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Lost opportunities

31 May 2016 3 Comments

When the Cairns Ironman is run on the 12th of June our Australian triathlon season is just about over. It is important to have an off season, but it’s also important to not waste three months or more by not actually working on some weakness. I don’t personally know any triathletes who don’t have some sort of weakness that they could work on to improve their performances next season. I also don’t know any that would not like to be going faster next season.

One of the really frustrating things for a coach is to coach an athlete up to an Ironman race, then not see him for six months. Usually when he comes back he’s gained 7-8 kilograms, and has let any swim stroke he’d developed slip away. The same athlete usually comes to the coach and wants a plan to go faster in the new season, not allowing for the fact that it’ll take the first three months to get him back to where he was, before any improvement can start to happen.

The athletes who are taking the Hawaii Ironman qualifying spots, or the ones standing on the podium, have got there by building one season on top of the last one. The “off season” shouldn’t be doing nothing, and on the other hand it shouldn’t be full on training like in the Ironman build. It’s an ideal time to correct weaknesses, to refine technique in each sport.

So often age group wins are separated from second place by seconds. I have had several close calls where the guy behind me missed taking my qualifying spot by seconds. That’s less than a minute in a race that has taken all day. One case in Hawaii the guy in the back of my finish photo came sixth, I came fifth. In Hawaii they recognise top five in each category. So at the presentations I was on the stage and he was in the audience. On a couple of occasions I have come sixth, it sucks.

If you work on your upper back flexibility for a whole winter you might gain one minute in your swim time. It seems a lot of trouble for one minute but the guy who came second to me at Port Macquarie a month ago missed first by 42 seconds. If you spend six weeks working on improving run technique, it can easily save you ten or more minutes in an Ironman marathon. Look up the result sheet and see where ten minutes on the run and one minute in the swim can place you. Keep in mind that these improvements are based on the same level of fitness.

Then the area where most are going to gain is the bike. The average athlete can gain ten minutes on the bike with aerodynamic and technique improvements, without any more fitness or strength. Getting fitted to your bike properly and testing yourself for power output in the new position can be a real game changer. Being more aerodynamic but producing less power is not smart. You have the whole winter to sort out these little things.

The important thing to keep in mind with the swim and the bike, seventy percent of your energy goes into overcoming drag. So flexibility and better technique in the swim will give you speed for no more fitness or strength. Now if we add some upper body strength work to our off season, you don’t need to be that much stronger to swim faster but more strength will postpone fatigue for longer. So you won’t slow down as much.

On the bike if 70% of your energy is going into overcoming drag, the least aerodynamic part of your bike is you. It doesn’t matter much if you have concealed brakes or internal cables, all that stuff is bullshit, if you can’t stay in an aero position for the bulk of the ride. More than half the triathletes I know are not as flexible as they should be to be efficient at what they set out to do. Spend a little bit of each week in the off season working on improving flexibility.

A flexible body moves more freely than a tight, inflexible one. Whether it’s the swim, the bike or the run, you should rate flexibility higher than strength. Most fast runners or fast swimmers are not as strong as you and I, they move more efficiently and more freely.

So an off season is a time to take the foot off the accelerator a bit, do fewer hours training in each week, and work on preparing your body to be a more efficient unit when training ramps up for the new season.


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