by Tim Ford
Chances are you have had one or all of your race plans cancelled this year because of the big C-bomb. I am in enough triathlon circles to see the constant influx of announcements about cancellations, postponements and everything in between.
What has really surprised me though is the many different reactions that I have seen. I am shocked to see how many people without races in the future have basically thrown in the towel and said, ‘If I don’t have anything to train for then why train at all?’
To me this does not compute. Not because anybody who has had this reaction is wrong but instead because that thought never crossed my mind. I travel and race a lot. Honestly, it is one of the perks and challenges of my job. Last year, I flew to Canada for four days to run a camp and race a Super League race. It was an amazing opportunity and experience – that left me sick for two weeks. As a sort of new year resolution this year, I decided that I wanted to race and travel less this year and focus on just really becoming a strong, efficient athlete.
Now don’t go blaming me for the global situation we find ourselves in. I swear I wasn't secretly working in a lab so that I would be forced to stay closer to home. But maybe by explaining why I had decided to wind things down this year you might be able to understand why I think these ‘unprecedented times’ are actually a real opportunity for the longevity of you, dear reader, as a triathlete.
Triathlon asks a lot of us. It is often a real struggle to fit everything in and when it comes down to it, chances are there are a number of things we neglect. For some of us it might be *cough* training *cough* and then for others it might be gym work, mobility work, adequate sleep, mindfulness or all of the things we know we SHOULD be doing but just cannot find the time to do. Next add in the demands of racing. The tuning up for an event with speed-specific work, dropping weight to get to race weight and the stress of travel, packing and the race itself will all ultimately impact on your ability to ‘do it all.’
I said to all of my athletes as soon as all of this started that to me, this is an extended ‘off-season’ and I am not talking about the "eat all the food and drink all the beer" off-season. I am talking about the "get strong, work on weaknesses or inefficiencies, base work" off-seasons that are extremely beneficial but also not very sexy.
How many athletes are in the gym each week? We all know we should do it but as the training and intensity ramps up the gym is probably skipped because it leaves us sore and stiff and hard gym work and fast tempo work are not always each other’s best friends. But you want to be able to keep training harder and longer? You need the gym. How many pro athletes have you heard talk about the importance of resistance training as they age? Here is an opportunity to fit it in.
What about sport-specific strength? Bike strength through low-cadence big-gear work is good for getting your FTP up but it does not directly relate to faster riding. It lays the base for it. Same with swimming. Strength-based swimming is good for burning the lats but you may find your pace per 100m dropping as a result of it. With a race on the horizon, these drops in speed can be alarming and can lead to some panicked conversations with your coach.
By now you can probably see where I am going with this but basically, here is a period where we are all forced to slow down for a while. Being primed for a race is incredibly hard on the body. Being at race weight and ready to go can often lead to people getting sick or injured. Have you ever gotten sick before a race or right after it?
So, by taking the need to be that ‘sharp’ away and understanding that focusing on making your body strong a period without racing becomes a huge opportunity to prime yourself for when racing comes back.
Personally, I am training as much as I ever have but there is nowhere near the intensity I would usually train with and I am absolutely loving my training. I am seeing myself get stronger, I am eliminating niggles that have plagued me for years and I understand that when I do start to focus on specific race preparation, I will be better than ever before.
The even better news is that if you want to, you can work on this without as much volume as you might usually do. Busy at work? Take a couple of extra days off to recover because strength training leaves you fatigued. This style of training does not require your 100% commitment because, again, there are no races coming up.
If you are the person who has decided to stop training because you don't have a race coming up, ask yourself why do you train? Is it only because of race results or is it because of what being a triathlete does for you as a person and your life? I train to perform when I race, but I race and train to help me be healthy and fit.
That doesn’t take a break and that’s why I can just change the way I train; I will not simply stop because I am not aiming for a specific race.
You may completely disagree with me here and this honestly isn’t a plug for my coaching, but I think this is the ideal time to start working with a coach. Coaches will be able to use this time to really set you up for success. By working with a coach for an extended period of time you will see something much more than improved race results, you will improve your longevity as an athlete.
If you don’t want to work with a coach, then maybe it is a great time to join a community like MX Endurance. While your motivation might be lacking, our community will hold you accountable and accountability will never run out.
So while the state of the world isn’t great for those of us who love to swim, bike and run, with a shift in focus this could be one of the best things to happen to triathletes for a very long time.
Tim Ford is the CEO of MX Endurance and a member of our team of coaches. He has gone from being a complete novice weighing well over 120kg to a top athlete with a 4:06 PB for a 70.3. Through his time in the sport he has learned skills which help him to assist athletes of all levels and abilities.