... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

Monday, March 4, 2013

Ode to Michael Pate (Alternate Title: Recapturing Faltering Motivation)

I have reached week twelve, and I have learned the hard way that my faceless guide, Michael Pate, left nothing to chance when designing the training plan I have been following. Every workout has a purpose, every rest day is important, and any time workouts are scheduled shorter or lighter than usual, there is a strategic reason. I made the mistake of questioning his omnipotent logic when he had much easier workouts scheduled for week nine, and I have been paying for it ever since.

The drop came nearly three weeks ago; forty-five minute runs became 30-35 minutes, 600m swims dropped to 450m, and the bike mileage was laughable at 6-7 miles. In my arrogance and pride, I decided that I would ignore Michael Pate's training advice and push myself that week, clocking my usual mileage. Within four days I was so tired that I could hardly focus, much less train at an optimal level. I got disorganized, overwhelmed, and and profoundly fatigued.

Now, to be fair, life has been throwing me some curve balls. The first is a major lack of sleep. Because my significant other and I both hold service jobs, we are often unable to get to bed before 1am. Normally this doesn't cause problems but since I've been rising at the crack of dawn to run various races (the Great Aloha Run, the Moanalua Valley 10k) and to watch the first triathlon of the season in hopes of avoiding Transition Area gaffes in April, my late nights caught up to me with a vengeance. In addition, I had to fly interisland twice in the past two weeks, necessitating a wake up time of 5am and wreaking havoc on my body and mind. My sleep fell further and further behind until I just felt tired all the time. And, on top of all of this, my boyfriend launched his new business and we found out that we are going to be moving to a new island in a month.

There have been several symptoms telling me that I needed to do something to get myself back on track:
1. Feeling disorganized in a general way. For example, my car registration expired March 1st and the process of getting it taken care of became a long, drawn out ordeal simply because I hadn't done what was necessary to take care of it in a timely manner.
2. Feeling disorganized about my workouts. For the first week of this madness I tried to keep up with every workout scheduled, but airports and being on other islands got in the way. I kept trying to add those missed sessions into future days until the week got so overwhelming and confusing that I ended up slacking off.
3. Feeling overwhelmed. This affected everything! Getting my car fixed and registered seemed completely impossible, my workout schedule seemed to never end and got really confusing, and any little frustration in my relationship or my life felt like the end of the world.
4. Feeling disconnected. Gone was that beautiful feeling of connection with my body -- I felt zoned out but not physically tired, I had trouble sleeping, and I didn't feel like I was in tune with what my body and mind needed.
5. Eating badly. Because of the feeling of disconnection, I lost the great body-food connection I had going as well. I ate junk food, I ate too many starchy things, my digestion slowed down, and my body felt bloated and miserable. Gross.
6. Feeling sluggish. Some combination of all of the previous things created a horrible feeling of sluggishness and fatigue. I was always tired but never that great, pour-me-in-bed-and-let-me-melt-deliciously-into-the-mattress tired that allows for peaceful rest. I had little energy, my mood deteriorated, and I felt heavy.

Clearly, something needed to change.

As I sat on my floor, attempting to gather the energy to go on a 12 mile bike ride and swim 750m, the obvious suddenly became clear to me: I needed a rest. I had been so determined to keep up with the workouts despite a hectic schedule, lack of sleep, and life stresses, that I had pushed too far and exhausted myself. I asked myself the following question: "Is it more productive to do this workout and continue to be tired and functioning at a sub-par level, or is it more productive to give myself ONE DAY to recuperate and start fresh tomorrow."

I knew the answer, and so I took off my swimsuit and went to bed. I slept for four hours in the middle of the day and could have slept much longer if it weren't for the alarm I set. That, in and of itself, tells me that I made the correct decision. The next day, instead of trying to pile all of my missed workouts onto the following days and agonizing over each meter of swimming I hadn't been able to do, I took a deep breath and wiped the slate clean. I gazed down at my workout for the day (9 mile bike) and felt -- gasp -- excited!

Since doing this, I have felt normal again. I am once again feeling strong, motivated, and excited about my training. In addition to my renewed energy, I have hit a few milestones that I can be very proud of. Last week, in the midst of my overwhelmedness, I hit ONE HUNDRED MILES of running. In an apropos gesture, my Nike+ Running app glitched and didn't add up my total mileage, robbing my of the satisfaction of seeing my 100 miles on the screen. (Seriously, I swear the world was out to get me this past two weeks!) The day that I "reset" myself, the glitch fixed itself and now I can finally celebrate my 100 mile accomplishment.

Hawaii Sport Magazine relay team
I also ran the first annual Ekiden Relay in Honolulu yesterday, a race consisting of 5 legs of 5k's, and obliterated my previous best mile time, setting a new PR of 8:45.

There are a lot of things to celebrate, the biggest of which is that I figured out how to work through the challenges of the past two weeks without completely falling off the bandwagon and giving up. Although I don't like to make excuses, it made me realize that sometimes I need to give myself a break and recognize all of the hard work I am doing as well as the demands of every day life and how they both influence my body, my mind, and what is healthy for both of them. Based on these discoveries, I have learned the following lessons, which I believe are worth sharing with anyone training for an athletic event (or just trying to get through life):

1. Don't make excuses, but do recognize when you have reached your limit.
When I was contemplating the idea of taking a day off to sleep, I felt immensely guilty because I felt like I was making excuses, something I promised myself I wouldn't do. I realized, however, that "I found out I'm moving across an ocean, I started a new business this week, I traveled across an ocean twice in a 7-day period, I have been severely sleep deprived 6 out of the past 10 days, and I have to get my to-do list finished to avoid hundreds of dollars in fines" is nothing like the "I really want to sit on the couch and watch It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia reruns" excuses I used to grapple with. Sometimes you really do need a day to get a hold of yourself.

2. If you can sleep for four hours during the day, wake up only because of an alarm, and sleep a full 8 hours that night with no trouble, you are sleep deprived and you should allow yourself that extra rest.

3. Ask yourself: "Will I continue to be productive if I keep pushing, or am I running on empty?"
As long as you don't allow laziness or excuses to influence your answer, this question will give you the answer to whether or not you should take a day to recuperate.

4. Try really really hard not to miss a workout.
If you know you're going to have a busy day, try to move things around so that you can do the workout on an easier day. Sometimes, however, this just isn't possible. If you miss one workout, reschedule it for later in the week. If it is one thing (bike only, swim only, etc.) then add it to another day on which you are only scheduled one discipline. If it's a day when you have a two-discipline workout scheduled, divide it up and add it to other days. If you miss more than one day, just accept it and call it good. Don't keep trying to add what you missed to other days, and most important, don't agonize about it. If you've been training hard, honestly, and with no excuses, then missing one workout is not going to break your training. Overextending yourself, however, might. Remind yourself of all of your hard work and be ready to get back on it on your next workout.

5. Listen to your body and be kind to yourself.
Your body is doing pretty awesome and badass things for you right now. Be nice to it. Take a moment to mindfully relax and think about all that you have accomplished. Imagine your next workout and how good it will feel to be rested and energized.

His workouts are strategically planned to push you and then give you time to recuperate and prepare for the next push. Don't question his wisdom.

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