Cold weather is arriving and I’m still training. As much as I enjoy the training, I’ll admit it is hard at times to stay focused since everyone else seems to be switching into off season mode.
I, however, cannot yet flip my switch.
But mark my words – after November 23rd you will find me knee deep buried in pumpkin pie and washing it down with Christmas wine. Yes friends, I will completely abstain from swim, bike and run for up to 30 days.
I wish everyone else would do the same!
You get a lot of squirrely chatter at this time of year. It’s apropos with all of the squirrely activity taking place outside. Athletes, like squirrels, stuff and scurry their thoughts about winter ahead into the head and send them to me. Everyone wants to be fit, fast, lean, strong, fit, fast, lean…you get the point.
And so they all want to rush into this or that. Making lists, thoughts and goals. And believe me – it’s great to look ahead but right now I think it’s better to look behind and just be. Let it go.
Why? Because in the words of a very wise pal: nothing you do in October will help you, only hurt you.
If you are done racing for the year, it’s time to be done. Seriously take a few weeks off of triathlon. Do not do a thing. Be a normal person again. Eat a little junk food. Drink a little wine. Sleep in late. Go for walks. Reconnect with family and friends. Shop. Gain some weight. Decondition.
Why? Because in order to recondition and get stronger you must first decondition and step back. Intuitively this sounds wrong. No one believes it. That cannot be what the top athletes are doing. But trust me – it is. It is not uncommon for the top pros to take many weeks completely off each year. NOTHING at all.
How can they come back stronger and faster then? Because they decondition and get deep recovery. Deep recovery takes place through total rest. Allowing yourself to get distracted with other things for awhile. Get out of shape. That way you will appreciate your shape more so when it comes back. You will work harder for it. You will be less prone to injury because you got true rest and recovery.
You must let yourself slide right now. Yes, the off season is a good time to lose weight but be realistic. You cannot drop into race weight in December, folks. There is such a thing as too lean, too much too fast. All of this trying to drop weight in October through deprivation of things you should just simply enjoy right now – it’s a recipe for finding yourself buried face first in a pecan pie on the holiday buffet table with no hope of getting out unless someone drives in a Bobcat. Set the rules in December or January. For now, just let yourself breathe.
Motivation can be a tricky thing. It burns the strongest when we have the least to do. It’s easy to get motivated when you are training 50 percent less or easier than in the summer time. It’s easy to find the motivation then because there are no other demands. But now is not the time to feel all guns blazing motivated to train and tighten up. I’d rather have an athlete completely swear off triathlon for a month at this time of year than to come at me saying I AM SO MOTIVATED! Hey! Bottle that up and pull it off the shelf in January when it’s 30 degrees and you have to run 2 hours. Talk to me about motivation then. Forget about it for now.
This is the time of year to recover. Consider it hibernation. Shut the body down. I plan to do this the day after Ironman. I am always baffled by people who do an Ironman and then a week later you see their results on a 10K or a month later they are doing a marathon. “But I had all of that fitness.” Yeah, all that fitness in your body which apparently ate up all of your brain cells! Are you kidding? TIME OFF. That fitness will come back quicker than you think. Until then you are a ticking time bomb of injury or burnout waiting to happen. Stop the madness. Take a break.
So many athletes struggle with this. You know this person. They train hard all year round. They jump from race to race, triathlon season to marathon season to triathlon season. It never ends! Seasons get rolled into one endless season of go go go. They never breakthrough. They keep producing roughly the same result. Jennifer and I were talking about this the other day. How many athletes simply have this fear of stopping. Like they are going to lose a year’s worth of fitness in two weeks.
But what if you are one of those people that simply cannot – or will not – stop? I challenge you to ask yourself:
What am I afraid of? Why can’t I stop? What does the training do for you? Mean to you? Is it a loss of fitness that you fear? Getting fat? Getting bored, disgruntled or out of shape? What is it?
Chances are none of those things will happen. And trust me, I know you like training because of all the GOOD things it does for you but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Nevermind what Mae West said. I bet you like training but I bet you like improving and performing well even better. But you will never reach new heights in peformance if you are always stuck at the same plateau. Why do you plateau? Because you never take a break and let your body heal. Through healing we get stronger. If you are always in a state of semi-health you will never reach your full potential in 100 percent good health.
You have to remind your body how to recover. So many balance life, work, kids, training all year that we are under a constant state of stress. Even when we are recovering we are trying to work, take care of kids, clean the house – all of these are still stress. Our endrocrine system gets completely out of whack and doesn’t know if it should fight, flight, release cortisol or just shut down. Stress is stress! The body cannot distinguish between physical and mental stress. At some point you have to force it, remind it what it’s like to rest and how to recover again. Enter time off. Complete time off. Watch television. Read a book. Put together a photo album. Refrain from physical (stress) activity.
But we are our own worst enemies. We read this but don’t believe it. You can’t get fitter by doing nothing at all. Can you? I had a friend who qualified for Kona for years. After the race he would take off until January 1st. That’s nearly 10 weeks of nothing at all. Each year he came back faster. Each year his body got deep recovery. Each year he returned to Kona.
Fitness can peak twice in a year. Once you reach a peak you can hold it for – at most – three weeks. Do the math. 52 weeks in a year. 20 weeks to make a difference with a training program. Two peaks, 40 weeks – what about the other 12 weeks? Recovery. Time off, time away, shut it down.
Of all the lessons I learned this year, recovery is the biggest one. How to recover and when. I have realized that time off is really time in the bank. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s not an evil trick to make me fat. It’s not time I could spend better doing training. It’s not time to spend 3 hours cleaning all of the wood work in the house with a toothbrush. Time off. LEGS UP. It’s hard at first but once you get past the demons of yourself, it’s actually quite…refreshing.