When it comes to triathlon racing, 2020 has certainly been an unfortunate year.  However, we need to look forward – toward 2021.  And as you think about the remainder of your off-season I hope you will draw inspiration from these athlete stories.  Each athlete has had a great deal of success during 2020 with their out-of-the-ordinary training, and I hope you will be encouraged to try some of these ideas with your own training. 

Thinking positively, if you were battling some health or injury issues, this has been a good time to address those issues instead of battling through the injuries in hopes that you simply make it through the next race. This has been the year to make yourself “Bulletproof”!  Which is something D3 Head Coach Mike Ricci likes to say.  And if you havn’t tuned in to fix those niggles just yet, it’s not too late.

As triathletes, we invest a chunk of our lives training in swim, bike, run and of course, strength. However, if we remove that need to hyper-focus on specific workout metrics, such as heart rate, power pace, duration and intensity, what gives way is more training freedom.

One of the athletes I coach, Karen R., went this year without an Ironman to focus on.  In it’s place, she found enjoyment in her epic, and I MEAN EPIC adventures on her mountain bike and through trail running. The beauty and the sites of getting off her tri bike and into the wilderness gave her a renewed sense of training. I noticed that athletes found a fresh new world off the pavement and on beautiful trails. Athletes bought off road (mountain or gravel) bikes, or if they had them, they pulled them back out of storage. 

And not coincidentally, guess what happened when Wild Rice (Karen R.) got back on her TT bike? She had her best FTP ever! A historical best FTP improvement by 8.9%! Unplugging from the data of power actually allowed her to get more out of the training because mountain biking is about using the terrain to dictate your intensity.

Let’s take a look at Keith G.  He crushed more races this year than anyone, and 90% of them were off-road and non-traditional from mountain bike stage races to Otillo swim/runs. I can’t tell you how excited I was to hear about the awesome adventures he was having! When he got back on either his road or TT bike, he saw 5-20-60 minute power numbers and new found strength! See the chart below.  Was he still running and swimming? Yes, yes he was! But the alternatives to triathlons helped him find new gains in his triathlon fitness.

Keith’s Power Numbers

Duration in MinutesTT bike Power % improvement Road bike Power % improvement
1min20%
5min6%22%
12min7%10%
20min7%0%
60min12%4.5%

Many athletes that I worked with this year found new challenges from 6 hour bike distance races on or off road, or events that took them off the traditional triathlon path. Events we would most likely be more reluctant to do during a traditional triathlon season. Tasi K. chased and dramatically improved his 1 mile personal best by 25 seconds running a 5:58 mile thats an 8% improvement!

Another athlete, Dana W., has turned her home into a ranch for retired horses. Talk about strong! Limited traditional training with hours of physical tough labor and she’s as fit and as fast as ever – and happy! Reduced training volume, but smarter with each workout and she has become a faster and stronger athlete. She just ran one of her fastest 10k’s in the past 5 years, on a solo workout!

In talking to anyone that ventured off the triathlon path, even just a little I could tell they miss racing because it’s what they love. But they are not sitting idly by. They are loving the fact they are getting outside, finding a different challenge and looking at life and its simple pleasures; one day at a time. 

A lot of gravel and mountain bike adventures are also more friendly as you avoid the stress of angry motorists. And it’s what I call “natural intervals”, little tiny peaks and valleys in power, controlled by undulating terrain. You work harder without realizing you are, without the stress and anxiety of having to hit the exact interval. In many ways it unleashes the psychological attachment of a metric. But fitness still climbs! Isn’t triathlon about having fun in the process to peak physical fitness? Not every day is rainbows. But the freedom in training, the beauty in nature, it’s something to consider – if you haven’t already!

So, get off your TT bike, bike and run off the pavement, mix it up, you might be surprised with what a different routine might offer. More strength durability! Better psychological edge! Fun experience!

Steps To Trying Something New:

  • Start with adding 1 new, trail, or route or adventure. Maybe every weekend your goal is to find a new route, and just explore but get off the pavement.
  • Add in a new type of event that you’ve never done (trail race?). Or, create your own like Coaches Mike Ricci and Dave Sheanin did with their epic 17mile trail run. Even snowshoeing and cross country skiing would be a huge aerobic and strength builder (if you live far enough north)! 
  • Collect the data, but don’t be controlled by it. Be guided by your perceived effort and the terrain. 

Your psyche might thank you for it. Your experiences will be worth it. Whether you want to push your limits or explore, 2020 and early 2021 are your opportunity to take on a new lesson in training, and realize you can be very fit with a different approach. 

Remember, your off season is a great time to go explore and be non-specific, and as you get closer to your event in 2021, you put a little more specific focus on your workouts.  There will be time for race-specific training.  So for now, not every workout needs to be in erg mode on the trainer within 1 watt of target. Start with unspecific natural intervals and work towards your race season with a gradual build to more specific focused workouts. Just know, as long as you’re out there moving, exploring and being active, it can help you both mentally and physically in the long run. 

Have fun, be safe!

Coach Jim Hallberg believes that every one of us has the capacity to improve our efficiency, get stronger and run, bike or swim faster. Sure, it takes time, dedication and discipline but it’s possible. Working with an experienced coach can make sure that your efforts are targeted in the right areas to make sure you reach those goals!

Jim’s Coaching Credentials

  • USA Triathlon Certified Coach
  • USA Cycling Certified Coach
  • Training Peaks Level 2 Certified Coach

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