The clock radio began speaking to me early this morning at 4:59 am. Back to business as usual, I thought. Time to head to the pool for re-entry into my life as an athlete.
You see, for the past 8 days, I’ve been on break. Before Texas, my coach told me that I would take a ‘break’ before beginning to build to Duathlon Worlds in late July.
I know what you’re thinking – why on earth would you take a break in the prime time of your season? Well, after several 20-hour winter training weeks, a few early season duathlons, and a half-Ironman, you get the sense that your body is just waiting to drop something downright ugly on to you if you don’t give it some down time.
So, off on break I went.
What happens when you take an athlete and throw them on a break – no doubles, no workouts longer than an hour, nothing more than easy effort all week? It wasn’t easy and I was a little scared at first. Break has a nasty way of releasing the hounds that have been hiding in your legs, arms, back, and mind for the past several months, beaten down by hours of training each week. Was I ready to handle these hounds?
With no workouts to distract me after work everyday, I found myself cage-pacing in my kitchen wondering ‘what next?’. My sinister mind tried to convince myself that I felt just fine, that I could swim, bike, or run if I had to – that this break was nothing I needed and only an obstacle between me and the next big week.
But years of experience had taught me better. After a half-Ironman, your body has a sneaky way of feeling fine for a few days and then you wake up, 3 days later, feeling like you’ve been tethered to the back of a pick-up truck, forced to run behind it like a rabid dog, in your barefeet, at 20 mph. And then you woke up with the blisters to show and for some reason you’re foaming at the mouth.
So, I took Monday completely off and spent most of the day feeling alternately hungry and sick to my stomach while traveling between Texas and home.
On Tuesday, my hamstrings felt like they had been tied in knots, my neck felt like it was on crooked, and my body just ached. Without any workouts scheduled, I tricked my body into thinking it was being active and physical by vigorously cleaning my house. After 2 hours, 3 toilet bowls, and 5 loads of laundry, I felt like I had just done the half-Ironman of housework (but at least you could now eat off of my spotless floors).
On Wednesday, my knee started to hurt (from scrubbing the floors) and my hamstrings were still sore. I did an easy 45 minute bike which materialized into a 10 mph pedal and coast on my mountain bike. Afterwards, I fell asleep on the couch waking up only to eat some cereal, watch Survivor reruns, and then head off to bed.
On Thursday I woke up feeling that only 4 days ago, I was in peak shape, ready to take on Texas, and today you could barely scrape me off the floor. I spent most of the day spacing out at work, trying to accomplish something but not getting very far. After work, I shuffled out 4 miles at a snailishly slow pace, my hamstrings protesting every step of the way.
Friday, I was feeling better and the 30 minute swim just seemed like something that got in the way of my other normal life things at this point.
You see, by the end of the week, I had completely reverted back to the normal values, attitudes, and behaviors of the real world. Without any 3 hour bike rides, 2 hour bricks, and 1 hour swims, I had all of the time in the world and had found other ways to funnel my frenetic energy into much more ‘meaningful’ tasks…
On Thursday, I trimmed the shrubs in our backyard with kitchen shears, then decided that some of the grass was too long and started to trim that as well – all with kitchen shears – washed the kitchen shears, went to Whole Foods to walk the aisles sampling overpriced food items and choosing a variety of equally as overpriced personal care items, and then made some bread.
On Friday, I paid some bills, sorted the clothes by fabric type, did several loads of laundry, put away the clothes, braved the basement and vacuumed the floor, changed the sheets, cleaned out the refrigerator, cleaned the washing machine, and played the piano until 11 pm.
On Saturday, I drank a lot of coffee, went for a walk, went shopping and spent $126 on shoes and a purse (neither of which I needed, but I really wanted which clearly meant that I needed these items), went to the bookstore, decided that a giant piece of crumb cake would make a fabulous and nutritious lunch (and it did), told Chris how glorious the crumb cake was, washed the shoe rack in the garage, swept the garage, tried to convince Chris to reorganize the rest of the garage, then tried to devise some new and sophisticated way to hang our helmets in the garage (because sitting them on a shelf just wasn’t good enough this week).
By Sunday, I had become a certifiable household megalomanic that whirred through 3 loads of laundry, unloaded the dishwasher, cleaned out my closet, went to Starbuck’s, read 3 newspapers, cleaned out my closet (again), cleaned my shower, vacuumed, watered the plants, and, at 1:15 pm, answered my phone.
It was Chris. He had just returned from his 3 hour bike ride and 5 mile run, including the 60 minute round trip drive out to the only hills worthy of biking around here.
“Did you have coffee yet?”
Are you kidding? It’s 1:15 pm and I’ve not only had coffee, but also breakfast, lunch, and the pleasure of accomplishing an assortment of household chores.
And that’s when it hit me.
It was 1:15 pm and Chris had only eaten from mylar-wrapped packages to this point. He had finished with his workout and while my day was already half over, his had just begun. I then realized how much time you really can spend in training, stretching, traveling, recovering, and how much of your day can slip away before it’s even started.
It got me to thinking - is there something better I should be doing with my time at this point in my life? Should I be reorganizing my house, my life, the world on a weekly basis rather than only when on break?
I thought about it for awhile, thought about everything I had accomplished this week, and as I was about to reach a decision, a wave of ‘break-induced’ envy rushed over me. Envy for Chris who, by 1:15 pm, had biked through 65 miles of rolling western hills, had the pleasure of pushing through a 5 mile run, and then got to drive home defeated and beat from a solid day’s workout.
Without any rolling hills and deprived of miles of training, I was replacing it with miles of mindless tasks, duties, and time fillers designed to make my domestic world into a better, more efficient place. I sighed.
That’s when I realized my break had done me good. I was hungry and ready to return.
So it’s back to business as usual. After work, I’m heading out for a ride and looking forward to the hours of training ahead of me this week.
Until then, I’m going to have a cup of coffee and stretch this break thing out just a little further.