How many of you actually take a break at the end of a season, whether that’s from triathlon, athletics, football or any other sport? I don’t mean cutting the amount of sessions down, I mean a no training, no exercise break?
Not many, I imagine?
And how many of you think taking a break will ‘put you back in your training’ or will show a lack of commitment?
Taking a short hiatus from your sport has more benefits than you expect, not just for your body but for your mind.
For the body:
Let’s do a bit of maths for this part: say you do roughly 15 hours of training a week. With the 52 weeks in the year, that is 780 hours of training per year, with quite a lot of that being high intensity training. Add on a few races (we’ll use an Olympic distance triathlon for this example, as that is what I know), that will be another 12(ish) hours, which will take you to 792 hours a year.
Now, you may be thinking that it isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but now add on the rushing around you do for your job, shopping, social trips, cleaning the house, cooking, looking after the kids etc., and you’ll soon realise how much stress you put your body under.
Taking a break from exercise will give your body that little extra rest it needs to repair from the racing season and get ready for the next block of training. Yes, you will probably lose a bit of fitness in that time and going back to training after will feel tough, but it’s better than the alternative option of pushing on in order to keep your fitness up and risk an overuse injury at an unsuitable time, like at the beginning of the next season.
For the mind:
People often forget about this part. Your brain has to work just as hard, maybe even harder, than your body. It is constantly working; processing new information, sending electrical impulses down your body in order to move, forming memories, and that’s only scratching the surface on what it does.
Another obstacle it has to deal with is stress. Stress can come in any form and I hate to say it, but sport is one of them. Most age group/amateur athletes will know what I mean when I say juggling a full-time job and training/competing is stressful. You’re constantly thinking about the flights and accommodation you have to pay for, the new kit you need to replace the old stuff, how you’re going to fit your training sessions in around your 9-5 job, and probably the biggest one, that next ‘big race’.
Taking a break at the end of the season will give your mind the rest it needs from sport. It won’t get rid of all of your stress, but it is one less thing to think about for a while.
Trust me, you’ll appreciate it.
However, I know how hard it can be for an athlete to not do any sport. I never used to take a break at the end of a season, yet I always wondered why I was getting injured in the winter training block.
But you don’t have to sit around and do nothing. Go on that day trip to the zoo that your kids really wanted to do or relax on a spa day with some friends. Try something totally random, like zip-lining or bungee jumping, or just simply put your feet up and enjoy a nice quiet night in watching a film with the family.
Whatever it is that helps you to relax, do it.
And then get back out there with renewed eagerness, ready to get started again!
A few months ago, I wrote about how the European Championships was ‘possibly the hardest race I have ever done’. I would like to take that back, because I can now easily say that the World Triathlon Championships in Lausanne last week takes that title!
Firstly, let me just say that Lausanne and its surrounding areas are beautiful, and I would definitely go back again for a holiday. However, I might skip that trip if it is for another race!
I was warned about how hilly Switzerland is, but I wasn’t prepared for it to be so in the city centre – I thought that the undulating terrain would be restricted to the quiet countryside, not right outside the hotel’s front door!
In the short-course (the shorter Sprint and Standard distance triathlons, not the IRONMAN distances) triathlon world, the World Championship events are deemed as the biggest event of the year, or the Grand Final, where triathletes from all over the world compete for the World Champion title. For the elites, it is the final race of the year in the World Triathlon Series, where the athlete who has accumulated the highest amount of points across the multiple events staged all over the world during the year, is crowned as the World Champion.
So you can probably tell that this event is huge, and normally takes over the city that it is hosted in. You can’t walk 5 minutes without seeing another anxious-but-excited athlete wondering around. But that’s what I love about these events; I get to meet with friends I haven’t seen since last year’s World Championships, and also meet new friends from all over the world.
