How to Own the Off Season
Triathlete Jesse Thomas shares his tips and tactics
Jesse Thomas—The winter has rolled around, and for most of us, that means it’s off-season time. Just to make sure we’re all using the same lingo, I define “off-season” as the lovely stretch of time between your break (no exercise), and when structured training begins (early season).
The off-season is one of my favorite times of year. It’s like a 4–8-week period of unstructured but active goodness. After a break, I’m fully rested, mentally recharged, a little fatter and excited to get active again. It feels a lot like recess after lunch time. What’s not to like about that?
In prep for my off-season, and to help you get the most out of your own, I thought about the three main ways I tackle this timeframe. I also polled some Twitter followers and Facebook friends to see what topped their lists of favorite and least favorite aspects of the off-season (see below). I got a TON of great responses. (Thanks, guys!) Hopefully the approaches here will help you nail your own off-season this year.
Cross-train like a (caged) animal!
My (and the responders’) favorite part of the off-season is cross-training. Nothing beats eating a gigantic chunk of sprayed mud from a mountain bike wheel, or racing local cyclist dudes on some “gnared ’cross looooops” (which means “a cyclo-cross course” in their language). These activities are obviously a great way to build base fitness for triathlon while not doing anything that psychologically feels like real training.
I also do activities that have very little to do with triathlon. When you’re first getting going, the primary purpose of your training is to simply be active, to slowly reintroduce exercise and prepare your body for real training again. As long as you’re getting your heart rate up, working on some general fitness and strength, you’re good to go.
So in addition to “normal” triathlon cross-training, I like to mix it up with some non-triathlon stuff. I’ll put on my yoga pants (no shirt) and do some praying mantis. I’ll go to our local climbing gym and in just 15 minutes prove that I have the weakest forearms on the planet. Or, I’ll go to the YMCA and unsuccessfully try to relive the glory of my not one-time, but TWO-TIME All Conference (honorable mention) basketball days.
You know what else is cool about all those activities? They tell the weather to suck it! The single biggest complaint I heard via social media about the off-season was weather. And believe me, in Eugene, it’s 24/7 rain during the winter. So I use that crappy weather, combined with the early-season “just be active” mentality, to substitute tri training with as many of those indoor activities as possible. Why not do all the stuff you never want to do when it’s actually sunny? Reverse psychology in the house!
Besides, sometimes the more different the activity is, the better it is for your body at this stage of the season anyway. You develop other muscles, coordination, core strength—all things that help you when you start real training again. Plus, you’re guaranteed to be psychologically refreshed and eager to jump back into triathlon when the time comes around.
Be a social butterfly
I also take advantage of the off-season by keeping my exercise social. It’s no secret that winter triathlon training can make you feel like a hamster on a wheel in an empty cage in an empty house out in the middle of nowhere. Unless you have a big training group with people your speed, you’re oftentimes on your own. I bet I do more than 90 percent of my primary training all by myself, and in general, I like people.
So during the winter, I become the prom queen of group exercise. A real “social butterfly,” as my wife likes to put it. I meet with anyone and everyone that wants to go do anything, just to give me time to “chit chat” about “that annoying girl from third period,” or whatever.
I let other people’s training schedules dictate my own as much as possible. If my buddy is going for a ride in the rain, I join him. If my wife is taking our niece out for a walk, I do that. If my little brother is hitting up ALL the samples at Costco in RECORD TIME, by God I go with him! I enjoy the fact that I can do whatever I want, and I use that feature to hang out with people as much as possible. Remember, there is going to be plenty of time later when you’re racing and you need to do specific workouts to get you mentally and physically prepared. So when the opportunity presents itself, use the lack of structure in the off-season to “train” with friends and family that you wouldn’t get to otherwise.
Pay it back (and forward)
The last, but certainly not least, part of my off-season training is dedicated solely to earning karma points with my wife. You see, I remember the time she brought me a new tube 40 miles out of town so I could finish my long ride. I remember when she took our friends to the airport so I could sleep in. I also remember when she drove all the way back to Lake Las Vegas to get the rental car because I was out of commission in the recovery tent. And because I’m pretty sure she remembers all that too, it’s time for me to start earning.
So during the off-season I do my best to be willing, able and excited to take out the trash, wash the car, get the groceries or finally clean the damn garage. And yes, the paying back can and should extend past chores and helping out; it can also be engaging in family and friend activities you don’t usually have the time and energy for—hikes, Saturday morning breakfast, water polo adventure day. In addition to my wife, there are plenty of people who bend over backward to help me during the season, including my family, friends, sponsors, coaches and Picky Bar employees, to name a few. My support crew has earned it, so I give ’em back what they deserve, however I can. And when I’m done, I do some extra to pay it forward a bit for next year.
I asked readers on Twitter and Facebook for their favorite/least favorite part of the off-season. Here’s what they said.
“Favorite is getting to work on the beach muscles for a few months. Least fav is watching the abs fade.#fatfit”
“A chance to recharge mentally and physically and to do something different (i.e. I’ll focus on weight training and fun training stuff like hiking, mtn biking, etc.)”
“Favs: family time, riding/running just for fun without a specific goal for the day, planning next year’s schedule”
“Like: more time spent addressing weaknesses, seeing progress, eating cookies. Dislike: increased indoor training, the sun setting so early, running out of cookies.”
“Being bored. I actually washed my car today. By hand.”
Kimberly Mendelsohn Patallas
“Favorite: less structure, more time to just hang and relax with family and friends. Looking forward to and planning the next season. Least: more darkness in am and pm. brrr..chilly weather”
Jesse Thomas (@jessemthomas) is a second-year pro and the 2011 and 2012 Wildflower Long Course champion. He lives in Springfield, Ore., and is the CEO of Picky Bars (Pickybars.com). Thomas recently announced a renewal of his contract with Specialized. Congrats!