by Mikael Hanson , Director of Performance for Cadence Cycling and Multisport Centers - NYC
If you are anything like me, the arrival of fall elicits mixed emotions. Sure, the turning of the leaves signals the much-anticipated start of the football season and the approach of another World Series, but it also means the days are rapidly growing shorter and the that slight edge in the morning air can only mean Winter is knocking on the door - signaling the end of another racing season. Regardless how you're season ended up (good, bad, or just plain ugly), one thing everyone needs is good old fashion rest.
A few years back, Inside Triathlon magazine ran an interview with multi-sport legend Ken Glah where he outlined his five steps to racing longevity. While we all may not have racing resumes as impressive as Kens' that does not mean we can not benefit from his years of wisdom for extending our own racing careers (my own has lasted over 25 years and I see no signs of stopping anytime soon!)
1. Enjoy your training - This is the only reason to be involved in our sport, so find the aspects of training you like the most and focus on those.
2. Enjoy the races - Which may come from the sheer thrill of competition, but also doing races in different destinations is a great way to include family and friends.
3. Be realistic - If you are in the sport for many years, it is important to adjust your goals from year to year, making sure they are attainable (as unreachable goals will only disappoint and decrease your enjoyment).
4. Don't just train - While the three main disciplines will dominate your time, engaging in other activities will keep you going for the long term (such as regular massages, weight training, yoga, pilates, and stretching).
5. Take time off - Yes, training and racing are addictive, but it is critical to include recovery time in your schedule as well as planned time off during the year. You will never last in this sport if you don't have a rich personal life outside of triathlon.
So, with nearly six months before the start of next season, how should we approach the long days of winter? The first step many of us fail to take is the brief, albeit necessary off-season break. Depending on your own level of obsession with training, this break should be a period of one to three weeks where one does not worry about hill repeats, weekly running mileage, or exotic Brick workouts. Leave the triathlon toys at home and take some time to enjoy your family and friends. Go to a football game, take a drive in the country, go for a hike in the hills (yes, some form of mild exercise is okay). Reward yourself for a successful season. Personally I like to start my end of the season break minutes after finishing the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot in Philadelphia, as images of steaming apple pie and mountains of turkey always seem to make me run a bit faster than normal.
During your break, it is important to take a hard look at your recent season and ask yourself several questions (and yes, honesty counts)! What worked in your training? What didn't work? Where were your strengths? Your weaknesses? And finally, what are your goals for the upcoming season? Only after you have accurately answered these questions, can you begin to address the next season.
Once your mini-break is over, it is time to EASE back into training, with an emphasis on the word EASE. With so many months before your first event, there is no need to rush into your training. However, one must realize the importance of building a solid foundation in the early season (January to March). Take a page from Lance Armstrong's training, as he has often said that the Tour de France is won in December and not July. Use the off-season to focus on your weaker sports. For me, a duathlete at heart who has converted to triathlons, that would mean leaving the bike alone for a few extra weeks while I focus on including a few extra sessions in the pool. This is also a great time to try your hand at a little cross-training outside of the regular multi-sport disciplines. Cross-country skiing, roller blading, and hiking are all great endurance building activities, while yoga and pilates can help with your core strength and flexibility – all things we begin to lose as we get older.
While many will ride almost year-round (multi-rider centers like Cadence certainly help here), come January the bulk of us need to consider re-introducing ourselves to the two-wheeled machine gathering dust in the corner. However as the weather deteriorates and darkness reigns, I find that many athletes actually dread climbing on their trainer, stating that riding indoors is about as exciting as watching paint dry. Perhaps these people suffer from a lack of imagination, as I for one relish the opportunity to ride indoors. Where else can one combine watching TV with a workout?
There are several things one can do to make riding indoors more enjoyable. First of all, your environment is a huge factor in how comfortable you are while riding indoors. For me, the closed confines of a NYC apartment can lead to some stuffy riding conditions. The first thing one should invest in (after a good indoor trainer for your bike) is a fan. Even on the coldest winter days, I crack the window a touch and aim the fan directly in my face, thus keeping the overheating to a minimum. Make sure you have a towel draped over the handlebars and for those of you with hardwood floors place another one on the ground below your bike, as you will sweat (trust me on this one!) The next item on the list is entertainment. Listening to music is always an option, but this only helps out one of our senses. I need more stimulation when riding at home. Why not ride while watching your favorite football or basketball team play? Or better yet, how about watching Lance win one of his Tour de France titles on tape? My favorite source of riding entertainment is a good old James Bond flick.
