By Laura Siddall
Eeek… the dreaded end of season break. The time that many triathletes get a little apprehensive about. You've likely just finished racing, so you are at your fittest, and the thought of that all going to waste and you losing "so much fitness" is somewhat hard. Or perhaps in COVID years, you don't feel like you've raced that much and so don't feel you deserve a break?
Taking a break from triathlons
We do interval training for a reason in the sport. We don't just run at that 70-80% all the time. We do intervals of higher intensity and then rest to enable your body to go again. Now think of that in real life? You have been training hard for triathlons. Now you need to rest so that you can go again.
Also, you wouldn't consider it a good idea to work in your corporate job for 365 days of the year, 52 weeks of the year? You have a holiday from work many have one every five days. It's called a weekend, so why wouldn't you do something similar with sport.
I also think that these past few years have been more stressful and tiring than we realise for many of us. There may not have been as many races, but that is almost the worst, as there is no obvious time to break. Yet you've been pushing and pushing on the training front for months and months. Add to that the other stressors in our lives, whether it's work, family, covid uncertainties and the rest. It all adds up.
My recent break from triathlons!
I recently raced Challenge Roth. This is coming off the back of travel to Tokyo for the Paralympics, and then Ironman Lanzarote a few weeks prior. My original plan was to have a very short turnaround back in Girona after Roth and head out to the USA for a pre-Kona training camp with my coach and squad. I'd recover but keep training through till Kona and then take a break. When Kona was moved from October, we pulled the break forward to just after Roth. Much panic ensued as I didn't have time to plan anything and didn't want to waste the opportunity. Also, for the first time in a long, long time, I wanted to fully take a break and try to do it right. I knew that mentally (probably more than physically), I needed to switch off to ensure I come back stronger, and keep my longevity in the sport. Often when you remove something from your life you love, it makes you even more hungry and driven when you come back. That's what you want from a break, from the motivation side.
For me as a Professional, this time, I took a two-week break. Some Pros will take a much bigger end of season break, and that's awesome too. For the Age Grouper reading this, I recommend you go for the longer end of season break. It's not your job, it's your hobby, and you have many other commitments and people in your life, and now is the time you can give back to them. I also think as Professionals our bodies are a bit more trained, for our job, and as an Age Grouper, you need to give your mind and body more time rather than less. I'd almost suggest one to two weeks doing completely nothing… then perhaps four to six weeks (depending), where you can be active but still not really training. You will lose a bit of fitness. It's ok. It's not scary. But I can guarantee you'll come back better!
Here are some good reasons why or how to take a valuable end of season break.
Allow your body to heal
You may have been managing a niggle or slight injury. Pushing through to get through your races. Now is the perfect time to allow the body to heal and reset.
Switch off the data, and just enjoy being active
To say, don't swim, bike and run or do anything triathlon related can be a little odd. It's what we do and love, and it's a lifestyle. We like being active. I think you can still be active but still get the recovery. But you have to be disciplined that it's active and exercising or keeping the body moving… and not training. Take out a gravel bike or mountain bike for some fun. Go hiking and explore some fantastic trails. Go swimming and body surfing in the ocean.
I took my road bike to Italy for a few days. It wasn't with the intention of doing a mini bike camp in Tuscany, whilst convincing myself it was a break. It was with the complete intention of just switching off and riding my bike for the love of it. I didn't look at power or HR. I only looked where I could ride for good ice cream and coffee in some stunning scenery. I certainly wasn't out the door at the crack of dawn. It was after a lovely leisurely breakfast. The other vital feeling to note here is that if you don't want to exercise or be active, you don't have to, and that's totally ok. One morning I woke up intending to just go for an easy jog along a beautiful path, but actually just wanted to make the most of a lie-in and not having to get up and out the door, and I enjoyed that too.
Try other hobbies
If you count up all the hours, you'd typically spend training, then re-allocate them to a new task. It could be a new hobby or something you didn't get a chance to do when fully training (e.g. clearing out the garage or that cupboard under the stairs! Glamourous, I know!). It could be instead of spending that time doing your bike session, it's spending it quietly reading a book.
You can also use those training hours for extra family time or with your kids or friends. Be fully present and engaged in their activities or do things together.
Book a holiday
The best way to really switch off and take the mental and physical break is to book a holiday. Go away somewhere and enjoy a complete change of scenery and a different environment. Ok, you could take your bike, as long as you know you are disciplined to ride for fun and not for training. But I'd suggest just taking hand luggage and not packing up the bike (the bike will thank you for not being packed and rebuilt another time!). You can still be active on your holiday, but again, I think getting away from 'home' really helps heal the mind and body. I know for some people who travel a lot, or as a Pro we are rarely home anyway with racing… the thought of packing up and leaving again, and spending even less time in your own bed, doesn't always appeal. I get that. After Roth, I was torn with that feeling – should I spend time in Girona doing different things or make the most of it and get away fully.
To be fair, I did both. I had a few days' off' in Girona but being able to do social rides (normally around beer or coffee) that I don't get to do when in training. To visit places, I usually have to fly past on the bike mid-session, to explore some of the back roads I don't see on my TT. Then headed to Italy, and a tranquil bliss haven for a change of scene and downtime.
Much like you would plan your training and racing, prepare for your offseason. Especially if you are that stereotype triathlete, who needs plans and structure, particularly after a big goal or race, too, as the "post-Olympic depression" can hit hard. However, if you are able to calm your inner planner, and go with feel, go with the flow, and specifically not plan and switch off that way… that will also be awesome! (Given that most of you will probably have other people to consider, the holiday may need to be planned and booked and travel tickets purchased.)
But for now, switch off, open the red wine and put your feet off and take a break!