At this time of the season, you're likely either very close to your big race, or have already completed it. Congrats on all the great training you've done! After the race, it's a good idea to take a few easy weeks. This doesn't mean you get to sit on the couch and eat Pirate Booty all day. Just ease off the throttle for a while.
Switch things up
For 6-10 weeks, you should keep moving, and keep exercising, but keep the effort on the lower side and change up your routine. If the past few weeks were overwhelmed with endurance exercise, it's good to get back into the gym or yoga studio. Do something different. If you've spent a lot of time in the aero position on your bike preparing for an Ironman, break out the road bike or mountain bike and put some miles on those tires. You can call this unfocused training, or fitness training, or just having fun. Staying active maintains a lot of the gains you've made over the previous season without any undue performance stress that competitive racing involves.
Find a new carrot
You may be the type that already has your three year racing plan scripted out. That's great. If you're not, the off season is a good time to figure out what you want to accomplish next season. There are plenty of events to choose from! Triathlons, marathons, trail runs, multiday bike tours, cyclocross racing, and open water swims, to name a few. Each season does not need to be a repeat of the previous.
After several years participating in a given sport, you may find that training for something different and potentially outside your comfort zone can give you new appreciation for your main endeavors. It may also add to your skillset and improve your performance in your chosen passion. For example, competing in open water swims should help your confidence and comfort in the swim portion of a triathlon. Mountain biking should help your road bike handling skills!
Build a plan
I spend a lot of my actual coaching time preparing training plans for multiple athletes. The process is not particularly hard, but it does take some insight and experience to do it well.
The last one continues to be a message I need to communicate to many of my athletes on a regular basis. Easy workouts are not meant to be strenuous or challenging or hard in any way. They are basic maintenance-connector workouts that get you out and training without causing any additional breakdown or too much stress. They maintain your fitness until the next challenging session. Maybe they work on some form/technique issues. Nothing more.
Having goals and working hard are great. It's even greater if you learn to have fun while doing it. Your definition of fun may differ from mine, but we all know what the word means. :)
Marty Gaal, CSCS, is a USA Triathlon coach who lives in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Marty has been coaching endurance athletes since 2002. You can read more about OSB coaching services at www.osbmultisport.com.
One Step Beyond is the producer of the Powerstroke®: Speed through force and form freestyle technique DVD, intended to help new to intermediate triathlon swimmers become faster and more powerful in the water.