The Off Season – More Than Just RestDonovan van Gelder
An off-season is not just about rest and recuperation. It is also a time where we look back critically, at the previous period of training. We need to decide how effective we were. By that we don’t mean, how fast did we get or how far could we go. We need to assess how well we followed our plan. We must look at what was planned and also how close we got to executing that in reality. No athlete, professional or amateur can stick to a 10-12-week schedule without straying at least slightly. Some of it will have been unavoidable. Things like illness or injury. Factors which we share with our professional counterparts. As amateur athletes however, we have more demands on our time and energy. We have jobs outside of our sport. We also have family commitments and responsibilities which we should definitely be placing ahead of our planned training or the lifestyle will not be healthy and sustainable. Professional athletes also have families but, in their world, everyone understands that their training is critical and, because the sport is their job, they can justify putting it before more commitments than we can as amateurs. It is not always psychologically and emotionally easier being a pro. In fact, it is probably harder at times because they need to prioritise a training session over a family commitment. It certainly is simpler for them though.
Studying our training record in a general manner, we need to identify where we strayed from our planned path and then determine the reasons:
- Was that just bad luck and unavoidable? As in caught it from a work college or our spouse or children.
- Could a suppressed immunity have resulted in us being more vulnerable? Do we need to look at our planned volume and /or intensity of training to allow more recovery?
- How are we taking care of ourselves? Are we eating and drinking to aid our day to day performance and recovery? Are we getting enough good quality sleep?
- Was the injury as a result of bad luck? Did we fall or cause ourselves injury as a result of bad luck or lack of attention?
- Did the injury occur during a training session? Were we not sufficiently warmed up before starting the more intense portion of our session? Did we push ourselves too far beyond our current limit?
- Was the injury as a result of wear-and-tear? Had it been building up for a while? Should we have acted sooner with treatment or possibly rest or a lightening of the load for a few days?
- Were we just too tired or sore to train?
- Had this been building for a while and did we ignore the warning signs?
- Are we paying proper attention to our recovery protocol post training?
- Are we getting enough good quality sleep?
- Are we providing our bodies with the correct nutrition at the correct times? Supplying sufficient energy for training sessions and nutrients for recovery.
- Did we over-estimate our capabilities and expect too much of ourselves?
Doing more than expected
- Did we vary from the plan because we found that we could do more, or go harder than the plan required?
- Was that sustainable? In other words – did we feel super, do more, but then pay for it a few days later and resume the plan or fall behind it?
- Was our progress faster than anticipated? Did we have to deviate onto a new trajectory because our body was adapting and assimilating the work better than we had thought it would?
Running any deviations from our plan through this analysis will allow us to establish how effective and realistic our planning was, and where we need to make adjustments in the next season, in order to follow our new block of training more closely. Our goal is always to hit each planned session exactly as scheduled, all the time knowing that the reality will always be slightly out. As close as we can is the goal and we should be constantly adjusting our aim.
Next, we need to look at our performance in the A-Race that ended the season. How did we perform? The result is actually secondary. A professional may win a race but not be happy with their performance. In order to keep performing at our best and also to keep progressing, both professional and amateur athletes need to analyse race performances critically, whether they were a success or failure. We don’t want to rest on our laurels. We want to keep getting better.
Analysing all performance aspects of the race are necessary:
Endurance – Were we strong all the way to the finish or did we fade?
- Was this due to not having the muscular endurance to cover the distance?
- If so, purely muscle fatigue or did things result in cramping?
- Cramping can be caused by muscles just reaching the end of their ability to contract repeatedly. Or a result of dehydration and nutritional shortcomings. Or as a result of our exertion levels and force of contractions, exceeding what we have trained for. In other words, we exceeded our level of conditioning with regards to overall pace or pace on segments of the event, such as climbs or accelerations.
- Was this as a result of incorrect nutrition? Timings and quantities? Incorrect nutrient balance?
- Did we battle with dehydration? If so, was that simply a liquid intake problem or an electrolyte deficiency?
Speed – Could we have continued beyond the finish line but not have gotten there any faster?
- Was our sustainable power lower than we had planned?
- Was our speed at our race-intensity heart rate not as high as we had planned?
- Were we able to hold a high, steady pace but not able to respond or make accelerations when required?
- Were we good on certain sections of the route and lacking in others? For example – holding goal pace on flatter parts of the route but underperforming as the gradient increased.
Technical – Was our physical condition let down by skill or technical deficiencies? For example:
- Swimming – did we not handle choppy conditions well, or a deep-water start?
- Cycling – Were we not able to sustain our aero position in a time trial format, or not able to hold position in a bunch?
- Running – Did we lose valuable time through dead-turns or battle with more technical conditions in a trail race?
- Triathlon – Were we slow through transition or battle physically with the change of disciplines?
Mental – Were we physically able to perform at a higher level but did we let ourselves down psychologically?
- Were we extremely nervous before the start?
- Were we completely unexcited or without motivation at the start?
- Were there interactions with competitors or spectators that created doubts in our abilities?
- Were there aspects of the race course that made us negative?