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The “Off-Season,” AKA the “Get-Started Season”

When I first started triathlon, I jumped right into doing Ironman. I wanted to hear the words, “Andy Fenack, you are an Ironman.” After all, “…you are an Olympic distance triathlon finisher…” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

As this was pre-PT days, I was fairly naïve with my training and nutrition, and I basically just went for it without too much guidance. I actually finished my first Ironman unscathed, then immediately signed up for another the following year. Aaaaaaand … seamless transition to injury and the introduction of physical therapy into my life.

Ever feel the pressure that you need to do one long training weekend after another to complete a marathon or triathlon? Ever feel that your weekdays are spent recovering/preparing for those long training weekends? Yup. That was me.

Leading up to that second Ironman, I felt that I needed ride 100 miles and run as long as I could every weekend. I was overtrained, injured and mentally drained from the “every weekend must be long” philosophy. Luckily, I had the opportunity to work with a highly skilled and inspiring PT who got me to the finish line of that second Ironman.

One day in a pre-race discussion, he said, “We’re JUST GETTING STARTED after you finish this race.” That made so much sense to me. I wouldn’t be coming into his office on Mondays hobbled with my “every weekend must be long” plan, and we could actually get to work on solving the underlying problems that led me there in the first place.

I finished that race, and we just got started in the weeks after that. I didn’t have to experience — errr, suffer — through as many intense soft tissue sessions on my beat-up joints and muscles, and he helped me started moving in ways that increased my mobility and made me stronger.

I was able to develop a strength and conditioning program suitable for an endurance athlete that would balance my training the following year. After all, simply going to the gym and lifting stuff isn’t going to cut it.

I went into the next year stronger and more mobile than I’d been, and I showed up at start lines healthy. Lo and behold, I went faster at all distances than I had previously.

So. Now let’s talk about you. You’ve completed your goal races and hopefully had enough fun to want to race again next year. What does this “off-season” look like for you?

Here are some suggestions to help guide you (from someone who’s learned the hard way):

Give yourself some time off.
Go out with friends, enjoy our great city, sleep in and don’t work out one weekend. And when you do go for a run again, don’t wear a watch. Just go out and run because you want to for as long as you feel like it. My watch broke recently, and I’ve had a blast the past couple of weeks just running for the sake of running.

Continue — or finally start — physical therapy.
If you’ve been coming in to see us before your race, chances are good that the underlying issues that brought you to PT in the first place have not been solved. Discuss your goals and off-season plans with your PT and learn new movement patterns to increase strength and mobility now that you’re not running as much. We will help you develop a program that you can carry forward with you to balance your training for the coming years.

After all, you want to do this for the rest of your life don’t you? Most runners and triathletes move in the same plane of motion over and over again. Humans are built to move in multiple directions, and when we don’t, the result is breakdown and injury. Finish Line physical therapists are the local experts at getting you to move in directions that are out of your norm. Come check it out.

If you want to do long distance races next year, pick ONE or TWO to focus on.
There’s a reason that most professional runners and triathletes don’t race more than two marathons or two Ironman triathlons per year. Many of them would only do one if racing organizations and sponsors didn’t require them to do more than that. And they do this stuff for a living.

So you working professionals who want to do more than a couple of long distance races over the course of the year, beware burn out and injury. You’ve been warned. Make one race — your goal race — special. Focus your energy towards that.

Do something new.
Use the winter months to try a new sport. Cross country skiing, snowshoe running, swimming, boxing, rock climbing — SOMETHING new and different that will challenge you to move in ways you’re not used to moving. After all, a better mover is a better athlete.

If you need a bit of a guide, here’s what an “off-season” week looks like for me.

Overall, I try to be flexible with no specific plan on any one day. The only constant is strength and mobility work 3 to 5 times per week. Yes: 3 to 5 times per week. And I don’t mean stretching or foam rolling. That’s daily. Again, you want to do this the rest of your life, correct?

  • Monday: Run to work. Nothing better than a super-cold early-morning run to start the week off, in my opinion. Snowing? Even better! I love running in the snow.
  • Tuesday: Strength/mobility.
  • Wednesday: Swim or bike and strength/mobility.
  • Thursday: Run and strength/mobility.
  • Friday: Off or yoga.
  • Saturday: My “something new” day. I’ll check the snow reports for cross country skiing, sign up for a class I’ve never done or go throw around the Vipr in ways I haven’t before.
  • Sunday: Swim, bike or run and strength/mobility. Or do more of what I did on Saturday.

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