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Avoid burn-up on re-entry

My latest coaching article as published in USAT Multisport Lab.

You have been cooped up for weeks, the pools and gyms have been closed and you are dying to get back to triathlon.

Perhaps you have already lunged back into strenuous activity and suffered aches and pains as a result, setting you back to square one.

Before you do any more damage, here are some tips to avoid burning up on re-entry as you get back on your triathlon training program.

Accept reality: there is no way you are as fit as you were three months ago, before pandemic measures were in effect. Both your aerobic fitness and muscular strength are likely to have diminished by several percentage points, plus technique may have been forgotten, especially in swimming.

Commit to taking an easy path back to fitness, over several weeks. Consider yourself back in the base building phase of your training cycle, with an emphasis on improving endurance and physical adaptation first. Power and speed are not the immediate priority.

Throughout this re-entry phase, give yourself permission to quit. If you are finding a session too hard, too long, or too taxing mentally, then just give yourself a break, quit early and come back tomorrow, rested, and ready. There have been enough mental pressures lately without having to add more in what should be, for the bulk of athletes, a leisure activity.

If you are swimming in a training group, the pressures to keep going can be strong, beyond what might be good for you. Talk to your coach beforehand, let them know where you are at in your re-entry. Agree on an appropriate session, with any adjustments. Make sure they check on your form and technique to prevent any bad habits from developing. They are familiar with swimmers returning after months of lay-off.

Get out of the pool when you’ve had enough. Maybe that’s after 20, 30 or 40 minutes. There is no obligation to complete the whole workout. Alternatively, sit out alternate intervals, give yourself more rest, or cut the intervals into easier chunks – do 50s instead of 100s.

The same applies to biking and running: go shorter distances, less intense at first. See how it feels after a few workouts, then add distance and time before upping the intensity. Get back to a similar volume you were at before the shutdown, before piling on the hard work sessions. This is going to take several weeks.

If you have been on a bike trainer for the shutdown, your bike may feel uncomfortable or unusual if you have not been on it in a few weeks. It will take time to settle back into your regular fit and get a feel for the road, other riders and traffic.

As the summer reaches its peak, it’s going to make for hot and humid running conditions in many places. While it is a great time of year in the north, its brutal in the south at this time of year. Combined with the effects of a lay-off, do not expect to be any running PRs for some time. That can come later once temperatures cool off and you are back to full volume and intensity. Take walking and jogging breaks on your long runs, trim the total distance, and stay out of the midday sun to avoid overheating and taxing your body unnecessarily.

There are events on the calendar for late summer and fall, so you have plenty time to get ready to race. Approach your training conservatively and enjoy the opportunity to be back outside and training. And above all – don’t burn up!

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