Monday, November 26, 2012

How to Execute a Successful Offseaon

So I did the Turkey Trot (10k + 5k) on Thanksgiving morning, and while I had some PR action, it was not a great performance for me. I sort of saw it coming and it's no biggie. In the past few weeks, and especially in this last race, the signs have been surfacing that it's time for a true break from any kind of training and racing for a bit. It's just that time for a transition - a healthy part of the progression to prevent anything bad from happening...

I guess you can say I've been in somewhat of an "offseason/general phase" ever since Steelhead ended, but I've still been doing structured swim-bike-run training (addressing weaknesses, some shorter speed/power work, etc) and some racing. For example, when I got back from Kona I was still pumped up to do the double sprint triathlon challenge, and even after that I was excited to be doing some decent training. I knew my time for a TRUE offseason break was coming - a "transition" as Joe Friel calls it - but why force it if you're still feeling great and the body is responding?

Eventually I started to see a shift - mentally and physically - that was subtle at first. Then, even after some rest in AZ, the Turkey Trot happened, verifying that, indeed, that would be my exit to the 2012 season. I know I'm fit, but not void of needing rest.

This is where the ART of training/coaching comes into play. Lucho and I never set specific dates in which I would take a definitive break before 2013 gets rolling  We had an idea of when we wanted it, but would just let come naturally. And now, it's here. We won't waste time debating its need - the break needs to be done now before the 2013 season really creeps up on us and I run out of time. (Oceanside isn't that far away, folks!) Trust me, I'm excited as can be for '13 and I want to hit the year feeling fresh and ready!

How long will I take off from structured training? Well, read #6 below.

So as I embark on a period of rest, I wanted to share SIX things to consider in executing an awesome offseason (aka transition) that will have you fresh and re-energized for the next season:

Six Guidelines for a Successful Offseason

First: Acceptance. It's easy to start an offseason after a huge race (Ironman, etc). But what about cases like mine where there was no definitive end? Be proactive by knowing and understanding the signs that it's time to chill and embrace the break. Usually the signs are more mental to begin with (not excited to train, forcing it, moody, etc) and then come the physical signs (crappy sessions, falling flat, fatigue you can't shake). So you see the signs. That's one thing. Accepting them is another. Thus, the first step to a successful offseason break is acceptance. Don't "pretend" to take an offseason. That's silly. Granted - as athletes we can be stubborn with our training and letting got of it. You try to push through... and it's blah. But you keep going... you're faking it... and thus risking injury, burnout, fatigue, failure.... Once you're accepted it's time, realize that offseason does NOT have to be a bad thing! An offseason break is what makes great athletes. Ask any pro and/or coach, and most (the successful ones) will agree.

Second: Goal setting. It's all about goals no matter where you're at in a season. For offseason there are mental and physical goals to adhere to for success. Mentally, the key to a successful offseason is letting go of that feeling that you have to train. There should be no plans or expectations. Nothing should feel forced. Everything should be for enjoyment. Physically, the key to a successful offseason is to unload fatigue, let go of peak fitness, and simply do what sounds fun physically, even if that means nothing for a while. Meanwhile, if you have any other goals to achieve in this period make them known!

Third: "Planning". What do you do in an offseason? The key is to not plan it out. Overall it should be a combo of rest and doing unstructured exercise for fun. Keep in mind: Offseason doesn't mean do nothing! Not at all! Like I said above, be physical *but* only for the pure enjoyment of the act. If you're by the beach then surf, if you're in the mountains ski, for example. Whatever gets you excited. I'm personally looking forward to a couple weeks of doing fun activities when I feel like it - i.e. surfing, strength training circuits, hiking/jogging, maybe a little MTB'ing, yoga, etc. I'm equally looking forward to doing nothing when I feel like it. Also, you're allowed to still do your sport(s). If I wake up feeling ready for a great run, I'll go for it. Same with bike/run.

Fourth: Be healthy. Your body is still your temple. Just because you're not married to a training plan and races, that doesn't mean you can go off the deep end by eating boxes of donuts and downing cocktails. You can, of course, loosen the reigns, but it's still a time to be healthy and treat the body well. There's a good chance most of our offseasons happen around the holidays. So enjoy some treats and some late nights. Although, I wouldn't recommend being a bump on a log and gaining 20lbs from eating crap food. Everything in moderation.

Fifth. Reflect and reset. The offseason is a good time to reflect on your training and race performances from the year and point out the goods, the bads and everything between. What did you learn? Did you reach your goals? You can use all that info to help guide your goals for the next season. As you do this, you're also accepting that you'll lose some of that fitness. Don't be afraid to "reset" and let go of it. The good news is that your body isn't going to totally forget what you've done and you won't have to start from square one. Every year is a foundation for the next.

Sixth: Resuming. When do you know offseason is over? The offseason break of "no structure" and "do what you want" has no specific time limits. It can be 1-2 weeks, it can be a month or more! Joe Friel says in his book that 2-6 weeks is a good average time to consider. But really, like with nutrition, this is about learning to listen to your body to find out what works. When you start waking up every day ready to train and you're feeling fresh, then go for it again. You will know. Again, the key is to not force it! As for me, I'm guessing about 2 weeks is all I'll need before I'm ready to get going again. But I'm not setting anything in stone. I could need longer. We will see when I'm ready to give Lucho permission to start posting workouts again.


Last word: Don't think that an offseason break means you've failed and are unfit. The smartest, healthiest and fittest athletes all take a definitive break. It's like training - you have to go easy on easy days in order to go hard on hard days. Well, you have to take an offseason if you expect to have a decent next season! Do it for your mind and body.


  1. Great post and timely, as I have been struggling with this for a while. I am sort of stuck in the middle (as I am every year), thinking I should take a little downtime to mark the transition between the 2012-2013 season. But, on the other hand, I don’t feel at all fatigued (life circumstances dictate somewhat of a lighter training load for me anyways) and I am eager to get out and run up mountains year round no matter what. My typical strategy is usually just to back off the intensity and stop looking at or thinking about HR, pace, PR times, etc…. Then again, my only true downtime over the years has been related to injury, so part of me is tempted to take some time off, in hopes of staying ahead of that little detail.

    Anyways, enjoyed this one. Makes me think about it a bit more critically.

  2. Thanks for the great post. This is my first year I have trained for triathlons and so I am still trying to determine what my offseason looks like. I ended my season on high note in a late season race. I know my body definitely is tired and wants to rest but I keep worrying that I am going to lose all my strength and endurance that I worked so hard to gain over the year. I now feel ok for taking a couple weeks off and will look to adding in some variety over the next couple weeks.