Don't hit the couch just yet - get your head down, keep racing and end the season on a high
The season is coming to an end, so you'd be forgiven for looking forward to a bit of a rest. But not yet. There is still time left to go that extra mile and squeeze in some fantastic results to keep you inspired and motivated throughout winter.
Age-group world champion (30-34) Jill Parker says, "Winter training is tough, so while you are super-fit from all you've been doing over summer, it is best to give yourself a kick now and reap the rewards later."
However, it isn't always easy to maintain motivation at this time of the year, according to two-time Ironman 70.3 champion Emma-Kate Lidbury (eklidbury.co.uk). "People often overlook the mental aspect of training and racing. It can become very difficult to keep going, especially at the very end of the season," she says.
Cop an attitude
To avoid a slump, a positive attitude could be your best weapon. "As the season nears its end I encourage athletes to reflect on the success they've had," says Steve Lloyd, head coach at Absolute Tri (absolutetri.com).
"Remember the goals and targets you set before the season started. If your motivation starts to fade, remind yourself how many of those goals you've checked off. It's easy to become fixated on the times you're achieving when you're desperate to knock a few seconds off. You can forget how much you've improved since the start of your journey with triathlon."
Fill up your racing diary
Lloyd suggests that triathletes enter a few local races at the end of the season. Because you're more relaxed at this stage of the year, and familiar with the course, you may perform better than you expect.
Mix up the training
A little training reshuffle could also help maintain your interest and commitment at the end of the season.
Coach Pete Freedman (driventotri.com) explains: "There is no point cramming in training late in the season; you're better to rely on the base you have built up over the previous winter. Slightly reduce the mileage and increase the intensity as the end of the season approaches.
"You could try some different types of sessions, partly to freshen up the training but also to try out some training methods for the following season."
It's easy to become complacent (and lazy) with the bulk of racing out of the way, but now is the time to draw upon your hard work and cross that final line in style.
Get ready to relax
One method of maintaining momentum is to envisage the rest period to come. Joanna Carritt (joannacarritt.co.uk), pro triathlete and member of The Challenger World UK tri team for 2011, says, "When it gets tough during your preparations, you need to know that you're going to get some time off. Plan what you'll do with all that time so that you have something to look forward to."
Rediscover the fun
You can also use the final races to re-engage with the fun side of the sport. "There should always be a place in the calendar for 'fun' races. After all, 99 per cent of us do not earn a living from the sport; it's a hobby. If it's not fun, then why do it?" says Ironman coach Simon Ward (thetriathloncoach.com).
Parker, who coaches part-time, agrees: "When faced with the end of the season I tend to add in a race for pure enjoyment. Last year I did the Hever Castle Triathlon [in Kent] with my husband and some friends, the majority of whom had not done a triathlon before. It was great to let friends into my weird 'tri world'."
Lidbury has a similar approach: "When I raced as an age grouper, the end of the season was always about a few fun events or doing something a bit different. It was a great way to stay motivated and keep things fun and fresh."
Once the races have truly petered out, there will be time to relax and unwind before you plan your next steps.
"I always use the end of the season to make time to see many of the friends I end up neglecting when I'm busy racing and training. I make a conscious effort to switch off from triathlon," says Lidbury.
Parker did much the same when she was a pro: "I always had a month off, to cram in seeing friends and family I had neglected during the season. I'd party hard and get it out of my system for the next 11 months."
Carritt, who coaches with Everyday Training (everydaytraining.org.uk), says, "If you race Ironman, then there really isn't a natural 'season' - you can race all year round if you are prepared to travel. The last few years I have raced all year without really having a proper 'end of season'. This is not something I'd recommend for age groupers. It's important to plan your breaks as well as your training."
Take a proper break
Carritt suggests a break of at least a month from structured training. "You should keep ticking over with club sessions and rides with friends that you enjoy, but I feel that you need a mental break at least as much as physical rest."
It can be hard for triathletes to truly switch off when the seasons ends. "Age-group triathletes generally are very obsessive; they tend to be successful, highly motivated individuals, which means they struggle to take time off," says Freedman.
The key is to consider the positive aspects of rest and recovery: your body will bounce back, adapt to the training you've done during the year and you will not develop the contempt that can come with familiarity. So, don't stop just yet, but do stop, for a while. There's always next season.
Check if your kit is in good enough nick for 2012.