Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Cold weather is arriving and I'm still training. As much as I enjoy the training, I'll admit it is hard at times to stay focused since everyone else seems to be switching into off season mode.

I, however, cannot yet flip my switch.

But mark my words - after November 23rd you will find me knee deep buried in pumpkin pie and washing it down with Christmas wine. Yes friends, I will completely abstain from swim, bike and run for up to 30 days.

I wish everyone else would do the same!

You get a lot of squirrely chatter at this time of year. It’s apropos with all of the squirrely activity taking place outside. Athletes, like squirrels, stuff and scurry their thoughts about winter ahead into the head and send them to me. Everyone wants to be fit, fast, lean, strong, fit, fast, lean…you get the point.

And so they all want to rush into this or that. Making lists, thoughts and goals. And believe me – it’s great to look ahead but right now I think it’s better to look behind and just be. Let it go.

Why? Because in the words of a very wise pal: nothing you do in October will help you, only hurt you.

I agree!

If you are done racing for the year, it’s time to be done. Seriously take a few weeks off of triathlon. Do not do a thing. Be a normal person again. Eat a little junk food. Drink a little wine. Sleep in late. Go for walks. Reconnect with family and friends. Shop. Gain some weight. Decondition.

Why? Because in order to recondition and get stronger you must first decondition and step back. Intuitively this sounds wrong. No one believes it. That cannot be what the top athletes are doing. But trust me – it is. It is not uncommon for the top pros to take many weeks completely off each year. NOTHING at all.

How can they come back stronger and faster then? Because they decondition and get deep recovery. Deep recovery takes place through total rest. Allowing yourself to get distracted with other things for awhile. Get out of shape. That way you will appreciate your shape more so when it comes back. You will work harder for it. You will be less prone to injury because you got true rest and recovery.

You must let yourself slide right now. Yes, the off season is a good time to lose weight but be realistic. You cannot drop into race weight in December, folks. There is such a thing as too lean, too much too fast. All of this trying to drop weight in October through deprivation of things you should just simply enjoy right now - it’s a recipe for finding yourself buried face first in a pecan pie on the holiday buffet table with no hope of getting out unless someone drives in a Bobcat. Set the rules in December or January. For now, just let yourself breathe.

Motivation can be a tricky thing. It burns the strongest when we have the least to do. It’s easy to get motivated when you are training 50 percent less or easier than in the summer time. It’s easy to find the motivation then because there are no other demands. But now is not the time to feel all guns blazing motivated to train and tighten up. I’d rather have an athlete completely swear off triathlon for a month at this time of year than to come at me saying I AM SO MOTIVATED! Hey! Bottle that up and pull it off the shelf in January when it’s 30 degrees and you have to run 2 hours. Talk to me about motivation then. Forget about it for now.

This is the time of year to recover. Consider it hibernation. Shut the body down. I plan to do this the day after Ironman. I am always baffled by people who do an Ironman and then a week later you see their results on a 10K or a month later they are doing a marathon. “But I had all of that fitness.” Yeah, all that fitness in your body which apparently ate up all of your brain cells! Are you kidding? TIME OFF. That fitness will come back quicker than you think. Until then you are a ticking time bomb of injury or burnout waiting to happen. Stop the madness. Take a break.

So many athletes struggle with this. You know this person. They train hard all year round. They jump from race to race, triathlon season to marathon season to triathlon season. It never ends! Seasons get rolled into one endless season of go go go. They never breakthrough. They keep producing roughly the same result. Jennifer and I were talking about this the other day. How many athletes simply have this fear of stopping. Like they are going to lose a year's worth of fitness in two weeks.

But what if you are one of those people that simply cannot - or will not - stop? I challenge you to ask yourself:

What am I afraid of? Why can't I stop? What does the training do for you? Mean to you? Is it a loss of fitness that you fear? Getting fat? Getting bored, disgruntled or out of shape? What is it?

Chances are none of those things will happen. And trust me, I know you like training because of all the GOOD things it does for you but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Nevermind what Mae West said. I bet you like training but I bet you like improving and performing well even better. But you will never reach new heights in peformance if you are always stuck at the same plateau. Why do you plateau? Because you never take a break and let your body heal. Through healing we get stronger. If you are always in a state of semi-health you will never reach your full potential in 100 percent good health.

You have to remind your body how to recover. So many balance life, work, kids, training all year that we are under a constant state of stress. Even when we are recovering we are trying to work, take care of kids, clean the house – all of these are still stress. Our endrocrine system gets completely out of whack and doesn’t know if it should fight, flight, release cortisol or just shut down. Stress is stress! The body cannot distinguish between physical and mental stress. At some point you have to force it, remind it what it’s like to rest and how to recover again. Enter time off. Complete time off. Watch television. Read a book. Put together a photo album. Refrain from physical (stress) activity.

But we are our own worst enemies. We read this but don’t believe it. You can’t get fitter by doing nothing at all. Can you? I had a friend who qualified for Kona for years. After the race he would take off until January 1st. That’s nearly 10 weeks of nothing at all. Each year he came back faster. Each year his body got deep recovery. Each year he returned to Kona.

Fitness can peak twice in a year. Once you reach a peak you can hold it for – at most – three weeks. Do the math. 52 weeks in a year. 20 weeks to make a difference with a training program. Two peaks, 40 weeks – what about the other 12 weeks? Recovery. Time off, time away, shut it down.

