Any athlete who is involved with our coaching and squads will constantly hear us banging on about the importance of consistency in their training if they are striving for improvements in their aerobic fitness. Lets face it Triathlon is an aerobic sport, so we need to work hard at improving our parameters of what our “aerobic” is, so we can race faster without overstepping that threshold mark which leaves us crawling over the finish line! This is obviously hardest throughout the winter. With cold dark mornings, short days, increasing work loads, and as we move to Christmas, an increasingly busy social calendar, it is very easy to lose sight of our key triathlon goals and let training slip away whilst the mince pies and mulled wine replace it. Then before you know it, New Year is here and the resolutions are a multitude of “losing the extra pounds”, “getting back to training”, and “recovering” from Christmas food, late nights and wine! Added into the mix are the bugs! Many of you will be crammed into small primary school halls watching Nativity plays, listening to all of those around you coughing and sneezing, or the social work parties where lots of people are mixing together in small rooms, fantastic environments for the spread of germs. So, the question really is , how do we enjoy the next few weeks with our families, maintain an element of consistency and come out the other end fit, bug free and refreshed for training in the New Year?
Well, pick up any sporty magazine or blog, there is a lot of advice out there, and a lot of this is sound advice. However, lets remember, we are all individuals. Some of you have young children, some do not. Some of you have target goals of completing your first triathlon in July, others to qualify in your age group as early as you can next season, so perhaps the demands on our bodies in general are different and may need a slightly more tweaked, individual answer? Reducing training to a skeleton base over Christmas maybe perfect for one person, to make the best out of the holiday with friends and family, but if you have an Ironman on the other side of the world in a few weeks after Christmas, then 2 weeks off now, may impact your aerobic gains to date. Then you as an individual need to assess whether you accept this and what will be will be, or whether you want to maximise your gains to date and keep going in the best state you can. To be honest, the best person to give you this advice is you, because these are your goals, you have ownership of them. Plus, you have had x number of Christmas holidays to date, and will have a pretty good idea what factors leave you tired, run down, exhausted and open to illness. However, that said, there are certain factors to consider, and indicators to bear in mind when maintaining that consistency over Christmas and into the next few cold months.
If you know that you have a lot of late evenings, social gatherings, nativity plays, etc etc then make sure you coach is aware of this and can plan accordingly. If you are organising your own training, avoid setting hard sessions when your recovery is going to be poor due to perhaps late nights or a varied diet! For example, avoid setting yourself a 6 am hard swim set after a late works party! Could you swim later in the day, for 45 mins instead as an aerobic recovery swim with faster lifts. You are working the right energy system, getting the blood pumping around your body which can help recovery and boost the immune system, rather than a hard interval session which can hit your immune system a bit too hard when it is already exposed. Also, recognise the signs when you are over worked, over trained, tired and shattered. If you notice your performance has dropped off, you have muscle tension and tenderness, your resting heart rate is high, your fatigue is higher and energy levels plummeting, ease off! If you go to bed shattered but your sleep is disturbed, you are irritable (well more than usual) depressed, more anxious, feel over sensitive and find that your moods and emotions are all over the place, again it is an indication that your body is out of balance. Remember, its that “consistency” we are looking for, so replace the interval session with an aerobic spin on the turbo watching your favourite Christmas movie. Give yourself at least 48 hours before you try a harder session again, don’t be afraid to adapt your training, and try, as hard as it maybe this month, to get a balanced diet, keeping yourself well hydrated for your training. Remember that us older athletes tend to take a bit longer to recover from dehydration! . (In terms of how best to protect your immune system through sensible training and diet, (please see http://www.goalspecificcoaching.com/blog/how-we-can-support-our-immune-system-for-optimum-performance/ )
If you plan your approach for the next few weeks now, then you have time to discuss these plans with your coach and family, you can accommodate trips away to relatives and friends, without feeling stressed about the missed training sessions. You can make sure rest days or lighter sessions follow late nights and social meals. Remember that a decrease in your volume and intensity for a couple of weeks, whilst maintaining that consistency is far more beneficial to you and the family then trashing yourself with hard sessions at 5 am and ending up ill when father Christmas comes down the chimney, and all the New Year festivities are in full flow. Not to mention the New year social rides, runs etc you will miss out on!
Then post Christmas and New Year, remember small increases in training load, dont feel that because you may have had an extra couple of rest days, and are maybe a pound or two heavier you should head down to the gym and trash yourself! This will end up in injury for sure. Stick with the 10% principle of increasing load, give yourself 24-48 hours to recover from a hard session before you build in another hard session. Rotate these sessions with easier aerobic endurance sessions, as this will help recovery and develop your aerobic engine. Get nutrition and hydration back on track and of course, make sure that you are getting adequate sleep and rest.
My final point is protect yourself from the elements as best as you can as well. Traditional UK weather is either damp dark drizzly and windy or freezing with a Northerly wind. Heading out for 4 hour aerobic rides at this time of the year is difficult to say the least, and before you make the decision to do it regardless, think about the consequences. One, traffic!, The sun is low, the roads are damp, and visibility is poor at best. It is difficult to see riders, so be as bright as you can be! I do get frustrated with all the cyclists out there in full black out clothing! Two, the road surfaces are greasy, covered in leaves, or icy. Maybe head to the woods on your mountain bike instead if you want to get out? Three, If it is a cold day with a Northerly wind, seriously consider the turbo as an alternative! If you get cold to the core, you are exposed to chills, not to mention the risks of falling on icy roads. Then, bang goes your consistency because you are either ill or injured! I have to say, the majority of my winter training is completed on the Computrainer. Its safe, its easy to structure good quality work outs, and its a great use of time. If you struggle with the tedious nature of it, there are so many gadgets, tools, courses that you can ride now to make the monotony of it less painful. The treadmill is also a very useful tool for the same reasons, and there are some great sessions you can complete when you are forced inside due to the weather.
So, this Christmas, be sensible, listen to your body, enjoy your training and plan your sessions in advance around family and friends to eliminate stress. Relax, sleep, enjoy the festivities and have a very happy Christmas and New Year.
Then the training can be finely tuned for your 2018 goals.