I think that every driven triathlon (nay, person) is their own toughest critic. I remember speaking with my super human teammate Jess after her Lake Placid race. The disappointment in her voice was palpable, and I laughed as I responded to her own scathing critique of her race, “You are such a triathlete!”
But I get it. Hidden within my words of encouragement is a deep empathy for the way she expressed frustration with her race. It’s something very hard to articulate to people who don’t understand. It occasionally comes off as self-loathing (it is, for the most part) and shallow. The frustration eschews the admirable accomplishment of finishing versus chasing an arbitrary time affected by conditions and variables such as the number of other competitors, weather, water conditions, and your fiber intake the day before. But the frustration is real, and it is part of what makes someone like Jess such an amazing competitor (aka awesome).
Coming into every season, I lay out my goals for what I plan to accomplish that year. I don’t think I set goals that are too ambitious, but they aren’t easy either. They require consistency, focus, and a little luck (if I get injured, I probably won’t achieve them). My 2013 season was stellar partially because I was able to achieve 4 of the 5 goals, and quite honestly I didn’t really attempt the 5th, so I wrote it off. This year I set six goals for myself: one specific goal for each discipline, a combined goal for swimming and running, one finishing time that I want to go under, and a season average that I expect to hit.
To put it mildly…FAIL! I hit one of my six goals (thank you swimming!) and failed the others. So I think it’s fair to say I didn’t have the year I expected to have. That’s frustrating, and it puts twinge of anger into the way I speak about the season, something that even the most layman of endurance bystanders can sense. This is, to put it mildly, off putting, and I understand that, I just can’t help it. I had a good season of training, was relatively consistent, and stayed healthy, so maybe I should just try something completely different?
Or I could double down, thank you very much! In spite of my inability to achieve those splits and finishing times, I still think that this year was a major improvement over last. Finishing one of the toughest races, the American Triple-T, coming in fifth overall in Westchester, and dealing with TWO MAJOR RACE DISAPPOINTMENTS (fell off the bike in Philly, mechanical at Nationals) all play a role in making me a better athlete and racer in the future. Dealing with disappointment forces me to be creative when working with Coaches Marc and Cane to craft steps I can take this offseason to get better next year. With that in mind, here are some of the ways I plan to use the offseason in order to crush more ambitious goals next year.
By the way, these are going to be pretty generic. Instead of just explaining what I’m going to do, I’m going to explain how and why.
Commit to strength training. This is everyone’s big one. Strength training is the symbol of struggle for most triathletes. We all want to do more working out: more swimming, biking, and running. But we have other life commitments that we have to do. How is it possible to fit in strength training? Good question, because I have no idea what the hell the answer is. But I also know that strength training could definitely cure what ails me on the bike. Building power through plyos, olympic lifts, complex movements, and core work is helpful in walking down the path to becoming a demon biker. How do I plan to do this? Simple, I’ve mapped out an excel spreadsheet of every single exercise I can think of, the type of exercise it is (upper, lower, combo, core, etc.), and where they can be done (home, gym, hotel, etc.). Advance planning helps me fit in all of my other workouts, and having a plan for strength training will help me commit and fit it in to the schedule without being a huge time burden.
Stretch after workouts and during the day. Don’t tell Coach Marc, but I occasionally (okay 75% of the time?) don’t stretch after workouts. As such, you won’t see me in those crazy yoga advertisements where the subject of the picture is bent six ways from Sunday. Stretching’s effectiveness in preventing injuries is debated (Matt Dixon chooses to forgo it for his athletes completely), but there’s simply no denying that doing it makes you feel good. It definitely lessens my back pain on my bike, and I’ve dealt with hamstring tightness while riding before. Both a proper refit and consistent stretching will help. How do I plan to incorporate this? I’ve begun standing at my office for sections of the day. By stepping back from my desk and reaching towards my toes for a few minutes at a time, I can steal some of my former gymnast flexibility. I’ve also laid a yoga mat out on my floor as a permanent fixture. Looking at it every day will remind me that 5-10 minutes here and there is not an option, but a must.
Hit the hills earlier in the season. It took me until June this past year to do my first ranger station hill repeat session, which is totally unacceptable. I could immediately feel the difference of having those under my belt, so the why here really isn’t scientific. Even if it’s only for confidence I want to do more of those sessions. But how will I motivate during the offseason? Well, thankfully I can count on NSQ (sometimes) and Rick (even fewer times) waking me up early to go out and hit it. Having buddies on the bike makes a world of a difference, and while I do believe it’s important to nail key TT sessions alone, there are going to be none of those in the offseason (okay, maybe one). Falcon has also indicated that she wants to ride this offseason, but it might require her waking up before 10 am, we’ll see.
Relax. Notice how this one is last? It is also the hardest, especially for me. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that this sport is supposed to occasionally, sometimes, every now and then be fun. This makes me laugh because I have NEVER ONCE had this thought during a race, “Wow! This is a lot of fun!” It’s not. It’s never fun. This sport is all about being satisfied and taking a certain amount of joy in the process, not having fun. But it’s important to occasionally to take a step back and remember why you enjoy it. Reaffirming that satisfaction every year keeps me coming back for more.
No one, professional or age grouper, goes through this sport alone. Everyone has a team that makes triathlon possible. If you don’t relax every now and then, it’s impossible to share your appreciation for what they do. So take some time this offseason to go out with them, buy a Christmas present or a round, or make them dinner. Take some time to remember that life isn’t all about swimming, biking, and running, and enjoy it.
And after those few weeks are over and you realize that life really is about swimming, biking, and running, get back to work. Because my offseason is over the day after my last race ends, and if I expect to hit my goals again next year, I better work smarter and harder.