HOW TO OPTIMISE THE BREAK AT THE END OF THE TRIATHLON SEASON

Mid October: the world's most famous triathlon on the island of Hawaii has just taken place and the autumn leaves are falling. The next triathlon is in a few months, when the weather improves and cool autumn temperatures are replaced by warm sun. It has to be said: the curtain has come down on a fabulous long triathlon season for most triathletes.

It's that time of year when two types of triathlons clash:

- Some triathletes put their bikes in the garage, fold up their wetsuit and put their running shoes in the cupboard. They settle down in front of the TV to watch the last bike races and relish the idea of a lavish meal. The next race is in a few months. They have plenty of time and deserve a rest after such a long season.

- Other triathletes keep training consistently to maintain their level of fitness and not lose their good habits, even during winter. They are at ALL the training sessions and, for them, a break is a waste of time because it will be even harder to get started and get in shape again.

I know both profiles. It's true, both theories have advantages and disadvantages, but I believe it's essential to take a break at the end of the season.

This raises many questions and there are many differing opinions about whether a break is a good idea or not: What's a good break? Why take a break? How long should it last? Should you stop working out altogether? Do other sport? And when it's over, how do I get started again?

I've been part of the triathlon world for over 15 years, and I can tell you, each triathlete has their own theory about how to take a break . And I've never followed the same programme from one season to the next. I don't intend to suggest a miracle formula in this article. The aim is to exchange good tips and errors to avoid during the break at the end of the season.

1/ HOW LONG SHOULD THE BREAK BE? IT'S UP TO YOU!

Let's throw ourselves in at the deep end: how long should the break be? One thing is for sure: extremes are never good. Let me explain: it's not a good idea to continue to train with no break after the last race of the season, nor do absolutely nothing for the next two months.

A/ WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU SKIP THE BREAK?

In the first case, don't forget your body definitely needs to rest. It's time to put your feet up and let your body regenerate to avoid injury. The end of the season is the best time for a break because there are no more races programmed for a while. You have plenty of time to get going again after a long winter.

I have already tried to keep training after the season... to keep up the pace and get ahead. I thought I was going to improve my performance more quickly. I was persuaded that it would help me reach new heights. Of course, during the first winter months I was convinced I was right. Particularly when I saw how fit I was compared with others who had barely started again. But as I said earlier, my body needed to rest and it caught up with me at the worst time: at the beginning of the season: I had no energy or motivation left and suffered from extreme fatigue and recurrent injuries.

The result: I was wrong on all counts: I missed several races. I was obliged to rest for several long weeks in the middle of the season. And I had a lot of trouble getting motivated again. To sum up, I completely ruined my season.

B/ WHAT HAPPENS IF MY BREAK IS TOO LONG?

In the second case, if you stop training altogether for a long time (two months for example), you lose practically 100% of the physical fitness you spent so long developing. If you stop too long, your body loses all its muscular mass . It might be easy to get into a training routine, but it's just as easy to get used to doing nothing at all.

I've done that too: after a complicated season and moving to another city. I decided to give myself time to adapt to my new environment before doing any sport again. I did my last race in August and started working out again in mid November.

It was a disaster: I didn't recall any of the sensations. I felt like I was starting all over again. And I was breathless within minutes and my muscles were terribly weak. The 3 or 4 kg I had put on didn't help either and it took me a while to lose them.

It took me practically two months to get fit enough to start a proper training programme and plan to participate in a triathlon again. Worst of all, almost all the training sessions during that period were unbearable. It was a long time before I enjoyed doing sport again and I finally understood that taking a break doesn't mean stopping sport altogether.

 

C/ THE HALFWAY POINT: THE WINNING FORMULA?

My experience taught me that a break should last between one week and one month. But apart from that, there is no ideal duration for a break. I can suggest that: if you had a long season with a lot of triathlons (I know triathletes who race practically every weekend for four or five months), I advise a longer break of about three or four weeks. On the other hand, if you had a short season with few races, a complete break of one or two weeks is probably enough.

That said, there is an indicator which can help you decide: motivation. You will feel it when you want to start again. When you are tempted to get your running shoes out again, it's time to get started again.

 

break-winter

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2/ WHAT SHOULD YOU DO DURING YOUR BREAK?

A/ BREAK ACT 1: COMPLETE REST

A complete break seems evident to some triathletes: they feel tired after the season, have no desire to swim, pedal or run and need to think about something else or spend time with their friends and family. There are many reasons triathletes want to stop altogether.

I now try to make myself stop completely for about one week, with no sport or training. I admit I eat what I feel like too: it's my "fun" week when I eat as many rich meals as I can and my diet is not at all balanced. I know it's silly, but I need to completely let go. That said, my body quickly reminds me why I prefer a healthy lifestyle with intestinal discomfort, trouble sleeping and even worse fatigue etc. There's no doubt about it: when your body is used to a healthy lifestyle and regular physical activity, any change is difficult and it suffers. In my case, I naturally take up my good habits again.

 

Looking back over the past and my different experiences, I avoid going 10 days without doing any sport.

Firstly, because I can't anymore. I get impatient and irritable: I'm sure I simply have withdrawal from sport - yes, it's possible to be addicted to sport. Look up "exercise addition" ;-) (we'll talk about it more in another article)

Finally, because as I explained earlier: don't let your body get used to doing nothing at all: bad habits fly back, and once they’re back, they can be hard to lose!

