Here’s how you can get your season back on track when life throws you a curveball
You’ve embarked on a triathlon season with the best intention of maintaining a training regimen for your race schedule and goals. You may have even chosen the periodization training scheme to ensure that you’ll develop endurance, taper, and peak at the right time for a specific race distance. But as often happens, life has gotten in the way of your plans.
Does this mean that your season is over? Not necessarily.
Evaluate Your Situation
First, consider your available remaining time and capabilities. How much time remains in your season? How much training time will you miss? Are you still physically capable of training through the end of the season?
If you decide that you won’t be considerably hindered if you try to pick up training again, you can figure out how to salvage your season by employing some new strategies.
Consider Training Variables
With less time available to train, you’ll need to make meaningful changes in your training regimen to get back on track. With the time off, you may have lost considerable adaptations in your aerobic capacity, in addition to the elusive “feel for the water.” Your new strategy must make accommodations for both.
There are four main variables that factor into strategically planning a training season for endurance performance: duration, volume, frequency, and intensity. Duration, the overall macrocycle of the season, is what goes out the window when you take prolonged time off from training. But you can optimize your remaining time with the other three variables.
Volume is the distance per workout. If your original training plan was to complete 1,500 yards in each workout, you’ll want to increase that yardage incrementally based on how much time you need to make up and how much time remains before your next race.
There’s no simple mathematical calculation for it, but you can consider your prior training regimen, how much of your endurance training adaptation you think you’ve retained, how much time remains before your next race, and your upcoming race distance. If, for example, you’ve maintained about half of your endurance capacity from before and you’re training for an Olympic distance triathlon competition two to four weeks away, you’ll want to get up over 2,000 yards per workout as quickly as possible.
When it comes to swimming and frequency, it cannot be overstated that the number of times you swim per week is quite possibly the one thing that can always make or break a season. It can go either way, and you must use this to your advantage.
The best way to regain your training adaptations is to swim as frequently as possible, even if your volume needs to vary by workout. If you feel sore and/or fatigued from training several days per week, you can mix it up by devoting workouts to technique drills. This will, incidentally, be your best way of regaining your feel for the water.
You’ll want to be judicious when adding intensity to your revised training strategy. The good news is that it’s true that the right application of intensity in workouts can result in aerobic endurance adaptations. When it comes to swimming, it’s important to think of this in the ways that are most appropriate. It’s less about swimming short, fast sets and it’s more about interval training, especially when it comes to triathlon. The former will get you through the first 100-200 yards of your open water triathlon swim and leave you depleted, because you’ll be training your anaerobic capacity and not your aerobic capacity. By interval training—say, 10 x 100s on an interval that permits you no more than 10 to 15 seconds rest per repeat—you’ll be working intensely, but the overall effort goes toward developing aerobic endurance capacity.
One Final Option
If you have the option to change your race distances, perhaps from a half Ironman to a sprint or Olympic distance triathlon, that may be another option for keeping your race schedule reasonably intact. If nothing else, making changes to your training regimen should provide you with valuable insight about the strategies that work well to get you the results you want.