually gain back some distance. Once you are back into the swing of things, then you can start adding in one or two shorter more pace-based sessions a week, but keeping the ratio more towards 90/10 rather than 80/20, just to really bed yourself in. Oh, and remember, at this stage you really don’t need to be hitting the sessions every single day. My athletes always have a dedicated rest day and then I will add in an optional rest day which they can take with no feelings of regret and if they want to train then the training option for this day is usually a super steady recovery swim or easy ride. Rarely will I prescribe running on these days as (and I am sure people will argue this one) I feel that there is no real thing as a recovery run if you are wanting to keep things totally easy with minimal load bearing through the system.
7. Wear winter-appropriate kit
Think about kit, why? Well again, I have athletes who have decided that going out the door in shorts and t-shirt is fine, only to get back and need an industrial heating fan to thaw out their various body parts. This is particularly lethal on the bike, where it all seems fine at first and then after about 20mins of riding in artic wind, the reality of the situation hits… literally. Get items like neoprene over-shoes and water/windproof jackets. Remember, keep it walm and take layers off if needs be. Getting cold opens up the likelihood of torn muscles and potential bugs and illnesses.
8. Look after your bike
Winter proof your bike! Some of you might be lucky enough to have a winter-specific road bike or a gravel bike, but if not then try to ensure that your bike is protected. It’s not just the dirt and water on the roads, a lot of roads will be salted at this time of year and salt water mixed in with dirt will quickly lead to corrosion of component parts and spokes.
Get some descent chain lube which is suited to the type of ride/weather conditions you will be tackling.
Mudguards are an absolute must if you don’t want to end up with the inevitable poo stripe up your back and wetter filthier clothes than without.
Most of all, get cleaning!!! Yes, I know that after a wintery ride when you are cold and tired and just want to eat something warm and sit on the sofa for a bit, the last thing you want to do is go back out and clean your bike, but it is essential. A build-up of muck, road salt, grit and all the other winter nasties will soon make your steed a crunching, grinding mess, and grinding means one thing: something is breaking. Companies such as Muck Off make a full range of cleaning and lubrication products that will quickly and easily strip the filth of your bike, and actually, at the time of writing this, Wiggle has the Muck Off winter pack on offer (it even comes in its own storage box).
9. Keep warm post-sessions
Particularly swimming. Now I would imagine you are getting back in the pool. Some of you are bonkers and hard-as-nails and open water swimming all year round, but the majority are heading back to the warmth of the indoor pool to start training. Kit-wise there is not a lot to be said as it is all fairly standard, but remember to take enough gear to change into to keep warm afterwards. After swimming in a heated pool your body’s core temperature is abnormally high and muscles and tendons are warmed up and loose. Going from this into freezing cold temperatures outside will cause everything to immediately seize up. Think a blacksmith plunging a red-hot piece of iron into water to specifically make it solid. It is far easier to pull something in this ultra-warm state and as your system is looser and warmer you can also fall foul of the bug scenario, so make sure you are over-wrapped.
10. Go steady with your diet and nutrition
Always plan in your recovery and fuelling sessions at this time of year. Again, there are so many athletes that go from zero to hero in regard to diet and the shock to the system means that you are unlikely to sustain a well-balanced diet over the long term. Again, just drop things in moderation, and what I mean by this is, if you have got used to pudding after every meal or an extra helping of pasta during the Christmas break and are now concerned that it will just keep those extra pounds on that you have gained (which is fine by the way) don’t just stop dead. It will increase your hunger cravings and the body’s shock reaction to this can be to flip into a form of starvation mode, where it clings to every last calorie it can to keep weight on and protect itself when it is bitterly cold outside. Like your training, treat every aspect in moderation and remember it is still winter and the hibernation factor is still inertly within us from our ancestral genetic makeup.
11. Recovery is part of your standard training plan
Recovery, recovery, recovery. I bang on and on about this throughout the entire year to my athletes. It’s not a dirty word but it is so often seen as such, or as a weakness. Recovery is key to every aspect of triathlon: the better recovered you are, the better your sessions will be. Athletes have a tendency to not think about recovery so much at the beginning of the season, especially if they are following the above advice and are working steadily and easily back into their training. In fact, this is the time to really embed the recovery mantra, and ensure you build good recovery into your weekly routine. It will set you up for when the training begins to ramp towards your first race and at this time of year, even on the easiest of sessions, your body will actually be working harder as it copes with building back into training and the additional pressure of keeping itself warm in the colder weather. There is also a factor that outside pressures such as a new year at work and getting back into the daily flow of life after time out will add unseen pressures, so always get some clear recovery time, and help you to help yourself.
Hopefully this may have helped you look out for a few of the pitfalls that can bite you at this time of year. Which ever way you decide to approach this coming year, set yourself up right at the start and I have no doubt you will achieve all you want to in 2023.
What’s up next in the R4-3 triathlon training blog?
In my next blog I will chat about how much you actually need to do to take on your first long distance race and the advantages of a midseason break. I hope you have a fantastic start to the year and that the 2023 season is one that brings you the results you want.