Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Off-season Blues

It seems that many people out there are stuck in a funk right now. I’ve witnessed this occurrence annually during December. Giving some thought to it, I’ve concluded that it’s about being stuck in limbo. There is a real end of the year/season depression that affects most of us – for sure it affects the driven, type A triathletes.

Think about it; you finished your last big race or goal of the year maybe a month or two ago. You rode the adrenalin from that experience for a week before entering the down phase – the post big goal mood where you miss the process and the fact of a major event looming in the near distant future. You are supposed to be in your off-season and enjoying the downtime, yet you feel lousy. Lousy about your lack of motivation, about your lack of focus and direction, about the extra empty calories you have been consuming which now have you wearing your belt one notch bigger. Welcome to the end of the season depression!

Most will counter this by singing up for a big race in the coming year. Chances are though that this big race is either in the summer or fall. Some set them for spring, but that even seems very far off. If you start focusing on a big summer or fall goal now, chances are that you will be burnt by late spring.

It’s ok to feel a little lost at this point. The key thing though is to not let too many bad habits creep into your daily routine. Gaining an extra 5 or even 10 lbs in the off-season is not that bad. Gaining more than 10 is. Taking some down time and resting up is a very good thing. Taking too much down time and doing no exercise for an extended period is not a good thing. Training now like you did six weeks out from your “A” race last year is a very bad thing. This is a time of year when most people fall mentally and physically out of balance.

Let’s take two scenarios: We’ll call example one Dick. Dick is the guy who is all or nothing – no grey. He trained like a nut for a Fall IM last year, got himself in fantastic shape and had a great race. Then, after the race, he took his recovery week off, and then took another week off, and then another. He still is justifying in his head that he just did an IM. In fact, that IM was some six weeks ago now. Dick feels lousy about the fact that he can’t get going right now. It’s cold out, and there isn’t much day light savings which adds to his arsenal of excuses on why he skipped his training day. Dick signed up for IM Galapagos, but that’s not until August, so he knows he shouldn’t panic about missing a day or ten of exercise right now. Problem is, he can’t stop thinking about the fact that he’s doing nothing every minute of the day. That plus he’s shopping for a new wardrobe to fit his new off-season shape.

Then there is Jane. Jane is the one who also did a late year big race and did ok. She wanted to do better but felt a little tired and drained going in and was dealing with some nagging little injuries. She vowed to do better at next year’s big race and jumped right back in. She took one day off to recover and then began doing daily double sessions, justifying that because they were at a low heart rate, they were fine and active recovery. Then, two weeks post her big race, she’s hammering away again. She’s not really terribly motivated, but the race 10 months away plus the fact that she’s paranoid about gaining 4 ounces which will surely happen in her mind if she misses even 10 minutes of a planned session are what drive her. The problem here is that her training sessions feel dull and off and she feels mentally at a low.

If any of you are reading this and thinking “the bastard is talking directly about me!” know that I’m not. These two scenarios are extremely common, and ones that I have witnessed in many, so don’t feel isolated.

So what do we do to get out of this funk? Here’s my solution;
First, be honest with yourself. Quit justifying things. We live in a justifiable society. It’s much easier to justify why we do something than admit that it may be wrong and that there is a better way.
Next, find your balance. If you normally train for 14 hours per week during the prime season, then cut this in half during this time of year. BUT, aim for 50% of what you normally do, not 20%. Effort wise, don’t go balls to the wall, but don’t just crawl along either. Balance.
Next, try something different. Run with some friends if you run all alone. Hit the trails. Try cross country skiing or snow shoeing. Play a weekly pick-up basketball game or indoor soccer game and count this as training. Take some classes at your gym. Get off the beaten path. Soon enough, you’ll only be swimming, biking and running, so switch it up right now.
Very important, set some short term goals. Select a few 5ks in January or February that you want to race and set a reach time for these. Set a goal of knocking 15 seconds off your best 500 pool time by mid winter. Plan a goal of doing 10 chin-ups, 50 push-ups and running a fast mile by March 1st.
Sign up for a winter training camp or warm weather excursion. Where you know you’ll need to be in somewhat decent condition to avoid feeling like crap there. That plus the motivation of getting a break from the winter cold if you happen to live in cold weather areas.

The way one thinks is a very original and strange thing. When negative thoughts are overpowering the positive, it’s up to us individually to do what we need to in order to flip this mindset. Stay positive this winter and you’ll enter the spring in better condition and in a better frame of mind.




Amanda C said...

Awesome advice, E-Rock - It's so true...I don't think anyone is immune to the winter blues. This is the first year I've done a second big peak in a single year and after a Nov. IM I'm finding it hard to get back into shape again. Lack of light, lots of stress and the fact that no one wants to go out makes it hard to get the right balance of early momo and fun!

Your ideas are great and this is def. a great time of year for those fun just-get-out-the-door-and-do-something- short-term goals... the fitness does come back, it always does.

Keep on rocking!

Eric said...

Hi Mandy,

You should get out on the ski's or snowshoes on some of those trails up near you! Take advantage of the snow while it's here. Before you know it, you'll be in the warmth of Southwestern Spain.

Thanks for reading.



triguyjt said...

eric--great advice. especially about being honest with yourself and finding a balance.
I've been in it for the long haul for a long time. each year brings different challenges. its how we respond to those challenges that makes life special.
have a great holiday