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The most important season

Off-season is no time to be on autopilot

BY TONY SCHILLER

Your season is over. Now what? The two things common for most of us about off-season training are, one, there's more varied approaches to off season training than at any other time, and two, it's the season we give the least thought of all to how we train. That's what makes the off-season special. It's the one time of year it seems safe to be unencumbered by the daily grind of goals and an organized training schedule. It feels great to just slip into autopilot for awhile.

But I'll argue that this is the most important season of all in determining what kind of year you'll have in 2017. Simply put, great seasons are set up by what you do during the off-season. No, I'm not saying you should already be fast into training for next year. The opposite might be better. It all depends on how your last campaign went and what you have planned for next year.

A good way to think of the off-season is like half time of the Super Bowl. What's the purpose of half time? More than just taking a break, it’s the time to evaluate how the first half went and to make adjustments for the second half. Most Super Bowls are won at half time by the coach who makes the best adjustments. Sometimes it's throwing away the game plan and starting all over. Sometimes, it's tweaking the game plan and focusing on better execution. Sometimes, it's sticking to the plan but lighting a fire in a team that's asleep at the wheel. And sometimes, the best adjustment is making no adjustment at all. Great coaches are masters of using half time to outmaneuver the other coach.

The same can be said for racing. The best seasons are achieved by the athletes who've made the best adjustments after last season. Besides recovering, this time of year is all about adjustments from last season so you can begin training accordingly now. That might mean cranking it up, or it might mean taking a break. That's what makes this time of year so tricky.

The first rule of evaluating last year is that sometimes the obvious isn't so obvious. Don't be too quick to credit or blame your season outcome on in-season training. Look further back at the past off-season and what role it played in setting you up for success or failure. The best predictor of the future is the past. If you're having trouble making it through an entire season without burning out, it will probably keep happening unless you take a different break at season's end and/ or cut back on intensity during your off-season. If your season finished with a flurry, it can likely be duplicated next year IF you don't ratchet up too much from what worked so well last off season.

It seems easy, but it's not. Especially if you're one who likes routine and never changes your approach much from year-to-year. Two such athletes with very different off-season approaches come to mind. After sticking with their programs forever, both are finding that a little change can be a good thing.

My friend Dave is like a bear. Each spring he crawls out of the cave looking sleepy and soft and starts all over again. Sure enough though, by cranking hard he's typically back in great form by mid-summer, although he's prone to peaking early and running out of steam. Always at season's end, he's quickly disappeared back to his six-month hibernation. On the other extreme is my friend Jan. Thanks to an amazing work ethic, she's won numerous races every month of the calendar year in all the silent sports (running, cycling, triathlon, paddling, and cross country skiing). For more than a decade it seemed she was racing - and winning - every weekend of the year.

Two different approaches to life balance

Hot and Cold: As a business owner and father of two, Dave made the conscious decision that balance was best achieved by running hot and cold at different times of the year. For half the year, his focus and training intensity is red hot and he races hard about eight times over four months. He's sustained his intensity by going cold and shutting it down after the last big race and being more involved in family life.

Warm: As a business owner and mother of two, Jan made the conscious decision that balance is best achieved by running mostly warm throughout the year. She races well all year long with a focus on a steady diet of moderate intensity and few breaks in the action. She's sustained her consistency by always being really fit so she can have the energy for a more involved family life.

The fifty factor - adjustments that worked

Dave found that, with each passing year, it was more difficult to start over. His solution has been to add some warm (easy training) to his off-season and more cold (easy training) to his in-season. By adding low-level off season fitness, he felt less urgency to push so hard to regain fitness early in the season. The result: Now age 50, he just enjoyed his best racing in almost a decade and peaked perfectly at nationals.

Jan found that with each passing year, it was more difficult to sustain it. Her solution has been to add more hot and cold (variety) to her year-round steady approach. By mixing it up, she's feeling higher energy and less pressure to always be on top of her game. The result: At 50 last year, she enjoyed some of her best racing in years and peaked perfectly with a 10:26 at Ironman Wisconsin.

So now in the intermission between 2016 and 2017 seasons, turn off the autopilot and make some adjustments to your off-season approach. Come next summer, you'll be glad you did.

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