Saturday, December 28, 2013

What Happened to the Off Season?

I used to herald the coming of the off season as if it were the coming of Jesus Christ himself. The off season was a solace, a time for peace, love, and food. Yet there has become a movement amongst athletes to eliminate the off season.

I'm quite sure that this movement began, like most other strange fads, at the professional level. Yes, at some point, trickle down means that the aero helmet became relatively affordable, carbon race wheels are within reach, and a new triathlon bike runs that gamut from less than $1,000 all the way to $10,000. Yet we've also seen a movement towards the elite practices of elite athletes. This is by no means entirely bad, but it is certainly not all good. Age groupers get hurt trying to emulate the distances of the top professionals' practices. And increasingly, they have eliminated the off season. I now feel slightly guilty, and more than a little judged when I tell my fellow athletes that I'm taking the last two weeks of December and the first two weeks of January off, or whatever the period is.
Call of Duty counts as a sport, right?
None of this is the fault of the reader. Rather it's known in communication studies as the dominate culture. The dominate culture, which in this context means the top professional triathletes, imparts a sense of almost unworthiness, so that we feel that we must aspire to be them. We feel that we must train, eat, and sleep like the dominate culture because we aspire to be them.

Not all of this is a bad thing. As a result, people are more willing to push their personal limits. They tend to eat healthier, sleep more, and train harder. Yet for Joe Average, it also means that he feels an inadequacy. This constant pursuit of the professional lifestyle, whether he knows it or not, means that he is willing to do things that aren't really consistent with the lifestyle that he lives. After all, the term professional athlete means that triathlon is their job. It's not just a weekend event, every time they toe the line, they're earning sponsorship dollars and appearance fees. They also spend a significant amount of time at the computer, trying to get their name out there and be noticed. However, they are able to train four, five, even six hours a day because their professional obligation is to train.

This need for top end performance means that these triathletes spend a lot of time trying to figure out ways to get a leg up on the competition. And now, instead of spending almost a month completely off, a lot of athletes spend only a week or two, here and there. In between, they race cyclocross or do Xterra (off road triathlons). Now, because they are the dominate culture, what do you suppose happens? Suddenly, Joe Average feels that to be the best that he can be, he shouldn't take time off. In fact, what I've seen many people do is skip the entire off season, all in the name of top end performance.

Of course, this ends up being costly. Joe Average is no great athlete like Craig Alexander. He doesn't have the fiery passion of Mirinda Carfrae. So Joe Average burns out. He gets tired of constantly being tired because he isn't used to a massive training load week after week. He doesn't have a coach in his ear telling him exactly what work outs to get take easily or the ones that really count. And he doesn't see the value in the off season.
You can find me in the corner, crying.
While I'm in the off season, I don't stop training. Sure, I'm not swimming eight thousand yards, biking 120 miles, and running 6 miles. Instead, I like to take some time to engage in activities that I usually wouldn't (see my article The Benefit of Off Season Cross Training). And that's what the off season should really be about.

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