Question: What can you recommend to help me stay injury free this season?
First and foremost I would suggest a using a structured training plan. Following a program which incorporates an appropriate mix of frequency, intensity, duration and type of training focus (swim, bike, run, strength, cross train, recovery, etc) in each workout will be fundamental to achieving the results you desire. The plan should be flexible, allow for changes when necessary, and should measure your progress every 4 weeks or so. By following a plan which meets these criteria, you will be able to build safely and effectively towards your goals for the season. There are thousands of generic training plans available for purchase which can assist you in preparing for your race. Keep in mind that they are not one size fits all. If you are serious about making some measurable gains and are looking for a dynamic personalized program that will specifically address your needs then you should consider a coach.
Secondly, I would emphasize rest & recovery. The stresses that your body endures while training demands that you incorporate recovery time into your schedule. Failure to do so will result in an accumulation of fatigue, which the stubborn athlete with the “no pain no gain” mentality may disregard; this can lead towards a more severe effect such as chronic injury. In many cases this puts an end to the athletes season or sidelines them from their top priority race. Some examples of common injuries are shin splints or Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS). Recovery becomes even more important as your workouts increase in volume and/or intensity. For many, dedicating at least one full day of the week towards recovery is key. This is a perfect day to catch up on weekly errands, spend time with the family, and get in some dedicated stretching time. Active recovery, such as yoga, pilates, or even an easy swim are all excellent choices as well. Sleep is the arguably the most important part of recovery….if you are exercising regularly you should be aiming for 8hrs a night or more. This is the time when your body mends itself so make it a high priority to get in some quality z’s.
Finally I would suggest that you include some strength training as part of your routine. Building up structural tolerance in your ligaments, tendons, and muscles will result in the ability for your body to endure as you increase the stresses it experiences, i.e. more training volume/intensity. Maintaining a strong core is also extremely important as most of the forces you generate start there. If your core is weak, your body will compensate by developing muscular imbalances, which often lead to injury.
I hope you find some of these pointers helpful and can enjoy a full summer of racing injury free.