The best ... rest

The best ... rest

Nick Modrzejewski of Champaign will probably gain some weight in the next couple of months. Instead of rising at 4:30 a.m. to ride his bike trainer, he’ll sleep in, enjoy holiday treats and meet friends for a beer or a movie.

The offseason can be a productive time for endurance athletes such as Modrzejewski. But the way to make the most of it is not with a five-hour ride on the bike trainer in the basement or a three-hour slog through ice and snow. Modrzejewski advises the athletes he coaches to take a break from long hours of training and a strict diet to recover both physically and mentally from racing season.

Modrzejewski is a runner and triathlete who has done five Ironman triathlons. He has been informally coaching runners for a number of years, and he began coaching triathletes earlier this year through SuperFly Coaching.

“I do really believe in getting a mental break and making sure there is a change of focus,” Modrzejewski said. “We can still be athletes, but with a high volume (of training) all year, there’s a risk of burnout.”

Blog PhotoWhen he finished an Ironman race in early November last year, Modrzejewski made a goal of putting on 10 pounds in the offseason.

“I wanted to enjoy the food the holidays bring and not have to worry about it, not have to choose carrot sticks over a piece of cake,” he said. “I don’t like to see athletes on such a restricted diet. Especially during the offseason, they can loosen up a little bit.”

One thing athletes should be doing during the offseason, though, is strength training.

“We tend to drop strength and conditioning sessions when we’re in the middle of training. Winter is a great time to get back to that,” Modrzejewski said.

He recommends working on core and hip strength during the offseason. Once training for races resumes, athletes can continue strengthening with lighter weights and incorporate range of motion exercises to ensure they have a good stride while running and their hips don’t tighten up while biking, he said.

The next couple of months are also a good time for planning. Modrzejewski asks the athletes he coaches to pick the races they want to do and their goals for those races. Then he helps them outline a training schedule that will help them reach those goals.

For example, one of his athletes plans to do Ironman Chattanooga next September and he wants to break 13 hours. Modrzejewski said his focus will be on swim training in order to get faster in the water. He will also need to do more strength work on the bike to ensure he can tackle the hilly course. But right now, Modrzejewski is encouraging the triathlete to lift weights and play basketball and volleyball — all things he enjoys that will give him a mental break from long training rides.

Another important objective of planning in the offseason is figuring out what barriers an athlete might have in training and how to overcome them. One common barrier is the limited amount of time an athlete has to train outside of work and family commitments. Modrzejewski looks at the time an athlete has available to train and develops a training program that fits into that athlete’s schedule.

He also listens carefully for clues to an athlete’s motivation. If he or she complains of feeling fatigued or does not want to train or race, the athlete may be overtraining and need to rest.

“We do these things because they’re fun and we like doing them. If that’s not the case anymore, we need time to get away,” he said.

Finally, Modrzejewski looks at training and racing data to determine what physical weaknesses need work.

Self-coached athletes can find online assessment tools to help them understand what areas they need to work on in the upcoming season, Modrzejewski said. They can also look at data such as pace and heart rate, as well as how they stack up against competitors in their races.

 Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner, swimmer and triathlete. You can email her at, or follow her at Her blog is at

Photo: Champaign's Nick Modrzejewski competes in the 2016 Tri Shark triathlon near Hudson. Photo provided by Nick Modrzejewski.

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