Our columnists explore the effects of taking time off as they inch towards another finish line.
by Ryan Schneider and Jennifer Ward Barber
I am terrible at not training. Settling in to a guilt-free chunk of time off may be the element of the triathlon lifestyle I need to work on most. More than stretching and rolling. More than running half-decently off the bike.
I raced IRONMAN 70.3 Syracuse just over a week ago. It went fine, given the extremely loose “plan” I’ve been following. Though I’ve been in the sport long enough to know that the post-race recovery week is healthy, it confirmed that rest—in this case marked by a feeling of training aimlessness—can also wreck havoc on me mentally and emotionally.
The “should” demon has already crashed down the door: I should’ve run before it got hot. Maybe I should take a longer break. I should just go for a walk, or bake some freakin’ cookies or read a book, gosh-darn-it, I should be more well-rounded. Since I’m not coached, that demon looms, Goliath-like, and I have to face it alone. Even the most understanding friends aren’t professionally trained to deal with head cases like us triathletes. I don’t have anyone to tell me that it’s OK not to be knee-deep in my Arizona plan right now. I don’t have anyone to tell me that those few extra pounds might actually come in handy down the line (see below).
The truth is I really haven’t been training that intensely since my April IRONMAN race. Instead, I’ve just been trying to train consistently, toward the goal of having fun in Syracuse while there on a trip with my husband. With the dawn of July, however, I immediately started to feel torn between taking more time off and jumping back into more intense, structured training. Come August, I’ll need to get more serious about Arizona, and the month also launches four month long work and travel bonanza.
July’s fork in the road held, on one side, the tempting option of hanging up my triathlon hat completely for a month to tame some of those shoulds and just relax. The other side held the truth that this is just me—I love the triathlon lifestyle and all that comes along with it. So why not buckle down and start putting in the work? It might help me tackle stress later in the summer and early fall, and feel more prepared for Arizona.
Part of our intent with this column was to share with you, the IRONMAN community, some of the stress and struggle of chasing another finish. If, like me, you’re prone to Type-A obsessiveness and the need to control and plan, watch out, you’re going to need some compassion for yourself—if not a good shrink.
Next time I’ll share what road I ended up going down, if you haven’t guessed already.
While Jen’s June was spent training for and “racing” IRONMAN 70.3 Syracuse (she added those quotes), mine was even less focused. Initially, that is. For the first time since entering the sport, I scheduled a mid season break from triathlon to rest and recover from six months of hard training and racing. The hiatus coincided nicely with my 40th birthday, a major trade show at work and an overseas vacation with my wife.
What’s that saying about idle hands doing the devil’s work? I rested just enough to decide that signing up for a late-season IRONMAN sounded like a great idea. Why? Last year, I shocked myself with a 10:25 finish at IRONMAN Arizona. I didn’t know I was capable of that. I didn’t push very hard the entire race either, which left me wondering, how close was I to breaking 10 hours? And would I ever be able to find out, since I vowed not to race another IRONMAN race in the immediate future?
“What if?” became too loud to ignore. I thought about breaking 10 hours on my training rides this spring. I re-analyzed my race splits to see where I could shave time. If only I had another chance. I talked to friends who had broken the 10-hour barrier. After all the thinking and dreaming, I concluded: I can do this. If I only had another chance.
Lesson: your mind will take you down funny roads when you take time off.
The training gods have not responded as enthusiastically to my return. For the last several years, my work schedule has perfectly aligned to enable me to race largely stress-free. This summer and fall though, I’ll be traveling for trade shows and conferences at least one full week a month, perhaps more as we head into October. I’ll be helping lead a product launch that hits its peak when I’m supposed to hit mine for IRONMAN Arizona. Something will have to give. When I’ll need more consistent training than ever, I’ll instead face a barrage of planes, trains and automobiles. More fatigue, more stress, less training—this may not end well.
June’s training theme was supposed to be 100 percent recovery. As the conference obligations piled up, my coach and I rearranged priorities and cut two weeks out of our R&R plan. We also talked about the quality of workouts versus quantity. I’ve never really felt a sense of urgency to my training. If I missed a workout, I’ve known that I can either double up the next day, skip it altogether, or adjust my schedule the week following. That is no longer an option. Now, every workout counts. In fact, that is my mantra now for the next four months: Every Workout Matters. No wasted opportunities. And no excuses.
The goal is big. The challenges are even bigger. Let the quest begin. Again.