About an hour north of us, there is an area slightly off the beaten path with several historic covered bridges. We are still fairly new to Northern Virginia, and every time I have driven on the particular stretch of highway that has the little brown sign advertising these historic landmarks, I think: “One of these days, we need to go check that out.” So last weekend, when I was invited on a bike ride through that area, I jumped at the chance.
The ride was fantastic. We stayed together in a group; we waited for each other on the hills; we stopped to take pictures; we talked a lot; we enjoyed the views. Did I set any records for heart rate or pace or power? No. Did I care about this? Also no. Not even a little bit. Reflecting on this experience afterward got me thinking about the beauty (and the challenges) of the off-season.
Most triathletes in North America have finished their last races and landed in the off-season, and each winter this destination seems to get mixed reviews. While some athletes are happy to have some time off, many others struggle with this season. Indeed, we spend so much of the year going hard – building speed, increasing strength, racing from one training session to the next, fitting it all in. Oftentimes, when it comes to the off-season, we struggle to turn all that OFF. We know academically that time away from the sport is good for us both physically and mentally, but sometimes that is easier said than done. (Especially when we see our running friends out there PRing winter road races, and our FOMO kicks into high gear!)
When athletes are struggling in this way, I often encourage them to channel their time and energy into feeding their souls. Use the break to prioritize the things that you don’t have the time and/or energy to do during the season when you are focused on training and racing, from little things to big things, and everything in between.
Whether it is cross-training (which will strengthen your body), learning something new (which will engage your mind), or strengthening relationships (which can fill your heart), any combination of these things can be beneficial to your well-being. Try a boxing class. Or yoga. Dust off your golf clubs. Meet a friend for lunch. Enjoy your coffee and the Sunday crossword in the sunshine on your porch. Take the dog to the park. Explore some new hiking trails. Go for a walk with a neighbor. Give your people a “yes” day. Let your spouse or kids (or both!) take turns picking a family activity. You might be surprised by the little things that your people have been missing while you were out training. Maybe it’s a pancake breakfast, a movie night, a new brunch spot, or a trip to the farmer’s market. Or something bigger like a weekend away.
With a little planning and intention, the off-season can leave you renewed, refreshed, and ready to take on a new training year. Talk to your coach about how to maximize your off-season. Spend some time evaluating the previous year and setting goals for next year. And then get to work finding your own covered bridges. And remember to enjoy the ride!