It's January. Most of the Northern Hemisphere remains buried in winter and the debate rages on over which location is suffering the most. This also means the Northern Hemisphere racing season is on-hold, at least until the ice melts off the major bodies of water, not to mention the sidewalks, and many triathletes consider themselves to be in the "off season."
Recently I was asked if I had returned to training after Ironman Cozumel, which was eight weeks ago this past Sunday. The answer is a resounding yes, but it is a different yes than if I had been asked and answered in July. The difference could be described as an emotional distance.
Having identified this "distance," I've come to believe there are more than the two periods of seasonal preparation: "in season" and "off season"; not just two toggle settings: "mind on/body on" and "mind off/ body off."
Welcome to the Low Season: "mind off/ body on."
Bodies used and abused year-round ultimately give out. The chassis creaks, the suspension and struts stiffen, the oil thickens and the filter clogs, the nick on the bumper rusts, the carburetor messes up the mixture, and the radiator cap flies off, probably smacking you on the face in the process.
The off season is necessary routine body maintenance: treat and paint the bumper and flush the filter. When the more cosmetic damage is repaired and the various caps put back in place, the body can once again be put in motion.
But then when least expected and usually most dangerous, the wiring [ppffzzts] and the dashboard blinks out.
Being emotionally "all in" is just as exhausting - and destructive - as being that invested physically. Day after day, week after week, worrying about pacing, contemplating racing, and analyzing every last aspect of training wears down with its own unique kind of stress. Even - and especially - triathletes who work an office job are susceptible to this insidious stress because it layers on top of everything else, like a black ice on the rest of your life. We can only live like that a few precious months a year.
With a car, the wiring (hopefully) is simply a replaced fuse. But what about in an athlete?
Get the work done without the analysis. "Mind off/body on."
It's hard to describe Low Season, and even harder to actually find it's sweet spot. We are told that Every.Single.Workout is important, the building block to the next and the next and the next and eventually the race. All of this is remains true and the Low Season doesn't mean the freedom to skip sessions or immunity to a hard night out with the boys. It does mean prepare for the work (eat, pack the bag), get in, get the work done, get out/recover, and move on. Don't dwell, on how "slow" you are right now or "fast" you should be right now. Respect the training, but don't let it rule you. Flog yourself now and you may not have much of yourself left to flog when it truly matters.
Admittedly, my own Low Season is slowly, but surely coming to an end. How do I know? Why, because the gods have spoken of course. Or because I finally unpacked my tri bike. I'll let you decide.