June is nearly over and the 2019 racing season in full swing. Summer is here! Regardless of your race calendar your training is likely beginning to increase in continuity, frequency, and intensity. Preparing for a successful race season is built around effective reflection over the past racing season(s) and training you’ve already put forth, as well as planning and preparing for upcoming sessions and races (e.g. is your training appropriate, are you balancing workload appropriately, are you preparing for success or injury).
However, by working with endurance athletes throughout the injury to performance spectrum each year I witness first-hand the physical, psychological, and mental toll injury, fatigue, and ineffective training strategies take on athletes.
Rather than racing many find themselves asking ‘why me’ when dealing with a mid-season injury, sinking into a self-destructive cycle of blame, confusion, and, for some, even depression.
Before you find yourself too far into your training and racing season take a moment to reflect and ensure you are positioning yourself for a strong, healthy, and successful race season.
What is your ‘why’?
Establishing your goals, or your ‘why’, may be one of the most important steps to race season success. Are you looking to podium or to finish? Are you ‘training’ or are you ‘exercising’? How will you measure your success? Considering your established time commitments (i.e. family, work, social, community) and your ability to train (i.e. total training hours, availability of a pool or open water, indoor vs. outdoor bike training, inclement weather) will allow you to set realistic, and achievable, goals. Additionally, taking time to intentionally consider your athletic and competition history is beneficial.
While past training volume and duration, race success, and experience can be strong predictors of training boundaries and potential they often do not provide a 30,000 ft. view of all the variables. Keep in mind your commitments, goals, and overall ability to meet the demands of training. Additionally, consulting a coach or licensed healthcare provider who specializes in working with endurance athletes can provide additional perspective regarding training load, injury prevention, and time management.
Are you organized?
If you have not already cleaned out last season’s transition bag now is a good time to do so. However, organization goes beyond mere clutter and cleaning. Getting organized physically, mentally, psychologically, etc. is an important step to ensure race season success.
Triathlon, unlike any other endurance sport, will find and exploit any limits you may have, leaving you feeling deflated and vulnerable. What are your limiting factors (i.e. opportunities for development) – strength, endurance, motor control, mental fortitude, mid-race gastrointestinal distress, chronic injuries, etc.?
Preparing for and racing in 3 unique and demanding disciplines (swim, bike, run) requires an organized neuromusculoskeletal system. If you struggle to maintain wobble-free single leg stance for >30 sec. on each leg then you are significantly increasing your risk for injury as your training progresses and the season begins (Remember - in its simplest form running is controlled and intentional hopping from one leg to the other in a wobble-free and balanced manner). The running portion of triathlon is the final leg and often will determine your overall success. Be honest! A wobble now in the privacy of your home is a race-altering injury or tissue break down mid-run come race season.
How will you handle injury?
Unfortunately, for endurance athletes, regardless of professional or age-group status, racing and competing is inherently fraught with injury. It is not a question of “if” but “when”, followed by “how” – how will you handle your injury? Ignoring or pushing through pain related to actual, or even potential, tissue injury could have long-term, deleterious effects. However, pushing through muscle aches and training soreness is par for the course. If you’re going to race long-course triathlon or obtain a BQ (Boston qualifier) you will need to callus the mind – i.e. you will need to learn to train with a degree of discomfort.
Understanding your individual and unique pain experience is crucial for training and racing success.
And when you sustain an injury the proactive approach is always superior. Whether you are dealing with a BSI (bone stress injury), tendinopathy, muscle strain, or various other forms of acute on chronic or reactive injuries “pushing through” rarely results in quality training or success. Rather, consulting with a performance coach or healthcare professional who is uniquely aware of the demands endurance training and racing places on the body is the first step toward recovery and a return to performance.
How will you measure success?
When the race is over or the 2019 season ends it can be challenging to acknowledge our successes and failures. While there may be multiple variables at play, perhaps the one which is easiest to fix is ensuring you have established measurable and accountable goals from the start.
How will you measure success? Is success only attained if you meet your pre-season goals? What if injury side-lined you for the majority of the season? Is the entire year a waste?
By establishing multiple goals, through a variety of perspectives, you increase the likelihood of achieving your personal definition of success. It would be impossible to plan for every variable at the beginning of the season (e.g. injury, family commitments, work and travel responsibilities, vacations). Instead, prepare now to honestly assess how you will measure your success at the end of the season.
While some of the goals are summative others are formative. Establishing an AG result or qualification standard may be their measure of success. Others may work to reduce their risk of injury. Whatever your goals, ensure you approach them with honesty and a measure of reality, keeping in mind all of the variables that will contribute to or reduce your potential for success.
If you would like more information on any specific topic, have questions regarding training, coaching or rehabilitation, or have other concerns please feel free to contact me.
Wishing you healthy, smart and successful training and racing!
Joel Sattgast is a physical therapist, performance coach, assistant professor of physical therapy, a Dad, husband, and an athlete. All posts are related to evidence, opinions and thoughts regarding various performance and rehabilitation topics.