Taking a break from triathlon training

Sometimes it can be glaringly obvious when taking a break from triathlon training is the right thing to do

Far too often the warning signs are ignored. There is a common misconception that taking an extended break of weeks, months, or even a year will be a step backward and will diminish the gains from all the hard work that got you to where you are.

Nothing could be further from the truth. When you come right down to it, taking a break from triathlon training might be the smartest decision a triathlete can make.

Remember when you first caught the triathlon bug and could hardly wait for after work or for the weekend so you could hit the pool, lace up those runners, or lock yourself into the pedals of your sleek tri-bike and hit the dusty highway?

We’ve all been there.

I can remember the days when I worked a full-time job and on my days off would work another job part-time job to help finance my triathlon career.

My second job was stuccoing houses. It was heavy work pushing around those wheel-barrows full of plaster in the stifling heat and spreading it on the outside walls of new homes.

I would work from seven to four with a 30 minute break for a lunch of tuna sandwiches on whole wheat bread. Often I was in such a hurry to get on my bike for a 50k training ride out on the country roads that I would still have cement dust on my hands.

It was the glory days when it just felt so right. It was the days when it was never a chore to work two jobs and train like a gladiator.

I’m sure most of you who are reading this have been there and know exactly what I’m taking about.

Here is a scenarios that is played out far too often in the world of triathlon training and especially Ironman Triathlon training.


I had an email the other week from an age-group Ironman triathlete from the United Kingdom.

He said, “I’m not sure what’s going on. I’ve finished three Ironman Triathlons in the past year and I’m training for another one that’s coming up in about four months.

For some reason I have to force myself to go out and train and it’s really becoming a struggle and not so much fun anymore. This has never happened to me.

I always seem to be tired even when I take a day off from training. Do you have any suggestions about what’s going on and what I can do about it?”

Well, this happens a lot and to me the problem and the cure were all too obvious.

What this triathlete was experiencing was the first signs of physical and perhaps even emotional burn-out. Our bodies are amazing and very adept at analyzing the stress levels we are putting on it. Its obvious that taking a break from triathlon training was something he had never considered.

It’s first line of self-preservation is to send out some warning signs. Loss of motivation, slow recovery, and always being tired are a few of those early warning signals.

For the most part triathletes are Type A personalities and prefer to go full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes, so we ignore the signals and keep pushing.


Yes, over-training is in effect abusing your body. Even though your body knows better, it will try it’s best to keep up with the demands you’re making on it.

When your body realizes you just aren’t getting the message it has to do something else to get your attention.

It will be subtle at first.

It could be that nagging pain in your heel, soreness in your knee, or other aches that used to always go away when you trained through them but now they seem to linger.

Still you keep pushing until you have a full-blown injury that can impact not only your next race or race season, but perhaps your entire triathlon career.

As an age-group Ironman who pushed his body to it’s very limits and effectively ended a career that could have lasted many years longer I can say first hand that triathletes have to learn how to listen to their body and take appropriate action when all the warning signs are there.


Ironman triathletes are usually very focused and fixate on their next race and often train themselves into the ground despite reaching a point where it has ceased to be fun.

If you are a fifty something triathlete and hope to be active in the sport for many years, it’s important to step back and look at the big picture.

When you are struggling through training try looking past that race that’s four or five months away and focus on the one that’s 15 or 20 years away when you’re 65 or 70 years old.

More and more triathletes are Ironman racing into their sixties and seventies and posting remarkable results.

Just being out there in your senior years can’t help but do wonders for quality of life and longevity.

So my advice to that triathlete in the UK was to fore-go that next race and take a year off from training.

Reconnect with family and friends and social life that has been put on the back-burner for so long.

It doesn’t mean you have to fall completely out of shape.

You can still maintain a well-balanced diet and at the same time treat yourself to some ice cream or Boston cream donuts now and then.

Instead of training five or six days a week and resting for one or two try resting for five or six and doing an easy swim or easy run once or twice a week.

Go for an easy run early on a Saturday or Sunday morning while the city sleeps. Forget about time, distance, and speed. Don’t worry about keeping to a schedule.

Just listen to you your body. You will feel it rejuvenate. You will feel your old self returning with every passing week.

You will be amazed and how great you will feel after a prolonged rest and time away from the rigors of demanding, constant, structured workouts.

Maybe a six month rest will be all you need. Once you have made the decision of taking a break from triathlon training you’ll know when it’s time to begin training full-time again.

When you do begin training again the key is to ease back into training over a few months so your body can re-adjust.

You might be very surprised at how quickly you regain your top form and how much fun it will be to get there.

Once you experience a long rest and recovery like this just once you will be more aware of the warning signs the next time and will know when another long rest is needed.

In effect, you could be extending your triathlon career for years or perhaps even decades if you consider taking a break from triathlon training instead of burning out.

You might find these pages interesting…

Ironman taper

Sports motivation

Ironman DNF

Ironman burnout

Ironman finish line

Triathlete leg shaving


Visit Ironman.com for race information.

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