Let's Make This Season Count!
First things first. Several email messages I've received recently suggest that you're all looking for a way to stay active -- "Coach, I'm ready to go! Don't tell me to sit on my butt for 4 weeks -- I'll go crazy!" Here's what I suggest:
Review the schedule. For many of you this will be the first year where you'll have a formalized comprehensive training plan to follow. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the standard weekly schedule as well as the new training cycle outline. This should help you understand the progression and consistency that we use to build your endurance and strength slowly over the entire Pre-Season.
Nothing too hard. Whatever you do, avoid putting your body through any high intensity fitness tests early in the year. Some of you will be tempted by the fall road race season, but unless this is something that you've been training for consistently I'd skip that race schedule entirely.
Work on your weakest link. This is a unique time of year when you can spend a complete month working on the one sport that has been your weak link in the triathlon chain. If you've wanted to work on your swimming, spend 4 weeks doing drills and long steady distance in the pool -- it's a great chance to get in the water 4-5 times/week if you want. If your cycling needs some attention, this is a great time to spin in your small chain ring, work on some Isolated Leg Training, and make adjustments to your bike position. For those who want to build a stronger running base for next year, you can run 3-4 times/week (not longer) at very low intensities to help build that foundation as well. Which ever sport you choose, make sure that it gets your complete attention -- throwing two or more sports into your week at this point could become counterproductive pretty quickly!
Build up your infrastructure. I like to begin every season with 2-3 weeks of exclusive strength training. This means spending every other day in the weight room, following a program that I developed after reading A Practical Approach to Strength Training by Matt Brzycki. Developing this schedule from the beginning helps ensure that I can incorporate this into my schedule once the other workouts are added to the mix.
Try something new. Every year I try to find something new and unusual to add to my training program. You might want to try yoga, new stretching exercises, spinning your bike on rollers, paddles/fins in the pool, etc. These four weeks are the best time to do some experimentation -- and you might find something that provides a breakthrough.
Get your bike ready. Bike maintenance is one area that tends to get neglected during the Competitive Season, and November provides the best time to stop riding and get your bike ready for the upcoming year. In addition, you can take this time to adjust/replace your cycling cleats (if your bike shop isn't helpful, Greg LeMond's Complete Book of Bicycling explains this in great detail, with pictures) as well as clean and lube your indoor trainer (if you're like me and stuck inside every winter). I've compiled a bike maintenance checklist to help guide you through this process.
Get your mind ready. And finally, it's always good to have a solid sense of self-awareness before you begin a new season. Renewing a sense of what's important to you as a person and an athlete, what your short and long term goals are in this sport, and what kind of commitment you are prepared to make to achieve those goals all help you gain a positive perspective on what you're about to undertake. This section on Self-Awareness -- corresponding to the first letter in the "SUPER" Coach acronym -- should provide a dose of perspective that will get you off on the right foot.
Progress smoothly into the Competitive Season. Training times will gradually increase throughout the preseason and you'll be ready for higher intensity training and racing when the competition starts. You'll also notice that the warmer weather will help your body "wake up" to the additional challenges ahead. The renewed focus should also serve to help you stay sharp as the season winds down toward your key race. Stay consistent, monitor your body for signs of overtraining -- be proactive! -- and keep your eyes on the key race at the end of your season.
Taper with the same intensity that you trained with. You've put in all the work, the taper period is the time to relax, double-up your focus, and execute on your race strategies. Being prepared will also help you conquer any unexpected challenges that race day might throw at you.
And most of all, have fun with it!