Triathlons used to be a big part of my life, and with the arrival of COVID two years ago, there was a huge change. Races stopped completely in 2020, and I was only able to enter one race in 2021. It’s looking as if 2022 is going to mean resumption of normal competitions, and I have been thinking about how I’m going to approach this. I’ve written a few words about the impact of the pandemic on triathletes like myself.
What happened during the break?
The pandemic had a split effect on active people and events like triathlon and running races. While the numbers of active people increased, and strong sales of everything from bikes to running shoes created supply chain issues, the actual racing part and active group events came to a halt. 2020 had almost no races, and 2021 had a fraction of the normal number.
2022 and beyond, hopefully, can be back to normal.
With a 1 to 2 year layoff of racing, how do you start to get back in the saddle? Here are a few tips.
Assess Your Current Fitness Level
People will need to think about their current fitness level, after two years of routines being different. For some people, the pandemic created a huge step backward in terms of group training, fitness, and eating well. Others may have taken advantage of the time to actually get outside more, and perhaps shave off a few pounds.
Because the answer is different for everyone, the only person who can assess your current fitness level is you. Take a good, hard look at what kind of shape you are in. The answer will help you identify the training time required to do a race, and what the first couple months of training should look like.
The concept of periodization in triathlon means that your “season” is split into different segments, and the first one is to set a foundation. That means you need to move into a base phase, in which time you focus on getting consistent workouts in. The workouts might not be terribly intense, but you will begin to build your base level of endurance on the bike, run, and swim.
Because it is nice to carefully monitor your distances and exertion level during the base phase, to make sure you don’t overdo it, this can be a great time to be indoors. Indoor cycling often provides excellent data output and monitoring, and treadmill running can be carefully controlled for speed and duration. I use the BKool cycling app, which is a virtual environment so that you can watch a video of a real life location whizzing by while you cycle in front of your computer.
Basing is usually done after a “preparation” phase, which for many people is what they are naturally doing by staying active, going to the gym, and cross-training. If you are truly coming off of the couch, you may want a month of just getting active before doing sport-specific training in the base phase.
If you are concerned about motivation levels as you get back into the sport, finding a triathlon club, running group, or masters swim group can be a major win. I’ve been a member of Wicklow Triathlon Club for over a decade, and I’ve been trained individually by Eamonn Tilley of ET Sports. The support that I get has made all the difference over the years.
While some people prefer training as a lone wolf and always being solo, many people find it more motivating to train with others, and be held accountable to show up at workouts. Virtual clubs are also an option, and with apps like Zwift, Peloton, and Strava, you can connect with people across the world and essentially train with like-minded folks.
There are many helpful Facebook groups too: my favourite is the Pathetic Triathletes Group, which is a bit of fun, and not too serious.
Find Your Race
A good thing to do early in the training season is to look at the race calendar, and figure out which race (or races) you will want to target. Even if you don’t sign up for them quite yet, knowing when you might want to be peaking for races is really important for determining your training calendar for the entire year.
While Covid decreased the number of races – and often the number of race slots within each event – the races we are all used to are gradually coming back online. Check out the websites for your favorite races and see if they have a current year race date, or look at their news page or blog and ensure they are planning on a 2022 race.
If you are ready, go ahead and register for the race. It is a huge help for Race Directors to have an idea of how much interest there is in their event, rather than having everyone sign-up at the last minute.
Manage Your Health
If you are coming off a long layoff from working out, or if you have spent the past couple years in the gym and not doing endurance training, just be sure you listen to your body.
Overuse injuries are often caused early in one’s training, when their body’s conditioning hasn’t caught up to the training plan. Make sure that you spend plenty of time in the base period of training, doing workouts that are not pushing you terribly far outside your gradual training range. If your normal run is 3 miles, don’t go out and do a 7-miler. Instead, make the next one 3.5, and maybe hang there for a couple weeks and then slowly increase to 4 miles.
And don’t forget about the all-important stretching, foam rollers, and other tricks in any endurance athlete’s book. A proper stretching plan – well executed – can alleviate many of the would-be injuries that may occur throughout the course of your training.
One aspect is very positive: a break from routines often makes people hungry for action. If you have never tried triathlons, think about it as an adventure that you can really do in real life. It’s easy to get started, and I only have one warning: it’s addictive.
But it’s a better addiction than most.