If you've been training hard, chances are you're looking forward to a little relaxation and indulgence. But if you go on holiday and leave your training schedule at home, you could be in for a shock when you return. According to Olympic triathlete Jodie Swallow, every week you take off will put your training back by two weeks.
"If you completely stop, your body switches off," she says. "This is fine at the end of the racing season when you need a break, but not bang in the middle when you're competing. Even if you do only a little exercise each day, it will minimise the effect of lost training."
Without the usual distractions of working life, a holiday provides the perfect opportunity to improve your technique - and just think how much more you'll enjoy relaxing by the pool if you've just done 40 laps in it. If your hotel pool is on the small side, don't worry: Mark Kleanthous, an elite member of the Great Britain Triathlon Team, suggests using a swimming cord that you attach to the side of the pool and around your waist to create a kind of swimming treadmill. "If you think this might be boring, think again," says Kleanthous. "You can practise sprints or do endurance work: I've completed a 60-minute session in the corner of a hotel pool."
You could also practise your open-water skills if you're by the sea. You can still play around in the waves and have plenty of fun, but at the same time you will become used to running into the sea. You can also learn how to bodysurf back to dry land. As Swallow explains, this skill will help you reach the beach much quicker in a race, and it's great fun for all the family. She also recommends swimming along the shore, with waves coming at you from the side.
By the end of your holiday you should find that your technique and confidence have improved dramatically.
If you're more of a landlubber than a water baby, hire a bike and invite the family for a spin. If you feel they're holding you up, there are various techniques you can use to ensure you still enjoy a decent workout.
"Ride in an easy gear to increase your cadence, so you that you're spinning the pedals much faster than everyone else," suggests Steve Gershon, coach for Cambridge Triathlon Club and Hoddesdon Swimming Club. "Most people struggle with upping their cadence, so it's a great opportunity to improve your pedalling skills."
It's also worth packing your trainers because you can probably run no matter where you are on holiday. Go out early in the morning, when it is usually cooler, the air is cleaner and you can check out places of interest to visit later in the day with the family. Gershon took his trainers with him on a stag weekend to Brussels and says he enjoyed exploring the city on foot - it also meant he didn't drink quite as much as he thought he would.
"I've also been running in Madras and Kathmandu," he says. "These are places you might not expect to jog, but it's a brilliant way to see places that you'd otherwise miss, and is much better than a guided tour. It's a good idea to take advice on your route from locals before you head into the unknown."
Sand and deliver
Running on the beach can be a lot of fun, although you need to be careful when jogging in deep or soft sand as it can put a strain on the Achilles. A steep climb can also cause sore calf muscles or even long-term injury. Kleanthous suggests walking as much as possible while on holiday, as most of us spend far too much time in everyday life sitting in front of a computer or behind the wheel of a car.
"Walking is underrated," he says. "It can be demanding: an 81kg person will burn around 100 calories per mile. If you find it hard to run below 65 per cent of your maximum heart rate, now is your chance to exercise at a lower heart rate, which will improve your fat-burning ability."
When tempting holiday treats abound, take care not to consume more calories than you need. An extra 500 calories a day can add up to about an extra kilogramme in two weeks. Self-catering is a good option as you can have at least one healthy, nutritious meal a day and then treat yourself when eating out. If you're staying in a hotel, it can be hard to resist the delicious spread in the morning - especially when you've already paid for it - but limiting yourself to smaller portions can help. Delicacies such as local pastries might not look big, but they could be loaded with fats and calories, and won't leave you satisfied for long.
A little of what you fancy
Claire Loades, a registered nutritionist who specialises in sports nutrition, recommends eating fresh fruit and yoghurt instead, which can still feel like a treat, or eggs, an excellent breakfast. At lunch and dinner there are a number of ways you can easily save calories without forgoing taste. "Avoid vegetables with added butter, anything deep-fried, and ask for sauces and dressings on the side," she says. "The best approach is to eat like the locals, as this is often simple but delicious food that hasn't been dressed up for tourists."
As for desserts, local fruit is a great option but if you fancy a cold, refreshing treat on the beach, decline the ice cream and opt instead for a sorbet or fruit-based lolly. "I manage to eat better when I'm away, thanks to the abundance of healthy, fresh, sun-ripened fruit and veg," says Swallow.
Of course, the most important thing is that you enjoy your holiday, but by following a few simple guidelines you can come back fitter, fresher and ready to take on the rest of the season's triathlons.
Muscle up on your mental attitude
Holidays can give you the head space you need to come up with a fresh attitude to your triathlon training
Dr Victor Thompson, a sports psychologist and triathlete (www.sportspsychologist.co.uk), recommends "structured daydreaming" while you're lying on the beach, during which you run through your training or plan for competition day. "Focus on making the image as real as possible, so you can hear, feel and smell what you see," he says. "Play out a scenario where things don't go exactly to plan, but you then turn things around; this will help you to cope better on race day."
When trying to think positively, Thompson recommends focusing on real experiences, such as the training you've done, to remind yourself that you have the skills and fitness to complete the race. You can then build your training around the way certain images make you feel. For example, if thinking about anopen-water swim makes you nervous, then you'll know you need to prepare more for this discipline.
According to Kleanthous, you can also use your holiday as an opportunity to evaluate what you have done and what you want to achieve, and then plan your training for when you return home. "Remember that we improve while we rest and recover," he says. "So take a book or magazine and find out more about triathlons, or if you have a heart-rate monitor or GPS take the instructions with you and learn how the functions work. A holiday is a great time to use that grey matter."