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Making the Most of the Off-Season

By Renee Tomlin | Sept. 26, 2014, 12 a.m. (ET)

Fall is upon us.

For most, the season is viewed as an ending point. Fall means the end of summer, the end of greenery and long–lasting sunshine, the end of vacation for most and the end of the racing season for some. For me, however, fall marks just the starting point. I may now be on break, but I view this period away from scheduled training and competition as important and integral as any race. It's the prelude to the 2015 competition season and should be treated as such. At the same time, it offers a chance for the body and mind to reset. The only requirement on break: draft your own triathlon tabula rasa. 

After two tough races in Monterrey, Mexico, and in Las Vegas, my coaches and I decided to take a step back from competing and start the recovery process. My background is that of a middle-distance track athlete, meaning my forté surrounds events lasting four minutes. I met the transition to 1-2 hour races head-on, not thinking about the accumulative consequences on the body until late in the game. A fatigue I’ve never known set in rattling my natural competitive disposition. My body was telling me to hit pause and let the last five months of training and racing sink in.

“But don’t forget the dream…it helps you heal quicker,” said one mentor. And with the dream ever in mind, I kicked off my downtime.

My coach prescribed a couple of de-training days, which involve an incremental decrease in physical activity, and a full week off. I’ve never had seven consecutive days off in my entire athletic career, but I sure benefitted from it this past week! Instead of swimming, cycling and running, I dabbled in surfing, cruised on a vintage peugeot, and walked around the ocean cliffs of San Diego (mainly working on my tan). Now back in my hometown of Ocean City, N.J., I’m ready to start building an aerobic base before training officially begins in Scottsdale, Ariz., in November. Still considered part of the recovery process, this base training involves an incremental increase in aerobic physical activity with no intensity. No threshold workouts or Vo2 max sessions, just meditative movement.   

Reflecting on the 2014 season, I now understand what it takes to be an elite endurance athlete, and more specifically, a triathlete. Although I missed the mark this inaugural round, I know what my body should expect and how to react for 2015 and beyond. For the last five months I’ve ridden an incredible roller coaster situated on a steep learning curve. By hopping off the ride for a couple weeks, I finally have the opportunity to synthesize lessons learned.

One major lesson surrounds adjusting self-expectations. Although a rookie to triathlon, I would not consider myself new to high-level, international competition. Regardless, the transition from a middle-distance runner to an Olympic-distance focused triathlete is not a feat accomplished overnight. It is an ever-evolving process that requires more than simple grit and potential. This transition requires patience and an acute understanding that the body will take its time to adjust and react. 

During this adjustment period, another major lesson surfaces: rest and recovery facilitate any and all progress. When training, traveling and competing back-to-back, it is imperative to maximize rest and consistency. If left unaddressed, the benefits of that last threshold session will no longer equate to strength gains. Finding out, practicing and holding myself accountable to what works best to maximize my recovery is on the top of my list for 2015.

Although these concepts aren’t new, it takes practice and a couple of mistakes before applying them properly in the sport of triathlon. Luckily, I’m fortunate to have a circle of coaches, training partners, family and friends who support me through this learning phase and who understand such a transition. I couldn’t be more excited for what 2015 has in store, but for now, my focus is on the present. Time to enjoy the fall leaves, crisp air and (hopefully) some east coast swell.