A/ BREAK ACT 2: FUN & VARIED ACTIVITIES

In my opinion, a break is not only the period of complete rest. There is another period (more or less long) when you can do other activities for fun, without pushing yourself too hard, when you let your body decide.

Every year, during this part of my break, I think a lot about all the things I'd like to do but don't have time for during the season. Triathlon is a demanding and time-consuming sport which doesn't leave room for any other sports activities.

I certainly didn't want to swim in a pool - I was sick of counting tiles. I didn't want to go cycling on the road - I was tired sick of bitumen, cars and roundabouts. And I most definitely didn't feel like running - I was tired of keeping my eye on the stop watch and controlling my speed.

 

                         - Mountain biking: Cycle... off road!

I love autumn - the colours, the smells, the weather - so I choose outdoor activities: mountain biking and trail running are great ways to escape your routine and enjoy nature.

I can hear what you're thinking: "But you are still cycling and running." Yes and no. I can assure you that they are completely different activities! Exploring trails in forests and mountains on a mountain bike is much more fun than cycling for hours on the road and being tooted at by cars. And if the terrain is a bit complicated, it's completely different to cycling on the road.

 

                          - Trail running: running? Really? 

OK, it's running but there is no stop watch for trail running! I am a natural competitor so I have always approached running with a set speed and heart-rate range. When I'm trail running, I choose my route, preferably with some deviation, I start my watch... and then I don't look at it again. Setting a speed makes no sense when there a slopes. I concentrate on the route, I stop to find my way, I cross fields and I stop to enjoy the view. In short: I follow my nose.

 

                           - More unusual outdoor activities: 

There are other fun activities with a similar theme: I practise these two regularly:

Orienteering: many clubs propose orienteering in September and October. It's great fun and you can work out with a different objective. I always enjoyed reading a map, so in the great outdoors with your running shoes on, it's fab!

Bike and Run: one bike - two people: one runs while the other cycles, and you swap when you like. It's a great way to enjoy time with family or friends.

There are lots of different activities to try. For example, I tried yoga. I tried it out of curiosity, but I think I'm going to continue once a week all year round. I would never have thought about it during the season, and I would always have said I didn't have time. Now I'm hooked, I'll organise my time differently to fit it in all year.

I'm sure you've got it now: E-N-J-O-Y! It's time to relax, to satisfy your curiosity for other activities, and maybe find another passion.

 

                          - Pleasure is the priority! 

I'll finish this paragraph with an important detail: I never look for performance in my new fun activities. I do what I feel like doing. If I'm feeling in shape, I might push myself a bit. If I'm not, I take it easy. It's essential to understand that. We run after performance enough the rest of the year.

Do 1, 2... 4 seances per week. Do what you feel like. But I recommend against doing too much. Don't forget - your body needs to recover and regenerate. If you are used to training between 5 and 7 hours a week, halve it and do sport for 2 to 3 hours a week.

MTB

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3/ GETTING READY TO START AGAIN?

You now understand that a good break is a short period of complete rest (max. 2 weeks) followed by a period more or less long (1 week to 1 month) when you practise other sports you like or want to try. You keep up regular physical activity. In my opinion, it's the recipe for a good break.

A/ START GENTLY!

As a result, starting to train again will be a natural progression. As I said earlier, motivation is key.

In the past, I have always wanted to start training again: see my mates pool side, all go out on the bike on Sunday mornings again, go running together. That's when I start again, but most importantly, do it with a slow crescendo. Don't double or triple what you've been doing all of a sudden: that's asking for injury. If you train with a club, follow your coach's programme. It's usually organised so that everyone can find their feet again in the first weeks. If you train on your own, check out training programmes on the internet.

I advise doing the same amount the first week as you were doing during your break. Then add another session the next week, and so on until you reach your regular number of sessions in three or four weeks... And don't work intensively during that period. Concentrate on technique and pace. Maybe include some straight-line accelerations during your running sessions. But no more than that.

Your body will slowly remember its old habits. It will soon be ready for more intensive sessions! It's extremely important to listen to your body and be patient. Don't jump the gun. You are likely to injure yourself early in the winter and the following weeks will very slow and monotone.

 

B/ CAN I CONTINUE THE OTHER ACTIVITIES?

YES, you can certainly continue the more fun activities with your regular training programme: swimming, cycling, running. There are many trail running, run and bike, orienteering and cross-country events during winter.

Practising these sports is not incompatible with training for a triathlon, quite the contrary. They all work many muscle groups and help you gain training volume with variety. As I said earlier, the first triathlons don't start for a few months. You will have plenty of time to prepare yourself later in winter when spring is coming.

 

To conclude There is no perfect break. Each triathlete is different and you'll want to do things differently from one year to the next. That said, I strongly recommend you take a break combining a short period of complete rest with a longer period of varied and fun sports without pushing yourself. It's a chance to try other sports, spend time with your friends and family and even do sport together. Taking a break is vital for me. I rest my body and I'm motivated to start another season which can be long and tiring.

 

 

cedric-editor-aptonia

Cédric

I've been doing triathlons for 15 years. Triathlon is not just a sport, it's a way of life. I am lucky enough to have tried all the different triathlon distances, from XS to L. I am a better runner than swimmer, and I was able to participate in the French championship in D2 then D1 in duathlon with my first club (TRIMOVAL).

I'm going back this year in D2 of the duathlon with my club from Champigny. But most importantly, I fulfilled my number one dream this year: the Ironman® triathlon in Vichy on the 26th of August.

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