Getting Back to “Normal” this Spring

Coach Simon Butterworth on the bike portion of an Ironman
February 25, 2021

Simon Butterworth



The Last 12 Months

Looking out my window onto the Coal Creek Trail (have been running and biking on it a lot this past year) I would say the good news is that the general health of our population has taken an uptick.  More people are out on the trail, running, biking (a huge increase), and walking.  Most are not thinking of doing a triathlon but perhaps some were.  Either way, health improvement is one of the good things going on and I hope it has got some couch potatoes permanently outside.  

During the warm weather, it was clear that the uptick in bike use was also on the roads. And with regards to swimming, my sense is pool use is down.  Some of that is forced on us with the limitations on lane use but on most days that I swim not all the lanes are in use.  This has become even more so as winter has taken over.  

This racing stat may come as a surprise to some (those who sensibly wrote off 2020 by early March), we have only had two Ironman races in North America since the beginning of 2020 and they were Florida and Cozumel in November.  There were three more worldwide.  There were three 70.3 races.  Local races suffered the same fate, there were only two or three in my neck of the woods, the Colorado Front Range.  There were of course some virtual races, some outdoors, and some on trainers but if racing was your motivation last year, it was a bad year.  

Keep all this in mind as you read on.  

What to expect and do in 2021

So, what’s in store for us in 2021.  This time last year it was fast becoming clear that we would not be racing much.  Some pessimism is still in order so that we don’t get too disappointed again, but I think it’s time to plan to get back to racing.  

If an IM or 70.3 event is something you want to do badly, I hope you anticipated what has happened.  Most NA races filled up before the end of the year.  However, if you did not anticipate that, know there is still some hope, you can sign up to be on a waitlist.  My guess is that they are expecting some of those who transferred from last year's canceled race to bow out in time to let others in.  I hope this becomes permanent; it will make it a bit easier to get into races.  

I was personally not taking any chances and when the race I had targeted, Coeur d’Alene opened up. I registered that day.  Last week I put myself on the waiting list for two other races after Cd’ A as possible insurance.  Even if you don’t have a definite reservation for an IM but want to do one getting on a waitlist or two makes sense, and it costs nothing.  The other option for IM obsessed athletes is to sign up for a non-IM branded race, it’s cheaper and you will be very welcome, I'm sure.  

An alternative for the IM obsessed and the rest of you is just focusing on shorter, local races.  Work on your speed.  Giving up on the idea of an IM this year could be a great strategy too.  Get faster over shorter distances and come back to IM in 2022 setting a PR or perhaps a Kona slot.  Warning:  those of you who have been IM obsessed might find the short stuff more fun and stick with it.  

Normal Spring Activity

So, what should a “Normal” spring training look like?  Unfortunately, there is no longer a simple answer to the question, and it will depend on what you have been doing these past 12 months and the last 3 years.  

Coach Simon on the left with D3 athlete Brent and his wife after IM Boulder

Let me start by saying that if you have a coach you should always at the end of the day take their advice.  After all, if you don’t, why have a coach?  For those who are coached what I have to say should help with the discussions with your coach.  Those of you on your own, please don’t simply take my word, do some research on your own, there is a mountain of advice out there.   

The challenge with preparing for a summer of racing, even when things are normal, is there is no longer one recommended way.  The Old School approach, which I still think has its place, as do many other coaches, is to first build endurance, aka Base Training, then start to build the strength and intensity of workouts in a Build Phase and finally training in a way that is specific to the racing you are anticipating.  

There are coaches who now advocate an early development of speed and strength leaving the building of endurance to late spring and early summer and then finishing up with race-specific training. The exact timing of this depends of course on the date of your first A race.  This alternative also can work nicely in climates like ours where it is cold and miserable this time of year and not conducive to long rides or runs.

What’s different this year?  

There is a very good chance this spring will not be normal as you have not been doing exactly what you normally do through the winter, and all of 2020.  

I am still somewhat old school, as regards to what to be doing on the back of a normal year.  I do readily accept the idea that for someone who has been very consistent for a number of years with their training that abandoning the traditional approach is fine.  Your aerobic engine will be in fine order and able to accept an early jump to intense workouts, with some appropriate build.   What is an appropriate build depends on age, how active you have been over the offseason, and your history of injury.  Ramping up the intensity too fast on a weak frame is inviting trouble.  

