The end of the season is the perfect time to reflect back on the past season and then look ahead. Before you can even start thinking about where you want to go next year, honestly assess where you went and how it went for this year. A simple way to review your season is to answer 3 basic questions: what worked, what didn’t work, what needs work. You can also break down your season into categories; swim, bike, run, racing, training, consistency, recovery, testing/progress, nutrition, equipment, mental. Answer the 3 basic questions for each category to get a snapshot of how things went. Sometimes just taking the time to ask yourself the question generates obvious answers that are easily within your control to change or improve.
Let’s now take a comprehensive look at everything that plays into your season’s success.
Take a look at your training log and ask yourself: how did it go? Get in the habit of keeping subjective and objective details of your daily training. Read through a few weeks – were there trends that indicated you would soon be tired? What led to your best sessions? Were the busiest times at work also where you got that little niggle in your ankle? Do you have less time for training when your kids are on summer vacation? Was there a pattern to your training, balancing work with recovery? Start to put together your formula from the patterns that emerge.
Also ask: what were the most helpful sessions? What did you enjoy the least? Was there a pattern to your weekly workouts that left you feeling energized? Do you do better with a long run during the week or on weekends? How about intensity? It’s easy for everyone to enjoy intense sessions but did they leave you feeling overworked? Were long sessions to depleting? Which workouts did you fear the most? Which did you look forward to? Answers to these questions will help you and your coach better understand the best path for you next season.
Step back and assess the "big" picture. What’s your plan for training? Is there a plan or is it haphazardly based on the weather or available time? Having a master plan helps you define not only where you want to go but how you’re going to get there. Your training should have specific cycles based on your strengths, your weaknesses, when your peak races occur and the demands required for them. There should be clear weeks of work and clear weeks of stepping back. Training should be progressive, building upon what you’ve done in the weeks before. Plan how to do the right training at the right time.
Swim, Bike & Run:
How did your swim go this year? Did you improve your swim pace or did it stay the same? If your swim held you back, consider your swim form, fitness and frequency. If form, hook up with an experienced swim specific coach to work on your stroke, once a week for 8-12 weeks. If fitness, consider joining a quality masters program and learn to work at varied paces. If frequency, SWIM MORE. December is a good time to try a swim heavy month: swim 5-6x a week for at least 30 minutes at a time. More advanced athletes should consider one day where they swim twice. A powerful punch of swimming like this often boosts an athlete to that next level, at a time of the year where there’s really not much else going on!
How did things go with the bike? What’s holding you back? Equipment, fitness, strength or frequency? If fitness and strength, GET A POWER METER! An entire winter’s worth of trainer work will take on a whole new level with a power meter. Include 1-2 shorter, more intense training sessions during the winter where you work on improving your FTP. If frequency – just ride! Ride to work, ride to the coffee shop – time in the saddle works. If equipment, now is the time of the year to look at year end closeouts for deals on equipment upgrades.
What about running? What’s holding you back? Durability, frequency, fitness or speed? If durability, work on your body composition, look to changing your shoes, strength train with purpose, consider running more off road to protect yourself. If frequency, simple: run more frequently – short, frequent runs add up! Even shorter, twice a day running adds up to more running (which sets you up for more speed). What about speed, is that holding you back? Stop running long and slow, it will only make you run long and slow. Do some 5Ks. Run hills. Include strides. All of these things will improve your speed without doing intensive speedwork. Is fitness holding you back? Base your training on current heart rate or pace zones. Stop following heart rate guidelines that were not specifically designed for you. Heck, stop using your heart rate monitor and run by feel for a month and learn how to trust your inner dial.
Testing & Progress:
Over the course of the year, you should see progress in your swim pace, bike power and run pace. What we’re looking for are consistent ways to measure your progress. Using race splits or bike speed or open water pace are not necessarily useful as these are influenced by things beyond our control; course measurement, wind, hills, current, waves. Compare what you can accurately and consistently measure. Doing a bike test on the trainer is something we can replicate over and over again. If you’re not seeing measurable progress, ask yourself why. Training? Illness? Injury? Motivation? If you see a pattern of under-performing or missing your race goals, look to yourself but also look to your training plan. Also, be sure you are realistically evaluating yourself. The more of a beginner you are, the bigger the gains you’ll make in progress. The more experienced you are, the harder you have to work for every single second!
Fitness and progress come from consistency over time. The more interruptions you have in your training, the less you will continue on an upward trend of gaining fitness. Illness, injury, work travel, vacations, periods of low motivation – these are all interruptions to overall consistency. Look back at your year of training and racing – note any interruptions and then reflect on why. Missed races, missed training days, big weeks that got derailed. Think about why it happened and then create an action plan should it happen again.
Travel presents an inconvenient interruption for many working athletes. With a little research into what’s available and planning, you should be able to work around any days away. Never underestimate the power of a 20 minute workout on a day when you think you won’t be able to get anything done. A 10 minute out and back run is better for consistency than taking a day off. Body strength routines, climbing stairs – you can fake a workout just about anywhere without having too many holes in your schedule. Plan major work trips or vacations around “step back” weeks so you don’t have as much pressure to train and can lessen your workload.
Illness is another costly interruption. Most illness comes from compromised immune function. Improper diet, poor recovery, excessive training, lack of sleep, stress – these will impair your immune function. Commit to make changes to not only how you train but how you recover from your training. Take on only as much training as you can realistically handle with balancing your “real” life demands. Furthermore, respect your body when it’s sick. It’s a signal that your body is fighting and needs some rest. Listen to it and don’t push through.
