So now what do I do?
For a majority of age group athletes the 2014 triathlon season is over. Medals are hanging from hooks, race photos are in frames and the mind is full of memories and war stories of the season that was. As you eventually come down from the emotionally charged season the common and routine question arises, now what? Just because your season is over there are still plenty of very important things to do to properly end your season.
The very first thing I recommend doing is saying,"Thank You". Make it a point to thank everyone that helped you along your journey through the season. Thank your loved ones for EVERYTHING. Just like you they had to deal with and shared in your successes, failures, podiums, bonks, eating habits, sleeping patterns, crankiness, naps, long weekend rides and runs, massive amounts of laundry...they essentially did everything you did except race. Thank your coach and training partners for not only their motivation, guidance but also for the countless pro bono therapy sessions. Thank those that kept your body functioning smoothly such as your massage therapist, physical therapist, doctors, and nutritionist. Thank your local bike mechanic, running and swimming store employees for getting you everything yesterday because it was such an "emergency". Please do not text them, "thx u"!!! Give to them the thanks they so rightly deserve. No triathlete goes at it alone, your success and failures are shared.
When was the last time you looked closely at your gear? I mean really got close to it and examined its condition? With the amount of training one does and the abuse your equipment takes it is important to give them love as well. Please take your bike to the shop and have it cleaned, thoroughly. I'm almost embarrassed by how disgusting my bikes are after racing and the amount of dirt, grime and filth that has accumulated. If left unattended this rankness will eventually destroy your bike. How much did you spend on your bike, or should I ask how much did you tell your significant other you spent on your bike? Spend a few extra bucks to have it stripped, cleaned, decreased, re-lubed, polished, waxed, re-wired, re-taped etc. Spending a little money on upkeep is significantly cheaper than buying a new bike.
Put your sports nutrition away. Whatever you have left over, box it up and store until the spring. Give your body a rest from all the Gus, gummies and whatever other scientifically engineered products you consumed during training and racing. Transition to eating whole foods to fuel your training needs, your body will thank you for it.
Take some time off! You just beat your body up for 9-10 months, it needs a break and some time to recharge. By allowing your body to completely heal itself you will be able to start the next season fresh, full of energy and most important . . . HEALTHY.
Reflect on what just happened. Sit down and re-read your training logs, race reports and nutrition plans. Identify training sessions that were a huge success or complete failures and write down why they were. Analyze how you laid out your season and objectively write down changes that need to be made to your training focus, periodization, race schedule etc. Have a sit down talk with your coach about the season. Having another professionally trained individual reflect and analyze your season will greatly increase your understanding of what you truly accomplished. Coaches can then obviously create an improved, individualized training plan for you. Do not solely base your reflection on what you did physically, take a close look at your nutrition plans ( daily and training/racing) to further refine your craft. I find that reflection is key to my success as an athlete. More times than not I'm looking at my failures because those are where you learn the most from.
The process of signing up for races always stirs up excitement. There should be an objective before the selection process begins. Are you going to chose a destination race? Races that are family friendly? Races that will challenge you physically or mentally? Long Course or Short Course? Ironman, Challenge Family or Grassroots races? Are you going to try and qualify for Age Group Nationals or WC? Are you in it to finish? Maybe you take the path less traveled and sign up for an Xterra, ultra distance or adventure race? When I plan out my race season I take into account a couple things. First I do my best not to repeat any races. There are so many races in so many unbelievable locations that I would be doing myself a disservice if I just did one race, all the time. I also factor in my strengths and weaknesses as an athlete and how and if I want to test them. Then I factor in timing. In other words where on the calendar do the races fall? Living in the Northeast the weather certainly plays a role in that decision since it directly impacts my training. I typically schedule an earlier, shorter distance race in the early Spring to gauge my fitness and to knock the rust off. Then I'll schedule two priority races, one in the late spring and then one in the late Summer/early Fall. By spreading my two focal races out it will allow for proper recovery and a solid block of training in between. I almost forgot, this applies to those in serious relationships, please check with your significant other before signing up for a race! Make sure there is nothing scheduled on those dates(weddings, anniversaries, birthday parties, etc).
Finally, celebrate. No matter when or how you crossed the finish line make sure to celebrate. For some this could mean indulging in some adult libations, or in a meal you have been dreaming about, going on a vacation or a simple walk through the woods to enjoy nature (sans Garmin device). My celebration at the end of this season was frozen yogurt and a mini vacation with my wife. This vacation also served as a celebration for us as expecting parents!!