This spring's training will also need to consider what - if any - races you have coming up before mid-summer.  If you are signed up for an early-season race and you have been working towards that over the winter, then even with the uncertainty you should assume the best and keep going.  

This is my personal plan for Cd’ A. I have been building back some endurance after an easy fall.  Now I will be building in more intensity for a couple of months and then working on race-specific training.  Based on what we heard recently from the CEO of Ironman, they are not going to postpone races until given no choice, which could be at very short notice.  If that happens with Cd’ A I will back off the training to what I would call maintenance.  How long that will last will depend on what might be next, but if I am peaking for Cd’ A at that point it will be at least a week, probably two.  Then I will pick back up based on what’s next and how soon it is.   Hopefully, that will mean one of my waitlist IM races.  If the postponement happens sooner, it will be easier to adjust the plan and get in some recovery time from the level I have reached so far.  One idea rattling around in my head is doing a solo IM if Cd’A gets canceled a week or two before the event. I might not run a full marathon but for sure do the swim and bike and at least 2 hrs of running (something I never do normally).  

Some Alternative Thoughts (for this Spring)

I wrote a little less than a year ago about taking advantage of the downtime to work on technique and pursue different sports.  I wish this article about the benefits of ballet training in other sports had been published back then.  One of the friends I have made in Hawaii spent her early career in ballet and is one of three women who have finished Ultraman in their 60’s. 

Another sport that seems to work well for success in triathlon is ice hockey.  A hockey semi-pro athlete won his first-time Ironman in the amateur ranks in Florida, 2003.  Extending your cross-country skiing might be another good choice.  

If you are thinking of sitting out another year, or only getting back to racing at the end of this season for sure you should be focused on technique and maintaining fitness for at least two or more months.

Depending on what happens with races through mid-summer another approach might work well.  Another of my Ultraman friends takes a week or two off from aerobic exercise periodically throughout the year and focuses on strength and mobility.  That might just be the right change of pace if things don’t get back to normal as fast as we would like (might be a good idea anyway).  

There is a reason I cite Ultraman success as an indicator of extreme fitness. Developing the strength of all the core and supporting muscles to complete any triathlon is critical to a fast performance as the distance goes up it becomes critical to just finishing. Those of you who have done an IM know what happens when you try to run off the bike. Even if you get comfortable with that after the first few miles chances are you have experienced the dreaded shuffle that slows you down later on. You have to put that feeling off for much longer in three days of swimming cycling and running (double marathon) and the only way is to have strength and stamina in the stability muscles.

Putting things in perspective.  

I have some family history that helps me put the past year and the next one in some perspective (I have, I know, talked about this elsewhere).  On October 29, 1918, my paternal grandmother died of the flu in the last worldwide pandemic.  I don’t know if my grandfather had returned from the trenches of WWI but probably not since the war ended November 11.  What he went through in the last days of the war is hard to imagine.  In those days a single father raising children was not often heard of.  Children, when they lost their mum, were farmed out to relatives.  Such was the case with my dad and his three sisters, one of them was collected by family from San Francisco to see her siblings only once after that (they were all born in England, as I was).  

There are now more of those kinds of sad stories 100 years on.  Perhaps even soldiers returning from our longest war to a family death from Covid.  So, worrying and getting upset about racing and the lack thereof needs to be put in perspective.  In all aspects of life, I think we should now be planning for a better time.   It may take a bit longer than we would wish but we are at least on the right trajectory.  

Coach Simon Butterworth works with athletes to develop both short-term and long-term objectives that work well within the context of the other things they have going on in their life. He encourages them to ask questions, look for clarification, and to challenge them where appropriate.

He holds credentials from:

  • USAT Certified Coach
  • USMS Swim Coach
  • FIST Certified Bike Fitter
  • Training Peaks Certified Coach

Coach Simon Butterworth has an experienced philosophy about coaching.  The key ingredients in a good coach/athlete relationship are regular and open communication, mutual respect, and keeping it fun for the athlete and their family.  His training programs are developed with those ideas at the forefront. He works with athletes to develop both short-term and long-term objectives that work well within the context of the other things they have going on in their life.

Coach Simon is a 2X World Ironman Champion and has 16 Ironman World Championships races to his credit. He has finihsed on the podium 7x.  He is a USAT Certified Coach, USMS Swim Coach, FIST Certified Bike Fitter and Training Peaks Certified Coach.

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