Performance Articles — 20 June 2013
Winter Training – The Window of Opportunity

I want you to have a think about how your mind relates the two things: Winter and Triathlon Training. What are the immediate feelings and thoughts that come to your mind….Cold, downtime, wet, easy intermittent training, putting on weight, long breaks. Or does it think great time of development, progress and attacking weaknesses? I think most reading this would be the former. This would be fine if every triathlete was happy to do the same as they did last year or to have the season off, but most of us really want to improve, whether it’s placing’s, PB’s or qualifications. And this is where the problem arises…..

To quote Albert Einstein: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result”. So, if you want to improve on last season, the swim that keeps holding you back, the recurring injury, the nutrition in a race, or to qualify for Hawaii, you need to change the way you look at and approach winter. Some of the most important times of training for me have  actually been when I sit  down with a pen and paper at the end of a season and really analyse  what I need to improve on and how I am going to CHANGE so I can do it.

The way I look at progression in triathlon is like climbing a multi-tiered house  without a ladder. It’s darn hard to get up onto the next level, you have to work hard and figure out a strategy. But when you get your foot up on the ledge and climb up, you’re up there. Sure, because the ledge is still sloping down, you have to work to stay there, but once you’re there, you can work on getting to the next level. Triathlon is no different. In order to really make break throughs and get yourself up to the next level, it’s darn hard work, that requires a lot of thinking, planning and then a fair bit of sweat. But once you are there, have mastered the skills and have moved up in a level of fitness, it is much easier to stay there. How do you think people who were once professionals, have years off, then pick it up again and “all of a sudden” are up the front of the race or placing overall in an Ironman? It’s not just luck, it’s the thousands of hours they have spent prior, climbing the house  roofs!

Coaching, as opposed to writing exercise prescription, is as much mental as it is a physical development. Thus, with the athletes I coach, I really try hard to get inside their heads and find out what makes them tick. One of the things we work on before it arrives is preparing for winter. This is done by developing clear process driven goals, which focus on how they are going to improve during the offseason. Mentally this helps to shift perspective and one of the key elements  I drive home is using Winter as a Window.

Winter is our WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY

It is the one time of the year when you can really step up a level and focus on correcting technique, nutrition, strength and stability and aerobic fitness, without the interruptions of races, tapers and long post race recoveries. It is the time you can really target and attack your weaknesses. The things that have been holding you back. Also, if in the past you have been a bit slack during this time, you have the chance to really progress, rather than starting the season a long way behind the 8 ball and spending two months just getting the specific fitness back.

It is all fine to read this and think “yes, that’s what I want to do!” Only to roll over in bed the next cold morning you face. From experience what it requires to implement this successfully is to change a few things:

- Perspective : Stop thinking about winter as a time you only associate negative things with. Instead, shift your thinking to create a positive image for you. Different triggers will work for different people, but things like thinking of winter as a time to really better yourself ,to  get in front of the “you” of last season, using quotes or simply remembering how lucky you actually are that you can swim, ride and run. What a gift!

- Behaviours :Sit down and have a think about the things which make it easier for you to get out of bed or get out of the door in winter. I put my alarm clock on the other side of the room, have all my gear out ready for me and have the set already written. Other things like having very warm, dry clothing, having a treadmill or wind trainer that you can use if the weather is too bad, organising to meet training partners or communicating your weekly training plan to family members, are all other ways that may help you.

On the other hand, figure out the bad behaviours that make it harder for you to train, and avoid them. Things like staying up late watching TV or using the computer, drinking or having an excuse ready for yourself. Do not accept the excuse when you wake up. You are normal if the devil on your shoulder has an excuse for you waiting when you wake up. But don’t accept it. This way you can help to create a positive environment for yourself, which makes it easier day to day to get the training done that you need to.

Plan : Sit down with yourself – if you are very experienced, a coach or someone you trust -and work out what you need to target. What are those things that are holding YOU back. Don’t follow  other peoples models, or what they talk about  (I see this all the time) and don’t use winter as a time to work on your strengths, as they are typically the things you like doing. Work out what is really holding you back from getting you up on the next level of the house and then work on a plan of how you are going to improve. And then attack it. Sure, you may not improve overnight, but by having persistence, aligned with a well thought out and educated plan, you most certainly will!

So now it is in the thick of winter, most of us would have had a good break and to be honest, it’s time to get moving again! The season really isn’t that far away if you are looking at improving next year. Spend some time now and work out what you need to change about your perspective, the behaviours that work and those that don’t and then develop a very clear and well thought out plan that will help you climb on to the next level of the house!

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