During my final few days in Kona I pondered my performance and how much I was looking forward to a proper break. It dawned on me that in the less than 2 year period (10 Oct 2009 to 8 Oct 2011) after recovering from foot surgery I’d completed 11 Ironman Races, 2 Epic Camps, our first EverydayTraining camp and a five day bike race. No wonder I felt jaded and in need of a rest. It had been non-stop but now I needed to call a halt.
Much of the conventional advice about taking a break is based around the rate at which you lose fitness and the methods for mitigate it. It always requires doing some exercise but I didn’t have any motivation to train whatsoever. The advice, of course, sounded sensible, as most advice does but having thought about it I questioned whether it was appropriate for me now. I came up with two reasons it wasn’t.
Firstly, I wanted to lose my fitness. Bizarre I know, but as I reviewed my two and a half years since injury I realized that I’d had this rapid return to fitness and then I’d reached a plateau. The fun was really in the return to form and increasing fitness not in a long period of similar performances. Losing conditioning would hopefully re-motivate me and leave in store that feeling of rapidly increasing fitness.
Secondly, the focus on not losing too much of your gains ignores the mental side. I needed a break mentally. I have no races on the horizon for 9 months so there was absolutely no pressure to train. I could properly relax. Not worrying about the next performance should give space to think clearly and learn what really motivates me. Rather like leaving a garden untended for a period to see what naturally grows there (hopefully no weeds).
I decided to train only as I felt like and that meant pretty much zero for 3 weeks other than a couple of social rides with friends. Then last week I decided to meet a friend for a beer. Unfortunately we live 210 miles apart so this required a ride to a pub, stay over night and a ride back. Back to back 100 milers… just like the good ole days. Not only had I not ridden for 3 weeks but during this last year I’ve been living with a monthly hours cap that had reduced my long riding. With forty miles to go to the pub my calves and quads were cramping. Every 15 minutes I had to stop. That Queen K feeling, of perhaps I won’t make it, returned. I’d not felt like I couldn’t complete 100 miles in probably 8 years. It made me smile and certainly made the open fire, four pints of real ale and good company all the sweeter.
I had to ride back, though, in to the prevailing winds. It felt like an adventure and I fell to sleep slightly nervous. The next day was light winds (phew!) but some rain however I’d gained some fitness with the return trip as fast but for less effort.
A year previously I had asked advice from Gordo ( EnduranceCorner.com ) about my training as I felt I wanted to do what was required to be fast. He initially questioned why change as I seemed to be enjoying it. After I persuaded him of my desire to change one of his suggestions was to cap my hours at 100 per month. This I stuck to for the whole year and had some pleasing results. However, looking back I felt that my overall enjoyment of the year had been reduced. His initial advice was correct. I decided that from now on all caps were off.
With this in mind, following my 200 miler for beer trip, I felt my enthusiasm was back and I’d be back in to it. It wasn’t and in the week since I’ve done nothing again. However, this time has been very useful. It’s allowed me to think, to relax and to realize what I truly enjoy about this sport. It’s not the race performances, though the good ones provide nice gravy. What I enjoy are the friendships and the way of life the process of training gives me.