So far I’ve covered all of the common periods in the season and how they might be tweaked to match the unique needs of the senior athlete – Prep, Base, Build, Peak and Race. That brings us to the last period of the macrocycle – Transition. This one is easy to explain because not only is it inherently simple, there are also no tweaks in it due to age. So what I described in my Training Bible books may be applied regardless of age. But just in case you don’t have one of those books (shame on you!), I’ll explain it here.
The Transition period is so named because it serves as the bridge between the previous macrocycle – the one that just ended with the last race of the season – and the next macrocycle that will prepare you for your next A-priority race. Its purpose is to give you a much-needed break from the singular focus on structured and challenging training. An athlete who spent the previous several months working hard needs mental recovery as much as a physical break. The desire for rest and a lifestyle change, albeit short-lived, is a good sign that the athlete gave it their all in the previous macrocycle.
As for training in the strictest sense of the term, there is none in the Transition period. That doesn’t mean you should all of a sudden become a couch spud. Continue to exercise, but do not “train.” Exercise in this case means short duration, low intensity and done only for fun. Don’t exercise if you don’t feel like it. There is no planning. Decide every day what you will do, if anything. An alternative sport is often a good idea. For example, if you are a runner, go for bike rides or swims or whatever you feel like doing mixed in with a little running. Dismiss the feeling of guilt because you aren’t training hard. All of this low-key approach now will pay off with better mental focus and enthusiasm as you return to training later. Getting started too early on the next macrocycle may eventually come back to haunt you in the form of burnout – the mental burden of seeing no end to this concentration on high performance.
Besides providing a break from training, the Transition period also gives you the opportunity to evaluate how the previous macrocycle went. Good questions you might ask yourself now are: If I did it over again, what changes would I make in my preparation? What did I learn about myself and the sport?
The Transition period may be as short as five days or as long as two months. The shortest periods are typical after in-season races when you have another one coming up in a few weeks. The longest Transitions usually occur at the end of the season. For example, if you have two A-priority races in a season separated by, let’s say, two months, you may have a five-day Transition after the first and after the last race take a much-needed break of four weeks.
For the senior athlete it’s alright to now omit the workouts I’ve emphasized you should have been doing throughout the season – strength training and high-intensity aerobic capacity workouts. But I’d suggest going no longer than about four weeks without doing these. You need a break. So if your Transition period lasts for longer than a month, begin reintroducing such training after four weeks. Use the fartlek workout type I described earlier and keep the total high-intensity in a single, weekly workout on the low end, around three to five minutes. Strength training should resume with the Anatomical Adaptation (AA) phase (scroll to bottom of page here). Some athletes may be able to reintroduce these earlier in Transition and some later. Only you, and perhaps your coach, can make that decision. There’s some wiggle room here.
So what should you do if you have planned an A-priority race following your “regular” season, perhaps in a related but somewhat different sport (such as triathlete running a marathon or a road cyclist doing a cyclocross race)? This presents a huge problem if you are mentally and physically drained at the end of your season. In that case you certainly need a long Transition and another race jeopardizes your next macrocycle. But if you have committed to another race you may have to shorten or forego the Transition period. Sometimes that works out alright and other times it’s a great mistake. So what should you do? There is no one-size-fits-all formula for solving this conundrum. The options are 1) to start training after a very short Transition and take your chances that you’ll come through it ok with no deleterious effects on the next regular season, and 2) change the next race from A- to B-priority and get some much-needed rest and recovery now. Then do what you can with the remaining time to prepare for the race. If you choose option #1 I can’t tell you how to periodize the preparation. There are far too may variables to offer a solution that fits everyone. Only you (or your coach) know enough to decide that.
So that’s it. In my next post I’ll wrap up all of this aging stuff and tell you where it’s leading me. Stay tuned.