The fall season can be a mixed bag for endurance athletes. Athletes who qualify for a late season championship race or who target a late season race are going to remain highly motivated to train hard into those events. For those select athletes who are gunning for late season glory, a shorter transition into the next season of training will occur. For everyone else, the spring and summer racing season will come to an end early, leaving a larger transition time between the end of one season and the start of the next. Training through this period should be productive to prevent great losses in fitness.
Late Season Racing
Having a race on the schedule keeps you motivated. So, when it comes time for a long transition, you want to plan races to keep motivation high but select race events that sound fun and are low pressure. Support local, club or team events, along with charity and fall themed events. There are plenty of these from Grand Fondos for cyclists to fall trail runs for runners. This keeps you focused on training but also keeps the mental side of training stress low. Space your events as well. There is no need to be racing every weekend during the fall. Allow time to train and have fun. Take a break from the mental grind to do well and stoke the fire for future goals.
Be Consistent and Mix it Up
Training and racing all year long builds a large base of aerobic fitness, so there is less need to train with high volume late in the year. The occasional long day on the bike or while running can be fun and uplifting, but there is no need to log greater weekly and monthly hours. A full season of racing and training will build a great amount of training stress to recover from. Shorter training days and moderate weekly hours will allow you to maintain fitness while recovering from the training stress of the season. Be consistent though, a few weeks of missed training will result in a loss of fitness. Also, focus on the polar opposites of training – one day working harder short threshold and sub-threshold efforts, followed by an easy day of zone 1-2 paced work. Keep the hard effort days to a few days a week, while incorporating plenty of zone 1-3 days between. This helps maintain your strengths, while allowing good recovery.
Cross training is an obvious when it comes to fall training. It gives your mind a break from the consistent mental focus needed for one sport. Training different muscle groups, while still stressing the lungs, heart and cardiovascular systems, helps maintain proper balance and good health. Cross training allows you to reap the physical benefits of other sports. For example, running for cyclists helps stress the bones, something that does not happen when on the bike. Cycling is a low impact sport, so stressing the bones through the fall can help prevent bone density issues later in life. On the flip side, cycling for runners can give the bones and joints a break. Of course this advice does not apply to a triathlete but even triathletes can find an alternative cross training activity such as trail hiking, or rowing. Start slow with cross training sessions. Incorporate easy zone 1-2 workouts once a week for at least 3-4 weeks. Then incorporate more intensity from there.
Strength training usually takes a back seat during the race season and for good reason. When you’re focused on doing well in a race the last thing you need to be recovering from is a hard strength session days prior. So it is typical for most athletes to reduce strength training sessions to a minimum during race season. Once your season is over, it is critical to not let a large gap in strength training happen. Just like a loss of fitness will happen if you miss a few weeks of endurance training, the same will happen with core strength. Start incorporating strength sessions at least once a week after your last important race. Focus on maintaining strength through the fall season with weekly core exercises such as yoga, Pilates, kettlebell work or simple body exercises. If you’re focused on repetitions, work 10-15 reps per set with 1-2 minutes between sets. The goal is to maintain and build core strength at this time, to prepare you for more core work through the winter and spring seasons.
When there are no major goals to be accomplished, fall training should be consistent and fun. It should also be a time to reflect on your past season. What goals did you accomplish and what ones did you miss? A long fall transition is the time to set new goals and learn from past mistakes. It is also a time to reap the fitness benefits of your season and enjoy the road, trail, water or wherever you find your excitement for training.