Now what to do while riding. Sure, watching Brett Favre or James Bond will help pass the time, but you still have to think about your workout. Try adding some spice to your indoor ride, while keeping in mind we are still in the off-season. One thing to focus on in the off-season is your technique. High cadence drills will help improve one’s mechanics by making your pedaling smoother and more efficient. Another drill to work on is one-legged drills. Pedaling with one leg helps develop that circular pedaling motion by incorporating more muscles into one’s pedal stoke, thus spreading out the workload smoothing out the dead spots (which will ultimately reduce muscle fatigue and help increase endurance, strength and power). After your warm-up and drills time for the core portion of the ride. In the off-season intensity takes a back seat to re-establishing a foundation and building back strength. If you are watching TV while riding, try an over-gear interval or hill climb whenever your football team has the ball, throw in a 30 second standing effort for every touchdown or turnover, or do a large-gear seated climb for the duration of every car chase. Just use your imagination and I ensure you will see the time fly by, and you'll get a great work out on top of it.
Even in our northern climate, there are many who successfully run outdoors year-round, thus never need to face the boredom often associated with the treadmill. Coming from a cycling background, I will be the first to admit that the thought of running on the treadmill used to send a chill up my spine. Let's be real, on a scale from one to ten, the boredom factor is quite high for a treadmill run, especially when compared to the alternatives. But if you think about it, what separates the treadmill from say swimming laps at the pool or riding your bike indoors? Both offer little in the way of engaging scenery, so then, why do we all approach running on the treadmill with such trepidation?
Instead of climbing on the treadmill with the aim of slogging out 30 minutes before succumbing to boredom, plan your workout in advance, making sure you have all of the necessary tools to assist you. As overheating is always a concern indoors, make sure you are equipped with a towel and water bottle. Then there is the entertainment aspect of the workout. Unlike riding a bike trainer, where your bike is in a fixed position, a treadmill does require a certain amount of attention to maintain your place on that moving black carpet. While following a TV show on the treadmill may prove disorienting, listening to music can be your savior. Now that you are properly equipped, what do we do for a workout? With the ability to manipulate not only your speed, but also your incline, the workout possibilities are literally endless. Always try to keep a modest incline on the treadmill (say 1%) to better simulate actual outdoor running conditions, which we all know include wind and rarely a perfectly flat road.
Here is one treadmill workout I enjoy doing: This workout is a modified ladder with changes in both speed and incline. After a 1-mile warm-up, pick a modest base speed to run at (say 7mph for example). At your base speed, run 1/4 mi at 2% incline, then 1/4 mi at a 3% grade, then 1/4 mi at 4%. After those 3 quarters, drop the incline back to 1% and inch the speed (say 0.1 or 0.2 mph) and repeat the progression. See how long you can do this for!
The off-season typically means lower training volumes for most of us, as we slowly rebuild our fitness levels as the season approaches. Fewer four hour plus bikes rides, means less of a need for that Krispy Kreme doughnut in the fuel tank. While I am a self-proclaimed doughnut junkie in the summer months (something I share with pro triathlete Hunter Kemper - who actually served Krispy Kremes at his wedding), one must exhibit some self-restraint in the dead of winter. Some weight gain over the holidays is expected and normal, however we don't want to over do it. A rule of thumb is to try an avoid weight gains of ten percent or more on your frame (15lbs on a 150lb frame), as those extra pounds will come back to haunt you if they are still hanging around come June. By no means does this mean we should starve ourselves during the holidays, just pay close attention to the soda and alcohol intake, leave the extra dinner rolls for the in-laws, try avoid eating after 8pm, perhaps consume a tad less pasta for dinner, and the one that kills me - less Krispy Kreme breakfasts!
Remember, while the majority of us are not professional athletes, we all share a small obsession for our chosen sport and the lifestyle that accompanies it, so rest and train smart so you can enjoy a lifetime of racing success!
See you next season!