Avoiding injury is the goal of every season. Like illness, there’s always a reason for injury – too much training, too little recovery, poor diet, improper equipment. Look at when, where and why your injury occurred. Form an action plan on how to avoid it – commit to spending 10 minutes each night on self-massage, schedule a bi-monthly active release therapy appointment, go to a weekly yoga class. Address your problem areas, be sure that your equipment is suitable for your body, form, experience level and training load.
Assess your race results. Write them all out in a chart where you list splits, placement, data. With all of these numbers, a pattern should emerge. Were you moving up in your age group percentage? Was your bike pacing improving in similar races on similar courses? How about your power output? Were you able to hit your race ranges? How was your variability? How was your execution of a fuel plan? Did you demonstrate ability to troubleshoot and make sound decisions within the race? Make some notes next to each race about: what worked, what didn’t work. Keep these notes on record to review next year before your races. If your race results improved over the year, congratulations, that is the point of training. If your results stagnated or worsened, ask yourself why? If you excel at training but struggle at racing, learn how to put together a race plan and then execute it. Learn how to troubleshoot and strategize while racing. Plan a routine for the days before the race, night before, morning of and post-race. Preparation is confidence. Confidence is PERFORMANCE in racing! .
Understanding the connection between what you eat and how you recover/perform is key to better performance. Look back at times you had your best races, times you got sick – what was your diet like? Learning when to remove fiber, timing of your meals and how to fuel before/during/after workouts and races is something you must commit to for progress and recovery. The best approach to nutrition is one that is simple and sustainable. If you are stressed about how to make your special “diet” happen, it’s not worth it. Furthermore, separate media, glamour and what everyone else is doing from what is actually right FOR YOU. While there may be outliers who can tolerate extreme diets, in general keep your diet simple, sustainable, well-rounded, wholesome and high quality. If you’re struggling, consult with a professional to learn how and what to eat. Go to and trust the experts – and learn who is an expert, someone with the letters “RD” behind their name!
Look at how your weight trended over the past season – did you gain? Lose? What about body fat percentage? Many athletes get stuck on the idea of “race weight” pulling some magical number out of the sky that they have always wanted to see on the scale. Your race weight is the weight at which you recover and perform the best. You might run faster at a lower weight but if you are not healthy at that weight, it is not your race weight. Moreover, understand that you should achieve race weight by race day and not a day earlier. And, your goal should not be a number on the scale, rather a pattern of eating and health that allows you to train consistently, recover and improve throughout the year. Be realistic about your weight.
Want to get faster? Improve your recoverability. Here’s how: Train smarter. Eat better. Sleep more. Stress less. Compression, supplements, massage, recovery boots – all of that stuff is nice fluff to add on top of the other things that you actually must do to recover better. The quicker you can recover from a workout, the more work you can do. Take an honest look at the recovery needed to make gains from your training sessions. Most age group athletes can handle 1 – 2 “key” sessions in a sport per week. Sometimes “key” means “race specific pacing” while other times it means “intensity”. Just because something is “hard” doesn’t mean it’s effective training. Athletes tend to fall into patterns of two days of work, two days of rest or alternating hard and easy days. Neither is right for you unless it actually works for you. Learn to listen to your body’s rhythms and cues.
Aside from your pattern of workouts, sleep is critical for recovery. Not just quantity but quality! Consider the quality of your sleep during your biggest training blocks in the past year. If you had frequently interrupted sleep, you perhaps reached too far or recovered too little. This is useful information in planning out your next season. If you find yourself having trouble falling asleep, consider doing workouts earlier or spacing out meals further from bedtime. If you wake up between 1 – 2 am, this is a classic sign that you are not meeting your recovery carbohydrate needs. Learn to fuel properly before, during and after workouts. If you wake up around 4 am, this is indicative of disrupted cortisol patterns which can arise from stress (either personal, training or the stress or improper fueling). Lessen that stress load (which is often most easily done and quickly repaired by removing the training stress).
Nutrition is the other major piece of recovery (I’ve already covered that!).
You might need some help with this one, as it’s not often easy to see our own weaknesses. How’s your head? When you get stressed or tired, where do your thoughts go? Did you have any workout failures – what happened in your head? How do you handle setbacks, failures or tests? How do you feel on race morning? Do you need to work on your confidence, focus, your perspective? The mind is easily ignored but the driving force behind your best training and racing. How to improve your mental game? Read books, articles weekly on how to become a better athlete. Put what you read into practice. Believe in yourself and your abilities. Stop overthinking. Stop worrying about what other people think. Disconnect from social media, learn to listen to the thoughts in your head. Practice having a quiet mind once a day. Visualize the athlete you want to be – in training and racing. Truly “be” the athlete you want to be. Commit to training your brain at least once a week starting today.
Motivation also falls under the mental category and can be a major interruptive factor that ebbs and flows throughout the year. Did you frequently suffer from motivation lows? Low motivation can be a red flag that you are under recovering. As your body gets stressed and hormones get imbalanced from training, work stress, personal stress – you get “tapped out” in a sense and find it hard to find joy or desire in doing things you once loved. If you find yourself approaching that edge, respect it and take a step back until you find your fire again. What about timing – were you on fire in the spring and cooked by the summer? Some athletes are naturally more motivated to perform well early in the season while others can sustain focus long into the fall. Consider the type of athlete you are and arrange your next season’s schedule accordingly.
An honest look at the season behind you is the only way to improve the season ahead of you. Share this review with your coach to launch a valuable conversation on how to keep striving towards your best performances. Or, consult with a coach to see how they can help. Above all, consistently seek to improve yourself! This means a willingness to change and accepting that change is never easy. In his book, The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer says, “In order to do things we’ve never done before, we’ve got to do things we’ve never done before.” A simple way of saying: if you want change, you’ve got to change! Look at your season to find ways you can change (and improve) what you’ve been doing to get closer to your success!