Hit the trails or the track to stave off boredom and burnout.
It’s a problem that confronts triathlete every year: what to do during the off-season. Take a couple weeks off, then plow right back into heavy mileage?
We tracked down three triathlon gurus and lifetime students of the sport, to weigh in with their suggestions.
Paul Huddle: Go short, go hard
Before he turned to triathlon, Huddle was a runner. He walked onto the track and cross country teams at the University of Arizona. “And I sucked,” says Huddle, who’s now in his early 50’s. “Sucked,” of course, is relative.
Before taking the challenge, Huddle was running two to three times a week with his dog. Distance: three miles. Pace: 9-10 minutes. He biked maybe once a week and swam about the same.
The plan: Huddle’s mile training program called for four sessions a week, two of which were intense, and two easy:
- Workout 1 (hard): Jog to a nearby track, followed by three one-mile repeats, lowering the times by about 10 seconds each mile.
- Workout 2 (hard): Six 400s, aiming for 75-second race-pace intervals.
- Workout 3 (easy): 1-hour run at an eight-minute pace (or very easy pace)
- Workout 4 (easy): 25 to 30-minute run at the same speed.
The 6-foot-2 Huddle trimmed down from 195 pounds to 190.
“I was shocked at how I felt. I got halfway fit on very little training. That was a revelation to me,” he said.
The challenge doesn’t have to be a one-mile run. If you prefer the pool, Huddle suggests substituting a 400-meter swim. Or maybe a 2.5-mile bike ride. Anything that takes about five minutes.
Huddle believes the change will make for a faster triathlete.
Roch Frey: Think variety
What’s the most common mistake committed by the first-time marathoner? Too much (as in too many miles), too soon. Frey said many triathletes commit the same sin.
Frey suggests stepping away from the three disciplines. He recommends focusing on strength training or perhaps taking yoga or Pilates classes. Paddle boarding can be a good substitute for swimming. If you want to ride or run, he suggests heading to the trails, which will build strength.
The main thing, he says, is to keep the training fresh.
“It’s huge,” he said. “No matter how nice it is come July, if you’ve been (swim-bike-run) training a lot since January, you’ve only got so many workouts in you.”
Lance Watson: Go sport-specific
During the season triathletes fight the balance battle, squeezing in all three disciplines. Watson feels the winter is a good time to target one discipline for improvement. As a means to focus on one of the disciplines, he suggests signing up for a swim meet, a road race, or trying to set a personal record in something like a 5K.
“It’s not necessarily about doing a pile of mileage within that one sport, but building your training week around that one sport so that you’re hitting more sessions fresh,” Watson says.
Watson said workouts can be more skill specific, like hill strides or classic running drills—things that remind the body how to move more efficiently.
“Put some creative energy into your training. Create variety. Just keep it interesting and stimulate yourself. Go out and smell the roses,” he said.
Here are some of his suggestions to bring new focus to sport-specific work:
Swim: Try “blasts:” firing off the wall for 15 high-tempo strokes, then cruising the rest of the way. Or try emphasizing balance drills.
Run: When going out on an easy run, Watson suggests running with someone new. Leave the heart-rate monitor at home and don’t worry about mile splits.
Bike: Drive somewhere an hour away and hit new terrain. Or, practice “stomps,” quick 10- to 15-second accelerations.