Avoiding a Midseason Bonk-Preventative Steps to Maintaining a Healthy Physical and Emotional Balance (for the rest of us…)
Always a 'challenge junkie', my idea of downtime after a long
triathlon season was hiking a mountain ;)
Disclaimer: This article probably isn’t going to win me a whole lot of brownie points, as I know that there is a lot of current discussion about the ‘dumbing down’ of sports and competition for the fun and inclusiveness of the masses. To which, I raise my hand and say that’s me!! I am a participator, and I have decided that that is okay, and that’s my goal for the moment. If you are closer to the participatory end of the spectrum than the professional end, this article might be for you.
As a competitive person, I always struggle internally when I see others who are faster, stronger, and fitter than me. The whole nature of competition is seeing how you stack up against others who are stuffed into the same category as you, based solely on age or gender. This extremely simplified categorization often makes you feel that you SHOULD be competitive against these other people, and feeling that you are somehow inadequate after a race. It is easy to forget that the only thing you know about the strangers on the podium ahead of you is how they competed that day. You don’t get a glimpse of their day-to-day struggles and weaknesses and what they sacrificed to get there. [What would a race be like if we added categories like: those who work overtime; those with school-aged children; single parents; non-traditional students– you get the idea!]
As you may know, I stumbled into triathlon shortly after college, during which my physical and emotional health had certainly been neglected, and it seemed that a hobby that would help get me in shape was the answer. To my dismay, I found that my competitive nature has created a constant struggle to balance my emotional well-being with a drive to get better, faster, stronger. I struggle with guilt when I feel that I haven’t trained enough, but on the other hand, I feel guilty when I don’t spend enough time with my family or I see chores around the house that are long neglected. Added to this stress is the free floating anxiety of being constantly on the go, or the feeling that I should be using downtime to accomplish something. This emotional strain certainly seems counterproductive to a hobby that I picked to get healthy. Being in shape now so I can have better quality of life down the road sounds great, but if I am sacrificing my emotional health to get there, then what’s the point? Do I have to pick one over the other?
So after much thought about finding a secret formula to the balance between physical and emotional health, I have made some guidelines that I am going to try when planning my next season.
DETERMINE YOUR GOALS, AND BE SPECIFIC
If you are like me and 95% of the rest of the population, you have no hopes of ever becoming a professional athlete, getting sponsorships, or doing better than placing in your age group at a local or regional race. But you still have goals. So what is your goal exactly? It is important to be specific, and not have too many goals at once.· Lose weight?
· Qualify for a specific race such as nationals, Kona, or Boston Marathon?
· Complete an half or full Ironman?
· Finish your first triathlon/5k/10k?
Once you have determined one or two realistic goals for the year, write them down. After you have focused all year on a goal and then crushed it, you will feel much better than simply competing in a race and feeling bummed because you didn’t podium. It will help you to stay focused throughout the year and not to get discouraged about other things that are beyond your immediate control. It’s much easier to have a positive outlook when you focus on what you WANT to accomplish rather than what you are NOT accomplishing.
Once you have picked your goal, you need to DETERMINE YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES. What are the main things keeping you from that goal? If you’re a runner who wants to complete your first triathlon, perhaps swimming is the most daunting part of it for you. Or in my case, after several years of triathlons, I have found that I stack up fairly evenly in the swim and bike compared to others in my age group, but I struggle in the run. Instead of wistfully wishing I had better times, I should probably focus next year on improving my run.
Once you have been honest with yourself, and come to terms with the couple of things that are keeping you from your realistic goal this season, you need to COME UP WITH A PLAN to work on these weaknesses and PRIORITIZE YOUR TRAINING. Develop a training plan (easily found online). After a little bit of studying, you can often figure out the formula and adjust the plans to your needs. Also study up on different types of training-speed work, intervals, etc. to maximize the time you do spend training. Determine your priorities and the workouts you HAVE to get in that week. Always maintain flexibility. If you missed your workout today due to some unforeseen circumstance at work, feeling under the weather, or deciding to spend time with family, know that you can adjust your schedule to still maximize your training and get in those most important workouts. The old adage applies here- ‘Don’t work harder, work SMARTER.’
Remember to EVALUATE YOUR LONG TERM PHYSICAL HEALTH. Are you doing more harm than good to your body? If you are constantly struggling with aches and pains, and your doctor has encouraged you to slow down and maybe focus on shorter distance racing, then do it! Don’t sacrifice your long term health for your short term goals!! How healthy is a sport if you can barely walk in 30 years? Just as you wouldn’t dream of eating junk food every day because of the long term consequences to your body, you should make a realistic evaluation of the type of training you do and try to minimize any long term consequences to your body. Also, if you are like me, and the only way you will ever get to Kona is to outlive everyone else, you certainly want to be able to run and bike when you are 70 ;)
Finally, RE-EVALUTATE YOUR GOALS from year to year. A goal from last year may not be realistic for this year. It may be that continuing education, a new job, life event, etc. may put the brakes on your usual training plan for the next season, and that’s ok! It may be that you want to take the year off to refocus, maybe try something different, and that’s ok too! Spend some time thinking about what you accomplished over the past year, and decide if you want to take it to the next level.
Always keep in mind that the sport is supposed to be fun, and that your emotional health is just as important as your physical health. Plan a vacation or some down time for the end of your season, a reward that you can look forward to. If you are like me and you don’t do relaxing well, a hiking trip may the perfect balance of getting away from hectic life, but yet still staying busy.
FOR MOST OF US, WE WILL NOT BE REMEMBERED FOR BEING A GREAT TRIATHLETE. BUT WE WILL BE REMEMBERED FOR BEING A GREAT FRIEND, HUSBAND, WIFE, MOTHER, FATHER, ETC. Therefore, it’s important to find balance and not neglect your own well-being. I know there are many amazing athletes who have found this balance in their personal lives, and I am in no way judging them or assuming that they are unhealthy in some way. But if you are not that person, you should not feel ashamed if you are not placing in your age group. You shouldn’t feel guilty for skipping a workout to spend time with your family, even if it’s the second one this week. As with all things in life-comparing yourself to others will always leave you feeling inferior. There is always someone faster, better, stronger than you. Instead of focusing on where you don’t add up to these individuals, focus on your own personal goals and what you are working toward.