Off season: Turning into a non-triathlete

Countdown to race Kona for me and Karel....One year and one week away! 

It's been almost 4 weeks since Karel and I raced IMWI and our lifestyle has changed dramatically.
If you lived a day in the life of Marni and Karel right now, you would be doing a lot of the following:
No structured workouts, no workout schedule, no intense exercise, very little gym time and no alarms for workouts.

Guess what... We are LOVING every day of it!

This is all part of our master plan to prep for Kona 2015....we are turning into non-triathletes for 6 full weeks. Although this may seem like a long time to do absolutely no structured training, it is very needed and perhaps long over due. 

I was extremely fortunate this year to have an injury-free season. Both Karel and I raced to our full potential at each of our planned races and our bodies did not disappoint us. We never experienced the slightest itch of burnout or fatigue and most of all, we loved the journey of becoming the best we could be this season. With Kona being my 10th IM and Karel doing IM Lake Placid and then Kona as IM #4 and #5, we both feel as if we have more fitness to gain in 2015.

After Karel and I reached our BIG dream of this year qualifying for the 2015 Ironman World Championships at IMWI, we found it quite deserving to take some time off from training.

And beyond taking a little time off, we are going to change up a few things next season as to how we train throughout our season, as we focus on performing the best possible, in the best shape possible, in Kona, Hawaii next October. 

And that training starts now. 

We are turning into non-triathletes for 42 days and do as little as possible with our body in order to be mentally and physically recharged, healthy and fresh for the transition (foundation) phase of our season. 

I realize that this is a very difficult time for athletes. The off season often bring sadness as if something is missing in life. Other athletes feel concern over appetite, perhaps weight gain and feeling out of control with eating. Some athletes feel as if fitness will be lost and will be hard to gain again. And then there are athletes who just refuse to take a break and after a few days off after the last race they are already training hard again for a running race or well, just because. 

 Taking a break from training does not mean you have to be sedentary and I would not recommend to be inactive. The off season should not bring worries or concerns about weight because you are not required to be at a racing weight if you are not expecting your body to perform at its best right now. The easiest way to summarize this is that as athletes, we eat to support our training load. Training load increases, we must eat more to support that training load. And more food means more nutrients to keep the body healthy, fueled and nourished. 

Reducing training doesn't mean stop eating or avoid carbs or do the complete opposite and eat anything in sight and do nothing with your body. It means eat similar foods that nourished you while training but in smaller portions and with slight modifications to macronutrient distribution (carbs, protein, fat) to keep you satisfied between meals (with small snacks to hold you over between meals).

The goal of the off season is to build good habits and to discover joy for body movement. 

After racing 4 Ironman races in 14 months, I feel I owe it to my body to take off more time than I think I need to take care of my health. Endurance racing is damaging and it is not healthy. I want to ensure longevity in this sport of triathlons so I want to do whatever I can to protect my body from too much intentional training/racing stress.

 I will also only be racing one Ironman next year to ensure that I peak appropriately for Kona. After Kona, I am taking a break from IM racing for at least a year but probably closer to 1.5-2 years just to give my body a break.  I love Ironman racing and I love my lifestyle as a triathlete but it is not my life. I absolutely do not need to race Ironman triathlons to be healthy, to manage my life and to de-stress. 

I will always feel comfortable calling myself a triathlete, even when I'm not racing in Ironman races. 

Although I do not feel it is necessary for all triathletes to take 6 full weeks off, I highly recommend giving yourself a break that is long enough for you to really enjoy being a non-athlete but not too long that you struggle to feel the itch to get back into training again. Typically 2-4 weeks is an ideal time to remove yourself from structure and to follow some of my off season tips. However, in the big picture of a season (which is typically 8-11 months), this is hardly the break your body actually needs to return to the sport healthy and strong.

Here are a few tips of mine as to what to focus on during your off season. 

1) Recharge - after waking up with an alarm for months and months and months, reset your body. Sleeping is not only great to help you feel alert and fresh but it also necessary to help manage your appetite and to help you feel fresh and recovered. Certainly you need to set an alarm for work and life responsibilities but use this time to discover what your body can feel like with restful, consistent sleep. 

2) Remove the schedule, be health conscious - Athletes are quite structured and often very rigid. While this can be beneficial when it comes to training and eating for performance gains, we do not want to feel as if this is the only way we can live life or need to live life. Allow yourself freedom with your body but never lose your love for staying active and healthy. Move your body as much as possible but with the least amount of stress. When you wake up in the morning (rested), decide on the best way to use your free time with your body. 

