How To Build A House: Mental Preparation
This is the first in a series of blogs that Coach Alan will write about building your training towards the 2016 season from a safe and sturdy platform. The series will be built around the metaphor of building your season like a house: solid, sturdy and able to withstand the elements. The first blog in this series focuses on having the energy to build the house in the first place.
Triathletes generally fall into one of the following two groups when it comes to their approach to the off-season: there are those that have a proper off-season and switch off from the sport for a few weeks, and there are those that, well, don't.
Given that about this time of year you will either be starting to think about your base training for 2016, picking your races for the 2016 season or maybe even beginning the first few sessions of your training schedule - now is the perfect time to stop and reassess what your mental state is like. Are you mentally ready to start preparing for 2016?
During the off season, triathletes generally fall in to one of two categories: there are those that suffer from sever withdrawal symptoms as a result of not training and end up cutting their off-season short as result and there are those that finish their last race of the season and properly indulge.
At Tri Training Harder we believe that the less withdrawal symptoms the better! Contrary to what many may believe, it is actually beneficial to your performance to let yourself get out of shape and to lose fitness on an annual basis. Losing fitness and adding a little weight can help rejuvenate the mind and body. But why and how?
Go on... Indulge in that extra slice of cake!
The crux of it is that more often than not, those who don't take a break will end up taking an enforced break at a later point in the season. In the short term they will stay fit but in the long run there is a high probability that they will either: suffer an injury, experience a bout of overtraining or chronic fatigue, or simply burnout and lose all motivation and love for the sport. Each of these outcomes would result in a much longer break than having a short period of time completely away from triathlon.
We all know that consistency of training is the one key element to success above all other things. And we also know that those athletes who take a break and put year after year of consistent work in are the ones that really start achieving. I'm not talking just physical consistency here but also consistent mental application to the task at hand. Think about some of the successful athletes you know; I can guarantee they will have some form of break each year.
Pretty much any elite athlete will talk about taking time away from training and indulging in the phenomenon that is known as relaxing. This is critical to their performance at the peak points in their season as to really push their body to the limit and shut out all distractions, focusing purely on the task at hand for several months, is something that is hugely mentally demanding.
The common response to this argument from an age grouper would be something along the lines of: "
But I don't train for 25hrs
or more every week, why do I need to take a break?
The answer is simple.
It's not a question of training volume it is a question of total life stress. How many pros have to work 40hrs (minimum!) a week and then squeeze in training around it, often in the very early hours and/or in the dark, cold winter? How many compromise on sleep and recovery to do their training?
All these things add up for any athlete and just keeping everything going can be incredibly hard work. Often things are sacrificed because you don't have time, so now is the time to relax and do all the things you sometimes put to one side because you are busy training. Prioritise everything else but training. Do something that you wouldn't have time for once your training has started. Spend more time with your other half. Go out with your mates a bit more.
Do anything but train, or even think about training.
If you have done all of these things in your off-season, then well done! If you haven't done all of these things in your off-season, we would seriously recommend taking an extra week (at least!) and doing at least some of them.
You want to get yourself into a position where, rather than dragging your heels into next year you are ready and raring to go come the first day of your training plan. You should be getting impatient and want to recommence training. You should have the desire to want to apply yourself.
Turn the engine off for a while, let it rest.
(If we change the analogy a little...) Try to think of yourself as a hybrid engine: you need fitness (which takes the form of the petrol engine) but you also need motivation and focus (your psychological engine) which is supplied by the electric motor. The electric motor can add extra power and a boost to the petrol engine that makes it perform to a much higher level. Without the two engines working completely in sync at the start of the season you will struggle to get the most from yourself and your season.
Starting the season in a good mental place will leave you
able to push harder in those key sessions later in the year.
Has reading this post left you thinking that you may need to do a little bit of energy recovery for your system?
You can't contemplate the idea of building a house if you don't have the mental capacity to sit down and think about what goes into building the house.
If this blog has left you wondering whether you fall into the first or second triathlete persona from the start of the blog: it's probably a sign and you should take some time off. No feelings of guilt. Just pure enjoyment. And think - that extra slice of pizza is actually making you faster!
How you get back into training is crucial too; much like racing you don't want to go off too hard. However, more on that in the next blog of this series.