With the seasons changing now, what’s there to do? With the snow starting to fall here in Calgary, it’s a pretty stark
reminder that we’re now into the off-season. Come fall cyclists around here trade in their road bikes for cyclocross bikes, triathletes trade in their multisport races for a last chance 10k or half marathon, and runners, well they just keep running. But once the shoulder season comes to a close, it’s easy for athletes to get a little bit stir crazy after just a few weeks of rest in the real off season.
In the few years I’ve spent meeting other athletes, I’ve found one commonality between lifelong athletes who continue sport into their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and up. It’s an ever-present need to have some sort of focus or goal. I’m not going to suggest that athletes completely step back from their sport during the off season, but what I will say is that its important to take time in the off season to look at the bigger picture and things other than the fundamentals of swimming, biking, or running faster.
The off-season is a great time to focus on other parts of your physical and mental well-being that you may not necessarily have time for when you’re balancing 20 hours a week of training with 40 hours a week of work. Training for any sport 12 months of the year is a physically and mentally taxing proposition and even professional level athletes and their coaches recognize the important of taking a break from their main sports.
Here are a few things I’d suggest for keeping your mind and body busy during the off season
Get into a team sport
Okay, this sounds a little odd, I’m saying that during the off season from your sport, you should get into other sports. Well, you should.
Endurance athletes spend a lot of time training on their own and I think a lot of them don’t know what they’re missing out on when it comes to team sports. This time last year I learned to play hockey in the adult beginner hockey program with the NCHL. When I first got on the ice, I could barely skate, couldn’t stop, couldn’t effectively turn, couldn’t skate backwards, couldn’t fire a puck, and just basically sucked.
A year later and I’m sitting here wishing I had taken that step onto the ice years ago. Cross training with team sports teaches valuable life skills, challenges us to step outside of our comfort zones, and is basically just good fun.
Look for adult level, corporate, or intramural leagues in your city. Sports like volleyball, dodgeball, soccer, ultimate, and hockey are typically sports that have wide recreation/beginner level leagues and in a lot of cities. Take advantage of this time to sign up with a group of friends or training partners and get onto the court (or ice!).
Start a blog
This is one of those things that you will never get around to unless you do it in the off-season. I’ve spoken with so many athletes with incredibly inspiring stories, and asked them if they’ve ever written about it. Probably eighty percent of the time the answer is something like “Yeah, everyone tells me that but I just don’t know what to write about” or “I know I just don’t have the time”.
Well now is the time. Taking the time to write a blog, or to simply start working on your social media presence takes a bit of time and commitment. You’ll want to do things like decide between Blogger or WordPress, then there’s choosing the theme, naming it, then writing your profile, then actually writing, deleting, and rewriting your first post. It really can be quite fun, but you just have to make the time to do it.
I’ve told people this before, I think as athletes we have a small obligation to those around us to provide words of encouragement from time to time. Sharing our stories and experiences through face to face interactions and social media is a great way to make the world around us a little bit better. So take that time, and share that story and your experiences.
Do what you feel
I love running in the fall and winter because they’re such dynamic and colourful seasons in Calgary. The city is gold in October, and white in November. So for the past few weeks I’ve actually found myself running outside 3 or 4 times a week, sometimes doing hill reps, sometimes just going for an easy run with friends.
Serious triathletes will often have their build and rest weeks planned at least a month in advance. And they’ll have specific workouts for each day planned a week in advance. It’s a lot of planning and a lot of structure.
It’s important to remove that structure for a little while even if you’re building towards a big goal like Ironman, or a marathon next year. Life has a funny way of throwing things into the mix in the middle of the season that may take time and focus away from training. Things like family obligations, work, and illness can force you to juggle workouts or get creative with time management.
Being able to keep working towards a goal even when you lose a bit of structure is a good skill to have. Not having a specified number or type of workouts for each week will also give you the freedom to rediscover some parts of the sport that you love, and maybe even get amped up to get back to some of the things that you get a little tired of (the pool…).
This is one that I know I’ve mentioned before but I can’t really stress enough. Triathletes and runners spend months on
end pushing their bodies hard. I know that I’m not alone as one of those athletes who finds themselves saying the day after a hard workout “I really need to stretch more”. And short of going for monthly or even weekly massages, the work really starts to add up and can certainly take its toll.
From a purely physical standpoint, the benefits of yoga are hard to understate. Spending hours hunched over the handlebars in a TT position and pedalling past the point of pain can cause overuse injuries of the knees, backs, quads and hamstrings. The strengthening and stretching properties of forms such as Ashtanga are a great for athletes looking to challenge themselves a bit while getting in a strong workout.
Another pillar of our athletic performance that yoga suits perfectly is our breathing. Yoga teaches an inward focus of the mind (and through this, a deep awareness of the present moment) by bringing awareness to our breath. Strengthening this mind-body connection helps us concentrate on our cadence and run stride. When we are able to clear our minds of distraction, we can really fill our lungs and sprint.
Taking the time in the off season to find a good studio and learn what kind of practice best suits your needs can be a great way to see how yoga can fit into your year around training cycle.
These are just a few of my ideas and things I’ve been trying to do over the last couple months in the off season. I don’t have any races slated for fall/winter and have been spending time hunting for KOM’s and better run/bike rankings on Strava, playing hockey and volleyball, and am looking forward to a trip to Maui next week.
I’m looking forward to next season, but will let a couple months go by before I really lay out the goals for 2014. In the meantime some of you may have noticed I’ve moved my blog over, and am really trying to get to know more of the athletes who I talk to on social media.
Anyways, if you see me out on the paths, or would like to grab a coffee, or ask some questions about social media, please feel free to say hello!