3) Change the routine - It doesn't matter how much you love your sport or your active lifestyle, but without a break, the body and mind will get stale. Many times, athletes will discover (or search out for) ways to keep a tired body moving (like energy drinks, skipped workouts and then overload the next workout, just logging miles to get it done, etc.) and this is absolutely not what a healthy and performance focused athlete should be doing throughout the season. By changing up the routine in the off season, we have the opportunity to discover other ways to feel healthy and accomplished, we can catch up on neglected to-do's and we also get hungry to train again. 

4) Reflect and plan ahead - Often times, athletes are extremely fit but very unhealthy. Athletes accomplish workouts but can not execute on race day. Athletes do the same thing over and over and want better results without changing anything. Although these are situations that may not apply directly to you (right now), the best thing you can do is reflect. When I think about my recent successes over the past two years in endurance racing, I can always reflect as to what worked really well in my season and what I can try differently for different results. I am very open to change and never feel as if there is a by the book approach to training. My only goal is understanding what amount of training load works the best with my body. As you reflect on the season and explore new, different or better/smarter approaches, plan ahead. I encourage athletes to not race a lot. Minimize your tune-up races, multiple endurance events and for triathletes, there is no need to turn into a "runner" with running races in the off season. Plan and prioritize your season around your 1-2 KEY races so that you peak appropriately and utilize all phases of your season appropriately. 

5) Create a strong, healthy relationship with food and your body- Athletes are all over the map when it comes to eating habits. Underfueling, undereating, overeating, overfueling, cravings, too much snacking, not snacking enough, afraid of carbs, too carb heavy, etc. I could go on and on about the eating habits of athletes. Although eating habits of athletes may stem from optimal performance gains, there appears to be an underlying focus of ideal body composition which affects eating and fueling habits. Although athletes may have a different standard as to what their ideal body should look like to perform well, it is important that in the off season, you keep in mind that this time in your life/year is temporary. This is an optimal time to understand your diet and appetite without hours and hours of weekly training and stress on your body (which are hopefully always supported with adequate food intake and sport nutrition). Use this time to develop a great relationship with your body and real food and identify your individual missing links that can assist in performance gains, optimal health and a healthy body composition during your season. I realize that I left this category wide open for suggestions and tips but I feel that if you can learn to create a real food diet, love the food you put in your body every day and feel great about your food choices...without hours and hours of training, you will feel SO great about your body during your off season. If you take this time to work on your relationship with food, then come "training" time again, you will feel much more in control of your eating and not feel so confused as to how to fuel your body as an athlete.
Lastly, as mentioned above, a healthy body comes in a variety of sizes and right now, you are not expected to perform with your body. Gaining a few lbs is not the end of the world and for many, can be extremely healthy. Also, 2-6 weeks off now is preceding 8-10 months of structured training. I would suggest to not be so focused on what may happen now but instead, think about what you should do now to help set you up for a great upcoming season. No need to overindulge but no need to be strict. Learn to eat like a non-athlete and feel great about it so that come race season you will have a body that is healthy and primed to perform.
Certainly you should always be eating healthy to nourish your body but during the season you get a bit of slack every now and then with the diet due to expending so many calories. But if you hold a high standard as to what your body should look like right now (as well as all year long), I encourage you to consider the different phases of your season and how the body changes according to the work load which is supported by adequate fuel. There is going to be a time when you want your body to perform and that time will come with moths of previous training, good nutrition and fueling and a lot of attention to detail in your life, eating and training. Now is the time to enjoy a bit of "healthy" food freedom and learn to love the body you have, not as an athlete but as a healthy human being. 

Here's what I have been doing over the last 4 weeks:

-Hiking (not technical) with Campy in Paris Mountain state park
-Riding my road bike (twice, 30 min ride and 90 min ride)
-Swimming (no more than 30 minutes  or 2000 yards, ~6 times)
-Light hip/glute/core work (no more than 20 minutes) - 2 times per week
-Walking - daily with Campy
-There have been about 8-10 days when I have done nothing except short walks with Campy
-When I'm not working (which is not a lot since this is our busy time of the year as we prepare our business for 2015): spending the weekends at Farmers Markets,  watching Netflix at night (staying up later than normal), cooking yummy food, catching up on to-do's around the house, taking care of my Garden, exploring new places in Greenville, entertaining friends who come to visit us in Greenville, hanging out with our neighbors and reading books.