“gotta do more, gotta be more, gotta FEEL more” – The Dead Poets Society
Triathlon is composed of 3 sports. But we do many more motions than swimming, cycling and running to prepare for events. We lift, we stretch, ski, hike, play hockey and Frisbee. I have found that for me, the off season is my most productive time for athletic training. We lack the race anxiety, not wanting to strain something the week before an event. No diet limitations are in place to avoid race-day “situations”. If gear is a little squeaky who cares, the bike a little dirty, so what, its going to get dirty again tomorrow when I ride on the semi-snowy/melty roads. For me the off-season is my season for every other sport I can cram in.
I have a friend who used to race bikes on a development team, he trained and race in Italy, he was fast! He got into backcountry skiing the same time I did. The last season he raced bikes, his entire (95%!) of his winter training was skiing. Now those of you who do backcountry know that earning your turns is quite an athletic activity. He went straight from skiing, tossed in a couple of speed workouts to dial in the legs a bit and still went out and kicked butt, even more so than some of the guys who had been riding all winter, paying close attention to intervals, power levels, weight, etc. My friend just let it all go, had fun in the off-season, got fitter and came back fresh and did very well. I attribute some of this to residual fitness, some to knowing how to race bikes. But most of it to getting fit in a different way and being excited to do something new. The important thing I have found is to move on to another sport or activity BEFORE you are burned out on the one you are currently doing.
Personally, I backcountry skied a lot last year and had similar results, my best racing season yet. I felt fresh, strong, excited to race. And coming at it with less “riding miles” in my legs, I was excited to be on the bike and had few expectations. When you train a different way, its hard to judge where you will end up. And that is when you really start to reach your potential. And by potential I do not mean your overall, best you could possibly do EVER potential, but your potential at the time. I feel learning how to be as fast as you can be with the endurance, strength, and fatigue in your body is an advantage you can carry through any season in any sport. When you haven’t been staring at the numbers, you go based on feeling. Your body will tell you when it needs to stop and when it can take more. If the computer breaks, the HR monitor runs out of batteries, what are you going to use to gauge your effort? Yourself.
Do math in class, save the numbers for the season as bench-marks for improvement, but during the off-season, skip the math and have fun. You better believe I will have no idea how long or far I ride this winter, how many vertical feet I ski, or miles I snowshoe. But I will have a full photo album of fun adventures, a lean strong body come spring time, and a fresh bright attitude towards racing. So go on, FEEL it!