Off-Season BHAGs

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As an engineer and technical executive who worked in industry for many years, I encountered plenty of TLAs in my time (three-letter-acronyms, that is).  One of these that has always stuck with me is the BHAG (pronounced like beehag).  While it is actually a 4-letter acronym, you get the idea…

A BHAG is a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal.  It was a concept introduced in a business book by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras.  These BHAGs are strategic goals that can help provide vision and direction to an organization and are often emotionally charged in some way, meant to help a group of people stretch to achieve a common objective that may be perceived as particularly challenging.  They can also exist at many different time scales.  For example, a BHAG for a beginning endurance athlete might be to finish an Ironman.  Let’s face it, while it is regular occurrence for some, for many, running a marathon after a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bike ride seems a little daunting.  Finishing an Ironman may be the over-arching BHAG, but a more short-term goal on a different time-scale than the overall BHAG might be riding 100 miles without stopping, for example.

As type-A people, many triathletes are driven by objectives like this and having BHAGs can be great.  Having these goals to drive our long-term progression is awesome, but taking an off-season break is critical in long-term development and keeping the big picture in mind.  Your body needs time to recharge and refresh.  As endurance athletes, we spend a large part of the year placing a substantial stress on our bodies, challenging our immune systems, and generally operating in a state of energy deficit.  To maintain long-term health and progress in performance year-over-year, an annual period of little-to-no training is a must.  Our systems need a chance to recover and our minds need a chance to rejuvenate from the continual wired, type-A, on-the-go lifestyle busy triathletes maintain during the majority of the year.

While this break, which generally should be anywhere between 2 and 6 weeks (dependent on many factors), is paramount, we do eventually want to get the body moving again in some way prior to the next season.  While it may not be wise to get started back onto a strict regime with the intention of building fitness right away, having some physical activity will help get the body back in motion, prevent insanity from lack of endorphins, and even help stave off the dreaded holiday weight gain.  In general, activity during this time period (after a good, solid break of no activity – or only very light activity if you must), is a good thing, but doing something different and not jumping back into the traditional triathlon training schedule can be helpful.

This is where the “Off-season BHAG” comes in.   The time between racing seasons can be used for many things (a break included): working on weaknesses, building strength, developing a skill in a new area.  With the next race season a long way off, and particularly for those that live in an area where the weather prevents true triathlons until at least April or even late May, a BHAG can sometimes be just the way to keep things interesting and build some forward progression without getting too hung up on a hard-core training plan.

Some example BHAGs that could work in an offseason are:

  • Swim for 30 days straight – swimming is the most technical of our three disciplines in triathlon and requires the correct motor patterns to apply power to propel your body forward through the water.  However, it is the easiest to recover from and the easiest on our body, as it is a no-impact exercise.  Simply getting in the water and completing a mindful session for 30 days straight can enlighten you and potentially provide the foundation for a breakthrough in your swimming.

  • Finishing a 10K swim set – if you are lesser experienced swimmer (like most triathletes), use the offseason to focus on swimming and build to a 10K swim set.  Like the previous examples, this has the benefit of detaching from time or performance goals, and keep things focused on the process and less on the outcome.

  • Completing a 100 – mile mountain bike ride – the winter, for many, is the time to get on the cross bike or the mountain bike.  A long, long bike ride on the fat tires can also be something to work towards.

  • 100 runs in 100 days – the annual 100 run challenge on SlowTwitch is a great way to build some volume through frequency.  It can provide excellent motivation to keep moving and improve your running.  Keeping the efforts short and VERY easy (for it to count as a “run” in the SlowTwitch challenge, there is a 30-minute minimum), will also help minimize any risk of injury.  If 100 seems daunting, consider a 2-month challenge, roughly 60 runs in 60 days.

  • Completing a 50K trail-run – while a winter or spring marathon is not something I would likely recommend for most (that’s another topic altogether), a 50K trail run *could* be appropriate for some athletes.  It provides for a break from the pounding of running on the road and can also help by detaching you from time or pace-based objectives, shifting the focus to simply finishing.  Plus running in the woods is just plain fun.

Take note of the common themes of these BHAGs.  They all require some amount of planning and some amount of building fitness; most average athletes would not be able to jump right in.  While I probably wouldn’t suggest dropping the other sports altogether, they each divert you, to some degree, from a full-blown triathlon training program.  They each focus on process and not on outcome or result.  It is more about finishing than it is about finishing in a certain time.

If you’re looking for a challenge and next year’s race season is not right around the corner, consider an off-season BHAG.  It can keep you moving forward, maintain some variety, and will still help maintain or build fitness as you go!

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