When I first started getting into the sport of triathlon, I never took an extended period of time off. I was too worried about loosing fitness and “getting fat.” Looking back on it, I now realized that I was still overcoming my eating disorder and never taking time off was due to low self-esteem, too obsessed with body image, and thinking I would instantly get fat. Obviously, instant body changes, for good or bad, is impossible unless you pay a ton of money for surgery. After several seasons of racing, I have now come to realize that extended time off is needed for every athlete that trains consistently. Embarrassingly, coming to this conclusion was finally solidified in my schedule last year.
In 2014, my triathlon season ended prematurely due to a severely strained muscle that conveniently waited to put me in a wheel chair for a couple days just a few seconds after crossing the finish line at Ironman Louisville. After getting out of the wheel chair, I made it around the house using a Louisville Slugger baseball bat as a cane. I slowly progressed to being able to swim after about 3 weeks, biking outside again after about a month, and running easy again after about 6 weeks. At times during this slow recovery period, I doubted if I’d ever return to the sport.
At the end of the slow recovery, I also took a vacation and laid pretty low during that week on the beach as well. Upon coming home, I started leading spin classes 3 times a week at VO2 Multisport. After a couple weeks of gaining back some fitness, I felt stronger and noticed a difference in my power numbers. I was really surprised to see how much stronger I was after that much time off.
As of right now, I’m in the middle of this break from structured training. I pulled the plug on the last race of the year, Challenge Florida, due to being burned out, sick, and fatigued. I just completed a week off of doing nothing in the form of exercise (except for a couple short bike rides on a beach cruiser and walking down the beach). I literally unplugged everything: my phone, no coaching stuff for week, and no social media stuff for my athlete accounts on Facebook and Twitter. I have to admit, I still struggle with the idea of “instant” fatness. However, I now have more control of my actions countering what my brain thinks. I thoroughly enjoyed the vacation with my wife. Relaxing on the beach/pool, waking up without an alarm clock, and loosing in every game of bocci ball we played (not sure how that happened)! But I noticed an interesting thing about myself while I was there. Prior to leaving for this trip, I wanted nothing more than to do nothing and relax and not think about the sport at all. I wanted to be a “normal” person for a little while and not be mentally engaged with the sport and training all the time. By the last day of the trip, I was really wanted to get on my bike, go for a jog, or get in the ocean/bay and go for the swim. The desire to compete came back.
Even with the desire to come back to triathlon training, I personally don’t believe I would benefit by returning to structured training right now. I think I still need to let my body fully recover by doing other things to stay active and keep the training light for another couple weeks. 1 week just isn’t enough. I’m still looking forward to going the park to walk the dog, do some strength conditioning at the gym and do some yoga.
I also encourage the athletes that I coach (Progressive Endurance) to take a week or two off at the end of the year to do no physical activity. I also now encourage them to do something else other than swim bike run for a two or three weeks for that. It also is good for me as a coach to take care of some other coaching stuff during that time that I don’t have time for, such as getting CEU’s, writing new workouts, etc. Funny thing is, every athlete that does this I’ve coached for at least 2 consecutive years, has come back much stronger and has gotten a personal best the second year.
I mention this not only as a little shameless plug for my coaching service, but also because I wanted to give an example of some athletes that various levels of age group athletes, not just personal experience. Also, if these examples aren’t enough for you, check out some of these testimonials and how other professional athletes take some time off, what they do with the extra time, and why they do it that I found on competitor.com:
Matt Reed (2008 Olympic triathlete) uses the extra time during his off-season to talk to sponsors, plan his race schedule for next year, play with his two-year-old, and take care of chores around the house. “The craziest thing I do is Poker Night,” he joked. The two weeks totally off and two weeks easing back into training are important primarily to recharge himself mentally and respark his enthusiasm for the sport.
Peter Sagan’s (winner of three stages at the 2012 Tour de France and three stages at the 2012 Vuelta a Espana) time off may not sound like time off to a normal person. This year, he took a trip with his brother to Australia and then he was back on his bike. While he relaxes and rests, “I can’t forget that I’m an athlete,” said the member of the Cannondale Pro Cycling team. But, the important difference is that when he gets back on his bike, it’s his mountain bike and instead of hitting the road for hours and hours – as cyclists are prone to do – he does some gym work and spends some time with his family as well. “We’re human, not machines,” he said.
DeeDee Trotter (2012 Olympic 400m Bronze Medalist and 4 x 400m Gold Medalist) takes six to eight weeks completely off. This year, after a busy and successful season, she had eight weeks with “absolutely no running,” she said. “The only running I do is if I’m running from my bed to my fridge.” She’ll use her last week to start some easy runs and drills before real base training begins “just so I don’t go out and completely combust,” she said. But, primarily she spends her time hanging out with friends, eating hamburgers and candy, and refilling the gas tank that has hit empty by the end of the season. “You tell yourself no 100 times a day” during the season, she said. “For eight weeks, say yes.”