If you force a rose to blossom, you break off the petals....
I have had the pleasure of coaching many different types of athletes over the years, I truly believe 'that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear' - I see myself as the teacher in the coach/athlete relationship but I'm continually learning myself. It's a fantastic process. For some ahtletes, their needs are met quickly and they go off to coach themselves with a few more tools in their toolbox. For others, the journey begins and continues, each year learning more, each year improving while I get to continually tweak the training, working on weaknesses, moving them towards the long range goals and garnerning success with consistency within smart training plans. Some of the athletes I get to work with have hit their goals this season and are winding down, others are in the peak weeks with the A priority race within sight. No matter where you are at this time in your training and racing, you need to strike a balance between work life, family life, friendships, school, etc.. Training for a race, particularly your A race of the season is physically and mentally stressful. When you tack on life stressors, it can be overwhelming. At times like these I like to remind the athletes, myself included, that we do this for fun. When it ceases to be fun then you have to examine why you are doing it in the first place. There should be a sense of excitement and joy leading into or coming off of a big race. If you have trained with consistency, if you nailed down your nutrition strategy, if you have spent time learning how to fix your flats, or other potential mechanicals quickly and efficiently, if you have mentally rehearsed your race strategy then you are ready! The race is the icing on the cake, enjoy the day, control what you can and let go of what you can't. 9 times out of 10, things will go as planned and you will have a fabulous experience. Sometimes things don't go as you planned, sometimes things happen, then, it's all about how you respond to those events and what you can learn from them. Everything concerning racing can have a positive outcome if you are willing to step back, learn and grow from the experience.
I was thinking about these things while I was fully enjoying a bike ride today, indoors, on the trainer while it poured rain outside. I prefer to be out, but not in the pouring rain when I can help it, instead, I had a great ride to some great music and I got off the bike after an hour feeling mentally and physically refreshed and marveled that I did that ride not because I had to today, but because I wanted to. Competitive athletes have a strong drive. It appears in sport, it shows up in the careers and the approach to life in general. I took a step back from being a competitive ahtlete this past month and struggled with it, only realizing today, after a purely enjoyable ride, that I needed that break. With major life changes occuring for me this past month, stepping back as the right thing to do yet I worried about losing fitness, I worried about losing that part of myself that enjoys competition in sport. I can be very bookish, but I need my outlets and I was worried I would not be able to do the things I enjoy with the same zeal because I have so many other things going on. I finally let go of my mental trappings of the workouts I felt "I had to do" this past week and just enjoyed the freedom of movement when I could get it, without any worry for how much time or distance I was covering. What a world of good it did me and after your major race, I urge you to do the same. The break time is all relative to the person. For some, it is a week or two, for others it could be 4-8 weeks but stepping back, enjoying other things, coming off a strict training schedule is so mentally and physically beneficial. It doesn't mean you have to stop and sit on the couch, or it could! Some athletes switch their focus from triathlon training to running, others put the swim/bike/run gear away for pursuit of windsurfing, rowing or sailing. The first thing you have to do though, is let go. You aren't supposed to be in peak physical form year round. Your body needs time after a long season to unwind and so does your mind. Be active but you don't have to maintan a certain amount of hours or mileage per week. Find your joy again, think about what you may want to train for next year and get excited about building fitness towards a peak again for the next go around, the joy should be in the process.
For those that still have some time to go, who are fatigued, cranking out the necessary workouts in the last build before taper for the A race around the corner, be confident and steadfast. I saw a great interview with Peter Reid a short while ago where he mentioned the best single piece of advice he had gotten from someone concerning balance of training with life. 8 weeks out of the A race of the year, put a big X on the calender. Prior to that, train consistently but be flexible. Enjoy time spent with friends, take an extra day off, juggle the training schedule a bit to fit the demands of life + training. When the big X hits though, that's it. Laser like focus on the goal at hand, target the final 8 weeks knowing you did everything you could and should do to have the best race possible. Talk about racing confident. Awesome advice. Even if you are less than 8 weeks out now, put the X on your calendar tomorrow when you wake up and then get after it!
4 weeks into my mental and physical break I am finding my groove. I am excited to enjoy the simplicity of a short run or ride, some yoga, a little rowing, strength training. I find I am paying more attention to the quality and quantity of calories I take in as my level of activity has dropped and I am finding joy within eating healthier as well. I am getting excited about starting from scratch and building some new fitness towards new goals. How about you?