Sunday, June 7, 2009

Burn Out

Last week I experienced a little thing called burn out. 6 months of hard training has caught up to me and manifested itself as a total meltdown at last weeks track workout. The 4 x 1 mile repeat workout turned into a "me-against-the-track" showdown... in the end, the track won. I couldn't get 100m into the mile before the little voice in my head started telling me how slow I was running. How I should be running waaaay faster at this point in my training. How everyone else seems to be improving leaps and bounds and yet I'm still struggling along.... slowly. It was torture. Eventually it ended in my total caving into the doubt. Breaking down and giving in. I wasn't about to start negotiating with myself all the things that could have formulated a bad workout and try to convince myself that I was just having a bad day. Nope. I was so mentally beaten up, I was just going to take my sorry self home, cry, and try to deal with it in a few days. It was time for a break.

They say that "recovery" is the fourth discipline of Triathlon. Clearly the discipline I need the most work on. When training, you spend a significant amount of time in the pool, on your bike and in your runners. You plan appropriately by re-working your schedule around pool times, go to bed early so you can fit those 4 hours on the bike in Saturday morning, and make sure to get in that nap and big dinner so that your charged for Sunday's workout. We watch what we eat and when we eat. Make sure we've got gels, powerbars and plenty of water when we leave the house. All of this so that we get the most quality out of our workouts. But often we don't pay nearly enough attention to the most important part - recovering.

I've been learning, that there is alot more to recovering then I thought. When up until now I thought that on my day off, as long as I wasn't training, I was recovering. I guess in the same way I thought that running consists only of putting on a pair of shoes, or that swimming was simply going back and forth in the pool. Well, after a few years, I know there is much more to it than that.

Recovery is managing stress, replacing your calories, sleep, hydration, and taking the mental break too. All these elements of training that, if not tended to in recovery, will hinder your performance in the upcoming week (and/or weeks). Who knew that recovery was so much work???

So how do you know when your not recovering properly? Well... if your like me, you miss all the signs and it shows up all at once in the form of complete implosion and a hot mess of sobs and snot. OR you can pay attention to the signs of fatigue:
  • trouble falling asleep
  • dizziness when your get out of bed in the morning
  • loss of appetite
  • low grade fever
  • sore throat or cough
  • stomach pains / nausea
  • painful lymph nodes in neck
  • generalized weakness
  • skeletal discomfort
  • prolonged fatigue
  • generalized headaches
  • various neuropsychological symptoms (sensitivity to light, forgetfulness, irritability, confusion, difficulty thinking, inability to concentrate, depression)

Leading up to my burn out, and for a few days afterwards, at least 9 of those symptoms were present in some way or another.

The best thing I could do for myself was take a little break. I changed up my workouts so that they were fun - on Wednesday instead of riding with the club, I hiked up the Grouse Grind (nature's stair climber straight up Grouse Mountain here in Vancouver). Thursday night Tash and I decided to forgo the club run and do our own down at Jericho Beach and topped it off with dinner on a patio.

It wasn't a big change, but the mental break I got from removing the pressures of "training", even if no physical break happened, made all the difference in the world. That was the much needed recovery that I had been missing. By Saturday, I got my mojo back and got in a good 3:45h on the bike and Sunday felt great in a 1:30h open water swim, followed by a 1:45h easy run.

Coach Allen gave me some really helpful insights and tactics to focus on in the next few weeks. I'm going to change up my mental strategy and hone in on my fatigue symptoms so that I recover properly and pay attention to what my body is telling me. Most importantly (for me), I'm going to try and incorporate mental recovery periods into every week. Things like spending time with non-triathlon friends. Do non-triathlon related activities. Find a distraction that's non-triathlon related so that I'm not constantly thinking about Triathlon!

I'm glad I got over this bump in the road, but I have to say - this one was a big one. Some days, it all just seems impossible. But the good thing about bad days, is that even they will pass, and then - their gone.


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