My last semester of college I had to take a few base-classes I’d been putting off. One of those was European History.  

The goal was to cruise the class with little effort, grab my “C” and cross the stage with a diploma.  

The day after my first exam, the weathered, and irrationally intense history professor (who I called “Caesar” because of his not-so-vague fascination with the conquer) wandered the room handing out results to baby-faced-freshmen around me.  

I forced a smile after he called my name in dramatic fashion.  

His eyes pierced mine through his Benjamin Franklin glasses and he repeated my name for effect, “Mr. Tarrolly.”  

I said, “That’s me.” 

“Mr. Tarrolly, you’re a senior, correct?

“Oh yes.”

“Well, if you think just because you’re a senior, you’re going to waltz through my class without effort, you are making a big mistake.”

I scanned the room to see all freshman eyes on me before nervously looking away.

“Mr. Tarrolly, you just made the worst grade in the class.  One more score like this and you are putting your graduation in jeopardy.  Do you understand?”

I was furious, but he had me over a barrel.  I grabbed the test with a big red “F” on the front and stewed in silence for the rest of the class.  But Caesar definitely got my attention.  

I think the biggest mistake I’ve made immediately following all four of my Ironman races is . . . not taking advantage of the biggest training day of the year.  I typically just sit around and do nothing for the next few months, then crank it up January 2nd (after the Badgers bowl game).

But lazy is rarely a solid strategy.*

My biggest gains in 2016 came immediately after my 70.3 in Lake Logan.  I took one day off and went harder than ever.  The problem was, I only had about 5 weeks until Ironman Wisconsin and didn’t reach my peak.

It’s hard to keep the momentum, but I really believe NOW is the key to next year.  It’s about building the foundation so I’m ready to train right in January.

With that in mind I’ve been using two strategies.

  • Keep It Fun
  • Target Shape


Swimming – This is where I ALWAYS fall off the most.  The reason?  Because I literally stop swimming.  Fun for me in the pool is not pushing it too hard. Taking breaks, not going too far, etc.  I use pull buoys and paddles a lot.  Just getting in the pool is a win, and sweating out the chlorine in the sauna is a double bonus.

Biking – The Fall is a great time to ride, but after 112 miles of hell it’s really hard for me to clip on crusty shoes and ride a TT bike.  A mountain bike is far more comfortable and convenient.  I don’t use clips, I have a soft seat, and the terrain variables lend to a more stimulating ride.  When I ride I keep it easy, but work hard going up the hills.  

Running –  It’s nothing new, but I’ve re-discovered a great way to make running more enjoyable.  I walk up the hills.  This in contrast to working hard on climbs while riding my bike.  It is a tremendous relief knowing you have a “break” coming when you reach the bottom of a hill.  This gives me time on my feet without destroying my will.


The whole theory behind Target Shape is being ahead of the game and energized when January comes around.  Normally I start my training by working back into shape.  Pro athletes are expected to be in shape when they get to camp, and this is the same thing.

Swim – I have a simple swim goal of being comfortable with 1,500 – 2,000 January 2.  Normally I’m fighting to swim 500 without stopping.

Bike – By consistently biking 1.5-2 hours in the off season, either on a mountain bike or trainer, I’ll be ready to push that further in January.  The key for me now is to mentally accept “time on bike.”

Run – I want to be on the cusp of being ready for a stand alone 1/2 marathon.  I’m planning a couple before I get to Chattanooga and want to be able to tap speed training without shredding my tendons.

I’ve spent a lot of my “Ironman career” talking about the KONA dream, but haven’t built my foundation to make that happen.  I’ve always “crammed” for my Ironman test, but a slow, sustained grind is always best.

It’s funny how things become more enjoyable when you get better at a manageable pace.  It’s also amazing what you can do when you focus on the process instead of the prize.


After my humiliating moment in History class, I dug into every word of the assigned reading, and checked every box on the study guides.  I genuinely began to love European History.

After my mid-term Graduation ceremony, I was sitting at my parent’s for Christmas dinner when mom handed me the phone.


It was Caesar.

“Mike, this is Professor Jones.”


“Yes, I just wanted to say I’m proud of you.  You really turned things around and showed what you’re capable of.  I’ve just finished grading Final Exams and you had the highest score in the class.”

I wasn’t really surprised by my score, but the fact that my professor called me blew my mind.  It was honestly the highlight of my academic career and it only happened because I put in the work.  

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Off Season Preparation