by Christopher Bagg January 25, 2022
Where did January go? Do you know that Oceanside 70.3 is only (checks calendar) TEN WEEKS AWAY? Before you fire up the old Panic Trainer™ we’re here to offer some words of restraint, and some advice on what you should do before throwing yourself headlong into this year’s training. Although you may not believe us, many professional triathletes are only just now opening up their TrainingPeaks account and starting their real work for the year. Many of them have made the mistake you’re probably about to make (training too much too soon) and know that easing into the season now results in stronger results later on. Follow their example and run through a season-opening checklist to make sure you’re starting 2022 on the front foot.
Did you read last week’s post? No? Well, then do not pass GO. Head back there right now and give it a read. We’ll wait. OK, you’re back? Great. Have you taken your offseason break? No? Then get out of here! You can’t knock these next items off your list without taking a break first. We suggest at least 7-10 days completely off, and many professionals will take two to four weeks, which would kill most age groupers from what they tell us. Make like PLUSH pro Josh Amberger and head to a remote ocean island for a week, or Heather Jackson who spends a huge chunk of the winter cross-country skiing and snowboarding on the shoulders of Mount Bachelor, outside of Bend, Oregon. “I eventually know it’s time to get going,” says the Kona podium finisher and many-times Ironman champion. “But until then I enjoy Bend and skiing and other ways to build fitness than just jumping right into full-time training. This season will be a long one with two Ironman World Championships, so I’m pacing my opening to the year.”
Speed is a skill, the old cliché states, so spend some time revisiting your bike fit, your swim technique, and your run form during the early season or late off-season. Your body changes over the course of a season and a career, loosening or tightening depending on intensity, duration, recovery, and the stress of living. Tight hamstrings, underused over the course of an offseason, may want a slightly lower saddle as you ease into January and February. Maybe you suffered a running injury last season and resolved to fix your perennially lazy right butt-cheek. Want to nudge that swim time down towards 30 minutes instead of the 35 you’ve posted at every 70.3 for the past three seasons? Schedule a swim analysis with an experienced swim coach and listen for the one big thing you can work on and then work on it—every single week. Early season form checks can superpower your season, but only if you actually apply the information you gleaned from them. After you’ve looked at your form, schedule a movement analysis with a physical therapist experienced in triathlon. He or she will be able to tell you where you’re moving well and where you’re limited or dysfunctional. Once you know your physical limitations you can work to alleviate them, spending fewer days injured or out of action. The early season is the best time to work on strength and mobility, so don’t skimp!
Talking to the person you’ve hired to direct your training might seem obvious, but countless athletes skip this step each year, missing out on a chance to review the season just concluded and set goals for the one upcoming. Ask your coach honest and straightforward questions about where you might make improvements and what kind of mistakes you made in the past. Ask your coach for real feedback, and listen to their answers, regardless if you agree completely or not. Nothing shuts down future honest feedback than a quick negation, excuse, or explanation, so just spend some time listening. Then as your coach if you can offer feedback as well. If they agree, then give them the same respect by offering a clear and honest summary of your experience from last year. Tell them what worked for you and what didn’t, and then set some hopes and boundaries for this year. Talk through the goals you have and see if they have any adjustments to offer. Make sure this happens, as starting the year in agreement on your goals will make for an aligned process throughout the season.
Triathlon outlaws outside assistance during races, which means you should know how to fix a flat (whether you’re running tubeless, clincher, or tubular tires), put your chain back on or untangle chainsuck, reattach a loose crank (yup), tighten your handlebar bolts, troubleshoot your electronic shifting, and return your seatpost to its correct height. Learn how your brakes work so you understand what can go wrong with them (and how to fix them). Know why your power meter or heart rate strap may suddenly disconnect from your bike computer and have a plan to pair them again. Test your hydration, fuel, and storage systems, coming to know how they might fail at the worst possible moment and how you can avoid that eventuality. Get the picture? You need to know a small dictionary of bike maintenance tricks, and if you don’t know that list you should spend this January learning one of them. Once you’ve done that, go over every piece of equipment and inspect it for wear and damage. You may not find anything, but you’ll learn more about your bike, and if you understand your steed you can heal it when it sustains an injury.
This step offers one of the fun parts. Look at your calendar. Add your races. Have you talked to your coach (see above)? If so, you know when you’ll need to put in your biggest blocks of the year. Mark those weeks, and then talk your boss or your business partner or the people to whom you report—see if you can get some extra flexibility during those periods, or spend some vacation days ahead of time to establish a few long weekends where you need them. Looking for a camp? Camps can lift your training to a whole new level, allowing you to simply train and recover for an extended period of time, even if it’s just three or four days. Monotasking amplifies the quality of your work, whether it’s training, writing, cooking, learning, or any other skill. Camps give your body a chance to push and to relax, which is crucial for actual development. If you’re stressed all the time, your body won’t be able to accept the workload you’re throwing at it. So schedule those big blocks and then spend the rest of your season preparing for them!
Checklists save lives, as any pilot or surgeon knows. Checklists also power every single high-end meal you’ve ever eaten. Countless triathletes deploy checklists for pre-race travel or to make sure they’ve packed the right amount of nutrition for race day. Surprisingly few athletes, however, run a pre-season checklist, setting up their bodies, schedules, brains, and hearts for the long season to come. As exciting as the miracle of human flight probably is from the cockpit, all pilots know that that thrill is only purchased through discipline. So set up a checklist and run through it—who knows, you may have the best season yet because you did so.
by Christopher Bagg April 20, 2022
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