How To Take a Mid-Season Break
Taking a mid-season break feels like the worst possible thing to do. However, given the length of most people’s season and for those competitive athletes looking to peak in both qualifiers as well as championship events, a mid season break may be just what is required to avoid a burnout, injury or illness.
How can I get away with a break...inbetween my races?
How can you possibly sit back, relax, and take time out when the weather is so good and there is so little time until the second half of the season!? Maybe you have just achieved a PB: surely we need to go with the momentum now?
In reality you can argue it either way. However, with summer offering both better training conditions and also arguably more social occasions, trying do both is going to be hard and probably result in injury. If you ignore the socials, triathlon may become a cause of resentment either for yourself or for close loved ones or friends, but on the flip side, you want to reap the rewards of a hard winter's training. What are you supposed to do?
How can you balance your life?
Training continually requires focus. Both a physical one (clearly) but also a mental focus: early mornings, prep for each session, continually pushing yourself, the list goes on. All this requires you to be on the ball, all of the time. Add in a social calendar, school holidays, wedding season, bank holidays, along with a requirement to do a bit more with family and friends and there is a lot to do and even with longer days, very little time to do it all. Is taking 7-10 days where your priority is not training the answer to becoming more relaxed and ready to hit the next phase of training with renewed application?
But won’t my fitness drop?
Yes, it will. If you aren’t training, you will lose fitness. However, fitness is not what wins or loses races, it is performance. And your performance will not drop as measurably as you may think. In fact, using Hans-Seller’s theory of over-compensation, you are likely to actually get improved performances after some time recovering. Therefore if you place your mid-season break after a big training block, or after a key race, you will gain more by taking a rest than you may have thought!
The biggest winner of taking some time out will be your mind. You will feel fresher, ready to hit the ground running (literally) and the rest will give you time to objectively reassess your strengths and weaknesses and give you a chance to reset. You take weekends away from work, you even have bank holidays too; so why not have a long weekend away from training in full confidence that you will be all the stronger for it!?
What does that mean in practice?
Well if you took a generally moderate fitness level (e.g. a CTL value of 60. This means on average you are able to train moderately hard one hour per day consistently over the previous six weeks) and you did no training for 7 days (literally nothing, not even a run with the dog!), you would drop 10 CTL points. This would be just outside the approximate desired drop in fitness when you aim to taper and peak for an event. In reality, though, a mid season break is not about doing nothing at all, it is about briefly taking the foot off the accelerator. If you were to complete half an hour of gentle training (some more social rides, or a cake run, or a different open water challenge) per day you will find that this drop off will be far, far less than the above score but the change in focus will help you in the longer term for the rest of the season.
What does this break actually look like?
It doesn’t need to be a "cut-it-all-out – sofa" week it should just be a significantly more 'normal' week where the priority is not training. The focus should be on non-sporting activities. This may mean you are still doing swim, bike and run, but the attention isn’t on improvement rather it is on having fun or taking a break from the routine. If you took the above example of one week out, imagine that was a family holiday somewhere warm, it could mean you go paddle boarding, a gentle run in the morning, a swim across a beach, a trek to the top of a mountain, playing ball sports, mountain biking instead of riding a TT bike, coasteering, sailing etc. etc. It can be almost impossible for a triathlete to stay still, so don't fight that, but do change the pace.
Alternatively you could do some club 'cake' rides and generally enjoy the fitness you have. After all, the second half of the season's A race could still be a good 12 weeks away which is a big block of training! Remember the purpose is to become more fresh for your return which can only be a good thing!