Approach Your Off-Season Like a Pro

By Carrie Barrett – November 1, 2016
llustration by Eleanor H Grisebaum

Athletes dream of the off-season and of all the relaxation, coffee dates, and trips to the farmers market it will grant us when weekends aren’t cluttered in between training and naps. Unfortunately, there is a thin line between the off-season and the paralyzing fear of “what’s next” that creeps up like the creature from Stranger Things. One moment, you’re sleeping in on a Saturday, and then suddenly you’re gripped in fear because you’re feeling lazy.

Local triathlete Susie Yuill recently shared some of her frustration. “I’m not feeling the tri thing right now,” she admitted. “I am pre-occupied and a little burned out. I’m wondering if I need a break from the group for a while, you know, to take things down a notch or two.”

Are you also ready to take it down a notch or two? Here are some reasons why you might be and how you can get the most from your off-season.

Feeling Burned Out

Nothing can cook you more than an intense training schedule where every day, including the recovery days, feels like a second or third job. Remember, it's not just the actual training part that wears on your schedule, but the inordinate amount of time that goes into the nightly preparation, bag packing, snack prepping, and sleep logistics. Training is definitely a part-time job.

Sometimes a temporary break from the grind truly is what's best for your mind and soul. If you don't want to tap out altogether, however, a change of perspective may simply be what you need. As Susie's friend Tabitha told her, “Just slow down a bit. Enjoy hopping in the slower lane and don't go to the more intense workout days.”

Coach Advice: Change your mindset from competition to relaxation. You're allowed to hop on your bike for fun without your Garmin. (Frightening, I know.) Find some pleasure in the routine. Ask yourself daily why you're doing this and write those reasons down. If you simply can't think of valid reasons other than, “I have to,” it may be time to walk away and step outside of the training trap door.

Just Finished a Key Race

Kristin Zimmerman recalls what it felt like after racing her first 3M Half Marathon a few years ago. “I was so sore after that race for a straight week; I was very turned off from running when it was all over,” she remembers. She literally didn't go for another run for four months. Still, she says, she generally avoids road running but has since found joy in trail races.

Whether the memories of your race are blissful or painful, the end of a key event can often trigger the post-event blues, a very real depression. Many find it difficult to find motivation or desire to continue to train hard, especially if they prepared wholeheartedly for months on end.

Coach Advice: Ride that wave for a couple of weeks and realize that feeling lost after a race is very common and, most of the time, temporary. Sometimes the best answer to this burning question of what's next is, “nothing.” If that sounds a little scary, it should, because no Type-A athlete wants to be told to do nothing. However, while you may feel like you aren't doing anything, you're actually giving your body and mind a much-needed chance to recover.

Another suggestion? Go on a post-event vacation! In the same way a newly married couple embarks on a honeymoon right after the wedding ceremony, embark on your own post-race adventure. If you've traveled for your event, stick around for a few days and actually treat yourself like a tourist on a leisurely vacation instead of a ramped up athlete who's afraid of eating the wrong food and being on your feet for too long. Don't be fearful of a little decadence and post-race celebration.

Bored with Your Routine

Couples (not those newly married ones I just mentioned above) who are in a rut are often encouraged to have date nights that may include trying a new restaurant or going to a new destination together. Well, it's time that you and your athlete alter-ego attend some couples therapy.

The off-season is the perfect time to spice up your training regime with a few new twists. Every day, I hear an athlete say, “Oh, I wish I had time to do more yoga, lift more weights, ride my road bike, take a boxing class, go paddleboarding, etc.” The list is endless because, in Austin, the list of fitness activities has no boundaries.

Coach Advice: This winter, unburden yourself from your obligations. Become a fitness tourist and commit to trying new activities. Invest in a class pass that allows you to visit multiple fitness classes and studios, research a meetup group that appeals to your interests, or grab a backpack and take a hike at one of the many trails and parks in and around central Texas. If you're an endurance athlete, this is also the perfect time to enhance your strength and conditioning routine.

Working On Weaknesses

The best way to improve on anything is to do it consistently with good form. The key here is with good form. A huge contributor to injury and lack of performance gains is not focusing on those skills where you just don't feel strong. During the season, you may feel like you don't have the extra time to train your weaknesses, but the off-season is the perfect time to work on those areas that may be holding you back. You may consider yourself a slow runner, but have you ever tried consistent strength training or had a gait analysis that may illustrate physiological limitations? If swimming makes you feel like an ant stuck in molasses, have you considered private swim instruction that would specifically identify your key areas of weakness and provide feedback on improvement?

Coach Advice: Work on those weaknesses and seek out coaches in your discipline who can help you. From a strong and balanced core to a precise bike fit for comfort, there is an expert in Austin who is invested in making you love your sport more and understand the intricacies of how to get better. 

The phrase off-season gets a bad rap because it insinuates that you won't actually be doing anything except slipping into bad eating patterns and washing it down with a pitcher of beer. On the contrary, turn this off-season into your on-season by focusing on fun, variety, and improving those things that will make you even more motivated in 2017! 

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