10 Questions to Ask Yourself at the End of Tri Season
Before you turn the page on this season, make sure you've written the full story. These 10 questions can help you wrap up this year and gear up for next.
The triathlon season is coming to a close. After what has been a long and demanding spring, summer, and fall of intense training and hard-fought racing, you’re probably ready to put this season behind you and look forward to some down time. But before you file this season away, you want to act on the famous saying:
“Those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it.”
In other words, if you don’t reflect on this just-concluded season, you may miss out on some important lessons that you can use for next season to continue to progress toward your triathlon goals.
To help with this analysis of your past season, I have recruited triathlon coach Dr. Greg Rhodes. Greg is an exercise physiologist who works extensively in endurance sports. He is also an accomplished endurance athlete in his own right, having competed at the world age-group level in triathlon, swimming, and cross-country skiing. He recommends asking ten questions at the end of every race season. These questions fall under four categories to help you work through specific elements of the seasons. Let’s break down what they are, and why we should be asking these questions.
1. What were your goals for the triathlon season?
2. Did you achieve your goals? If so, why? If not, why not?
3. What are your goals for the next triathlon season?
“I ask my athletes what their goals were and whether they were outcome or process goals,” said Rhodes. “Too much emphasis on results and not enough on how to accomplish those goals can prevent triathletes from learning important lessons from year to year. Also, if you have a coach, how can they help you achieve your goals?”
Strengths and weaknesses
4. What strengths do you bring forward from this past season that will propel into next season?
5. What weaknesses have you identified that you need to improve on?
“With these two questions, I would add, how do you know?” said Rhodes. “What I’m looking for is information about how they arrive at their conclusions about strengths and weaknesses and if they are objective or subjective. Triathlon is well suited to answer these questions objectively because of the data that we collect in all three events: heart rate, power, or pace.”
Many times, an athlete will say they need to work on one thing, but when they do a deeper dive into the actual data, Rhodes said they might see something different. “When I was training and racing more seriously, I used to always say that I needed to work on my run and that my swim and bike were great. However, when I looked at my data and splits, it was actually my bike that was my limiting factor in success and not running.”
What worked and what didn’t
6. What has worked for you that you absolutely want to keep doing?
7. What has mostly worked that you may need to fine tune and tweak?
8. What hasn’t worked that you want to discard?
“These questions are best answered if you keep a detailed training log.” said Rhodes. “By looking back through your training data you can see in what areas you made gains and what you were doing that enabled those gains, so you can keep doing them. You can also see where you either plateaued or went backwards in your training efforts and race performances – look for new ways to move forward in these areas next season.”
Next year’s training and races
9. What can you add to your training (physical, technical/tactical, mental) in preparation for the next season that has been missing or that can bolster your efforts?
10. What types of races are best suited for you and what sort of race schedule will help you achieve your goals?
“Very often, not enough thought is given to the types of races selected and the number and scheduling of those races,” said Rhodes. “I also ask athletes during this period, are they choosing the races that best fit their strengths and what races best fit into their life schedule for next year? Importantly, are there any major life changes over the next year that could interfere with pursuing their triathlon goals, like a wedding, change of jobs, or a pregnancy?”
So now what?
As you close the book on this triathlon season, use these questions to transition to next year. After all, what is the point of reflecting on lessons learned if you don’t apply them? How you perform next season depends on what you do between now and then. The fitness gains you make and the technical, tactical, and mental strength you develop in the off-season will determine how much you improve and whether you reach your triathlon goals next season.
“The off-season is the time to make the changes that come out of answering those ten questions,” said Rhodes. “With a deep reflection on the past season right after it concludes, an athlete and coach can develop a clear picture of how the season went and what really needs to be adjusted for the next season.” There are four areas in which you must focus to maximize your preparation.
Create a race schedule
Create a race calendar for next year that includes your “A” races and less-important events that will provide the framework for your off-season training program and will lead to success in achieving your season-long goals.
“With a race schedule established, triathletes can reverse-engineer their off-season and early-season training to optimally prepare for their A races ahead,” said Rhodes. “Issues including race distances, frequency, recovery, and building phases should all be considered in creating a race calendar that will ultimately lead triathletes to their end-of-season goals.”
Commit to conditioning
Triathlon is a sport that you can’t fake, meaning your body can only go as fast as you’ve trained it to go. Strength, power, endurance, and mobility will only be optimized for next season if you create a comprehensive and organized conditioning program. Whether you develop such a program in collaboration with a coach, participate in a tri club’s program, or you find one online, the key is to develop all essential physical aspects of triathlon systematically and consistently.