However, the sheer magnitude of this event can also leave you feeling overwhelmed and, like I was in the days leading up to the competition, a nervous-wreck! Watching the normally quiet city being turned into the triathlon-hub of the world can be a bit too much sometimes, so it is nice to get away from it all for a little while and relax. This year, that came in the form of a day trip to Thonon-Les-Baines, a small French town on the other side of Lake Geneva. It was so peaceful and oblivious to the transformation Lausanne was undergoing on the other side of the lake, it was a perfect day to relax and momentarily forget about the race.
I couldn’t stay away from it for too long though. All-too-quickly, it was race day. This one felt different to the others, probably because everyone was nervously anticipating the tough course we were about to race on.
At the unearthly hour of 4am, my alarm woke me up to race day. Setting up transition with my bike, helmet, nutrition (energy drink and snacks for on the bike) and running shoes in the dark isn’t something I have done very often, but that’s just a part of triathlon: you never know what’s going to happen, but you just get on with it!
With the unusually warm weather Lausanne had experienced for the days leading up to the competition (around 29 degrees Celsius), the swim was deemed a non-wetsuit swim. If the water temperature goes above 22 degrees Celsius (for races up to 1500m of swimming, which is what my event is), we are not allowed to wear wetsuits for safety reasons (chance of over heating in the wetsuit if it is too hot).
After a very choppy swim – which is weird, how did a lake have waves!? – it was time for the dreaded bike course. I had cycled around the bike course a few days before, so I wasn’t surprised when I arrived at the hills. But there is something totally different about racing on them than training on them! The first hill was within a mile from the start of the bike course, so not much time to get the legs moving on the bike. And it was mostly uphill from there!
I’m not bad at uphill climbs, but I’m also not brilliant at them. But I am quite happy with how I paced the cycle section of this triathlon, enough that I still had some energy in the legs for the equally-hilly run course.
I would say the run was the part of the race that I was most nervous for. I’m not ashamed to say that my running hasn’t been brilliant this year – mostly, its been ‘just get around the course’. When Kris Whitmarsh, my coach, realised this earlier on in the year, he factored in a weekly track session with the ‘fast boys’ into my training schedule. After I was left lying on the floor from exhaustion after the first session, cursing Kris for putting these sessions into my training plan, I was adamant I wasn’t going to do it again. I mean, these guys are running 16 minutes for a 5k, a time that I am NOWHERE near!
But he told me to persevere with it, that I would eventually get used to it. So the following week, and several weeks after that, I reluctantly dragged myself to the track on a Tuesday night.
And I actually started to enjoy it! (Shhh, don’t tell Kris that!)
I didn’t realise how much it had helped until this race. No, I didn’t get a PB run split for this race (I would be surprised, and suspicious, if anyone did!), but I felt good during the run. This is probably the point where non-triathletes say, ‘what do you mean you felt good, how can you ever feel good running!?’ but ask any athlete this and they’ll know exactly what I mean. Sometimes you just feel confident and strong on a run, even if it doesn’t result in a best performance. That’s how I felt on this run – the hills were tough, with 20% inclines on a big portion of the course, but I got up them. And on the flat sections, I felt like I was running at a good pace. I even had enough for a sprint finish at the end!
Going up to a new age group and racing against athletes four years older than me has been hard, but I expected nothing less from the best triathletes in the world. And I am so proud to say that I am 34th in the World!
Let’s be honest, some people will look at this placing, compare it to my achievements from last year and think ‘well that’s not very good’. But these girls are serious – many of them have performed well in elite races before this race, and many have a lot of extra training time than I do (some are lucky enough to train full-time!). So, to say I am amongst the 35 best triathletes in the 20-24 age group IN THE WORLD is a privilege, no matter what other people think!
I am now back to reality (aka back to work!) and on my two weeks break before getting back into training in preparation for my first IRONMAN 70.3 race in April next year, as well as the European Championships in Estonia and the World Championships in Canada. A busy and expensive year coming up, so time to rest, recover and start saving the pennies for next year!
As the Swiss would say in Lausanne, au revoir!