Triathletes are a driven bunch, always setting goals, generating plans and setting new challenges. The summer race season is the culmination of enormous effort and determination. Then, sooner than you thought possible, the main races are over - you suddenly feel directionless. It can be a curious time, but follow this advice to ensure you end the season on a high and make the best use of the coming months.
With your target races behind you, now is the time to mix up your training and racing. Capitalise on your fitness and the warm(ish) weather by entering some events that are different to those you'd usually do: shorter, longer, more hilly or in a great location you've always wanted to visit.
Outside triathlon, there are plenty of ways to maintain your fitness and have some fun. Scenic cyclosportives (long-distance bike events) abound at this time of year. Alternatively, you could enter an adventure race or improve your personal best in a bike time trial or running race. Dusting off your mountain bike and hitting the trails, or enjoying some open-water swimming while the water is still warm will also help to recharge your batteries.
If a race didn't go to plan, or you did not finish, you can still avoid feeling disappointed at the end of the season. Find out if there is an alternative event you can target that gives you another shot at your goal for the season.
Watch the clock
Late in the race season is a great time to set a new personal best and carry out some performance tests. You may want to ask an exercise physiologist, coach or even a more experienced triathlete to help you do this, or you could set up your own tests.
You could, for example, try to set PBs in the swim over 400m or 1000m in the pool. For the bike, ride a 20-minute time trial on the turbo trainer and record the heart rate, speed and cadence you maintained.
On the run, go to your usual run route or course and try to set a PB for intervals - such as 5 x 1000m - or sustained efforts - such as three miles. The long-term benefit of doing these tests is that, as they are repeatable, they can be used to measure your fitness during the year and from season to season.
Give yourself a break
Taking a break from competition is good for your body and mind. It helps you to recover from the demands of the race season, reduces your chance of injury and rekindles your competitive zeal for the next season. It doesn't have to be a complete break from all exercise, but should involve a reduction in intensity and volume for at least a few weeks.
Having a period of less-intense training isn't just for novices, as double Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington explains: "After the Hawaii Ironman I have a month where I significantly reduce the volume of my training. I only train for an hour or two each day and instead do cross-training such as hiking or mountain biking."
Look and learn
Perhaps the most important thing you can do at this time of the year is reflect on your season and learn from it. As Bob Pringle, a level three triathlon coach (www.bptri.co.uk), says: "The post-competition period gives you the chance to work with your coach to examine every aspect of your performance. Armed with information about your technical, tactical and psychological strengths and weaknesses, you can then agree a set of specific goals, confident that these will challenge you to a higher level of performance next season."
If you don't have a coach, conduct your own season review and feed the results into your training and future racing. Answer these three key sets of questions:
Review your goals
- What were your training and racing goals for the year?
- Which goals did you achieve and why?
- How might you build these successful ingredients into next season?
- For the goals you didn't achieve, why didn't you achieve them? Could it be that they were overly optimistic? Setting challenges is important, but they need to be achievable.
- Was there something else or something different you could have done to improve your performance?
For example, if you were tired going into your big race, you could plan to taper for longer in the lead-up to your next important race. Or perhaps you didn't achieve your goals because they were based on factors outside your control, such as the performance of other competitors? Measuring your performance and worth against other people is a risky business because your conclusions about how you do will be based to a great extent on who turns up and how they perform - you may as well set goals for them and not you.
Review your training plan
- If you had a training plan, how well did you follow it?
- How can you improve your plan for next time? Does it need to be more realistic - you're probably never going to be able to do 20 hours' training every week.
Review your races
- How did your race preparations go?
- Did you reduce training (volume and intensity) adequately before races?
- Were there any aspects of your race performance that need improvement?
- How was your pacing and level of effort throughout each discipline?
- Was your performance affected by something else that you might be able to learn from?
One factor that often ruins races is equipment failure (usually during the bike leg). These failures happen to even the best, as 2007 Ironman World Champion Chris McCormack found out when defending his title last year in Hawaii. His race was cut short when his front derailleur gear cable broke. The lesson here is to check that your equipment works before the race, so that if it does fail, you know that it couldn't have been picked up in a pre-race test.
Finally, no matter how your season has panned out, congratulate yourself on giving it a go, putting yourself out there and testing yourself. And start planning for 2010 to be even better.
Dr Victor Thompson is a sports psychologist (www.triathlonpsychologist.co.uk) and veteran of more than 50 triathlons, including Ironman events.