But – as with all things in training – don’t overdo it. “One of my biggest concerns with really committed triathletes is not that they will do too little, but that they will do too much,” Rhodes said. “Many injuries for triathletes are caused by overtraining in terms of either volume or intensity. With a long-term commitment to a healthy and effective program, a triathlete can limit their chances of developing overuse injuries while maximizing their fitness gains as they enter the race season in the spring.”
Improve technique and tactics
The off-season is an ideal time to improve your technical and tactical skills in the three events that comprise triathlon. Though fitness is the foundation of going the distance, technique and tactics also play a vital role. Swimming is an event that is grounded in good technique, so a focus on technique can mean picking up a few precious seconds per hundred that add up in races. Devoting time and energy to swim technique before the next season can be both fun and rewarding. Though less technical than swimming, good cycling and running technique can be the difference between goal achieved and goal thwarted. Tactics also play a role in going fast understanding pacing and how hard and when to push and when to back off.
Rhodes likes to break the off-season into focused months on each sport. With the mental and physical energy directed to one sport at a time, there can be mindful development in each sport over the winter. He suggests starting in December with a swim focus, January with a bike focus, and February with a run focus as a great way to be physically and mentally ready for those first races in March. Additionally, for triathletes in the northern states where cold and snow can force us inside to train, this focus can give purpose to the long hours indoors until the roads outside are safe for outdoor training.
“The off-season is a great time to focus on equipment and set-up changes,” said Rhodes. “We don’t want to distract you from your training when it is most important as we do our “final prep” for our first race in the spring. So, taking the time to try a new bike, get a bike fit, or try out a new wetsuit or running shoes in the early winter will not take much away from your focused training and you might actually find something that works better for you.”
The off-season enables you to optimize your equipment, most notably, your bike (the most equipment intensive of the three disciplines) where the wrong bike or a bad fit is a certain kiss of death to your triathlon goals and the right bike and proper fit can mean more comfort and more speed to go the distance. The right goggles and wetsuit can have a big impact on the swim and, and running shoes that fit can also dictate success or failure on race day. Though dialing in your equipment is important, I also live by the motto: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” meaning if your equipment already works for you, don’t mess with it. Playing around with a set-up that works can cause you to question which equipment is best for you.
Master the mental aspects of training
Finally, and just as importantly, the off-season is the best time to focus on the final, and often-times neglected, piece of the triathlon performance puzzle, namely, to engage in mental training. How mentally prepared you are to overcome the many challenges of triathlon will ultimately determine whether you achieve your competitive goals or not. Just like physical conditioning and technical/tactical skills, mental aspects of triathlon take time and effort to develop. An organized program of mental training can have huge benefits when you enter the next race season. Essential mental muscles you want to strengthen include motivation, confidence, intensity, focus, and emotions. Important mental tools you want in your mental toolbox include goal setting, self-talk, mental imagery, routines, and breathing.
“Taking the time to intentionally work on the mental muscles when the training is less intense will provide you will the mental strength to keep yourself motivated and focused through the highs and lows of training and racing,” advises Rhodes. “When your overall physical training volume decreases in the off-season, take the extra time you have to add specific mental training sessions to your training plan.”
Turning the page
Committing to next season starts with that first step of deciding how important triathlon is to you. Here are three questions to ask yourself:
- How big are your triathlon goals for the new season?
- How hard are your competitors going to be working in the off-season?
- How badly do you want it?
The key to achieving your goals next triathlon season is to start now! Talk is cheap. It’s easy to say you want to be the best triathlete you can be; it’s an entirely different thing to actually do the work necessary. If your goals are at all high, the only chance you will have is to commit to intensive off-season physical, technical/tactical, and mental training programs over the next few months. Your goal when you the horn blows to start the swim of your first race of next season is to be able to say: “I’m as prepared as I can be to swim, bike, and run my fastest, so bring it on!” If you can say that with confidence, grounded in all your dedication and hard work in the off-season, you are setting yourself up to successfully accomplish your triathlon goals in the new year.
Dr. Jim Taylor is an internationally recognized authority on the psychology of performance. He has been a consultant for the United States and Japanese Ski Teams, the United States Tennis Association, and USA Triathlon, and has worked with professional and world-class athletes in tennis, skiing, cycling, triathlon, track and field, swimming, football, golf, baseball, fencing, and many other sports. He is the author of Train Your Mind for Athletic Success: Mental Preparation to Achieve Your Triathlon Goals.