This is the last day of my ‘off-season’, so a good time to pause and reflect before training begins tomorrow. It’s been eight weeks since IM Melbourne and six weeks since my appendectomy, and despite being frustrated that I couldn’t train for a while, it’s probably been a blessing in disguise; I might have lost fitness and conditioning, but I am wonderfully rested and ready to start ramping it up again. I’ve spent the past three or four weeks drinking nothing but red wine and eating cheese. I’m not feeling like much of an athlete right now, that’s for sure. But forced recovery, despite being depressing, is like a mental and physical reset button. You just have to make it through without going insane or turning into a human wheel of Camembert.
I wanted to pass on my learnings from this time off, so here’s my thoughts on the best way to negotiate a break from training:
1) Imaginary training sessions
Sounds ridiculous of course, but visualising yourself training and performing well can keep your brain switched on. By keeping the neuro-pathways active, it’s easier for the muscles to ‘remember’ once you are able to start training again. There’s every chance that I might have made this up as I’m no scientist, but it sounds good. And I swear to god, at 5am when it’s 10 degrees outside, who wouldn’t prefer an imaginary ride?
2) Get good at something else
We spend so much time swimming, cycling and running that there’s not much capacity to nurture your other interests. But with all the extra time on your hands, make the most of the opportunity to improve other skills. Enjoy cooking? Spend some time trying out the more tricky recipes that you can’t deal with during a 20 hour training week. Why not hit up a drawing class, do some gardening or learn to knit (that’s one for the fellas). I’ve just finished the first 8 hours of Michel Thomas’ Spanish course, so that next time I’m out on a long ride I can say quiero comere algo a hora por que tengo hambre (that’s pretty much the only thing I can remember, but it is usually going to be relevant to how I’m feeling: I want to eat something now because I’m hungry)
3) Read stuff that’s not sport-related
Born to Run, A Life Without Limits, In Pursuit of Excellence, The Secret Race – there’s always another inspirational, motivational, sports-related book to get your teeth into and help drive you to achieve your sporting goals. But when you’re stuck at home unable to train, saturating yourself with sports-motivation can be depressing. So get down to the library and start getting lost in a world outside of triathlon. I’m currently kicking back in First World War Italy to keep my mind off my bike…
4) Experience the freedom
Training can become all-consuming, and on top of a forty hour working week there’s not much room for anything else. So this is the perfect time to experience the freedom of being released from your training plan. Go out, drink good wine, stay out past 10:00pm. You don’t have to get up at 4:30am tomorrow. So relax and enjoy the lie-ins. Or even go as far as me, and rediscover what a hangover feels like (I wasn’t sure I remembered properly, so I’ve been practicing this one). Actually, this is probably really bad advice as you don’t want to end up 10kg heavier when you start training again.
5) Sign up for a future race
Assess where you’re at, and figure out when you might be able to start training and racing again. Having a new goal to work towards can help you look forward, rather than dwelling on past training and fitness. Use the time in just the same way as we do at new year – make resolutions, set goals and plan to achieve them. Think of this time as the strategic planning period of your next season.
And finally, I was going to add another point about ‘staying positive’, but every time someone says that to me I have to wipe the tears and snot from my face, put down my glass of red wine and pizza slice, and calmly explain that yes, in fact this IS the end of the world and no, I will never be as fit or as strong as I used to be and that I might as well give up, sell the bikes and buy every season of Madmen on DVD because I’m never leaving the house again. *hiccup*.