Of all the lessons I learned this year, recovery is the biggest one. How to recover and when. I have realized that time off is really time in the bank. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s not an evil trick to make me fat. It’s not time I could spend better doing training. It’s not time to spend 3 hours cleaning all of the wood work in the house with a toothbrush. Time off. LEGS UP. It’s hard at first but once you get past the demons of yourself, it’s actually quite...refreshing.



Jennifer Harrison said...

OH AMEN! I am just going to cut and paste this into my blog...seriously, I don't get it. People have been asking me, are you training, Jen? Well...I am doing some stuff, yes, BUT I was completely off for nearly 4 weeks. 4 weeks people. I have athletes begging me to workout after a few days!!!! And, 4 of those weeks were almost bed-ridden after my accident...so, I am back to things lightly, and guess what? As soon as I try to get back into I got sick...why? BECAUSE of the stress from the trauma of my accident...so, I am not recovered yet. So, besides the ONLY stupid thing I have done (given up candy and baked goods), I have been resting and I am getting pretty good at it. I never came back faster the year after I was on bedrest with my twins for 8 weeks. HA! Maybe, we should all lay on the couch and eat M&Ms...seriously! I couldn't agree more, great post, Elizabeth! I know you are looking forward to December! Jen H.

Maggs said...

WOW. Great post. Today I was really feeling like a slug because EVERYONE is training for something and I don't want to do anything. I should cut back on some of the junk food or at least phase in some real food, but resting and relaxing is what I'm all about right now!

BriGaal said...

Excellent post. It always amazes me how hard people are training through the winter. Most are injured or burnt out by the summer, though. I think I'm on the other end of the stick and sometimes think I need a bit MORE motivation!

Wes said...

Thirty days sounds like a fantastic idea. Then there's this little marathon in Memphis I have my eye on in December ;-)

Andrea said...

Okay then...I believe this gives me permission to not swim for the whole month of November! Yes!

chrissy parks said...

i've almost gained 10 lbs since hawaii..... i think i like food and inactivity a little too much:)

Charisa said...

Awesome post and so so so true! Friends keep asking me when the next race is. I told them I'm eating cookies and doing nothing for a while and they laughed. It's true though!

GoBigGreen said...

Thanks for this post. I think with winter coming in the North there is alot of SAD coming as well, and I know i look to my workout for a (healthy?) dose of endorphins. But your words ring true, we just have to TRUST that our bodies need this and we have to tell our controlling brains to quiet down.

Kim said...

This was a good post for me right now (as I just wrote on facebook that I wondered if it was too early to start training for 2009! ha!). I was totally kidding, but I have done NOTHING for 18 days, except try to run once, and fail, and then, get sick. That's it. So, I just watch the snow fall outside, CRAP - it's snowing, sit at my little computer and be normal, and read blogs, and watch grey's anatomy. Yes, normalcy. I think the 10 weeks off guy sealed the deal for me. I'll see you in January.

Mira Lelovic said...

Thanks for the post!!! I might put a post on my blog just referring to your post!

I needed reassurance that I wasn't a lazy slob for not being the least bit interested in triathlons or racing right now. Yep, I'm doing stuff (exercise), but different stuff that's fun and I want to do, that I don't have to feel competitive about. I almost went out and did a half marathon on Saturday just because it was close by and then thought "why"? So I stayed home, slept in, and then went on an enjoyable run myself where I didn't get stressed out over who beat me or where I placed. Doing long rides and bike intervals now aren't going to benefit me come next April/May. Plus it's cold, even here in AR!

triEVielon said...

This is one of the best blogs I've read yet. I know so many of these people! They actually have the nerve to say to me in Nov/Dec, "Getting a little tubby aren't you?"

I have a marathon 11/29 and after that it's wine and frolic until January 1. I am a true believer in total rest. I didn't discover this until I got older but I've made such tremendous progress taking time off that it is now as much a part of my routine as those excruciating track workouts.

Thanks for posting this and getting the message out in terms ANYONE should be able to understand. My guess is that some folks just don't want to come down off that brain chemical cocktail of a high.

No offense but here's to passing them in a race next season.

TriGirl 40 (okay - 41) said...

Thinking about this post - and am working on believing taking a month off would make me stronger and wouldn't guarantee a 20 pound weight gain. Still struggling with the thought of losing ground on the little progress I've made -and the hard work it took to get there.

Good stuff to ponder, though!

Marathon Moms said...

definitely what I, who is hopefully recovering from massive IT issues, needed to hear. I've been a lurker on your blog for a long time--love it--and this post (which I read while eating 2 reese's pb cups) resonated with me big time. my body has told me over and over that I need a break, and yet...it's so mentally hard to do. I will be more firm with it next time it needs an endorphin fix. thank you.

Lindsay said...

Hi Liz, Loved this!!! Especially since I have been enjoying my fare share of RnR the past 6 weeks. I firmly believe in a big rest. It does wonders for the body, and the motivation. After 6 weeks of next to nil, i am slowly getting back into some easy training. I'm going to swim with the kids on Thurs nights some if you're ever interested. Good luck in AZ

BreeWee said...

I am totally amening to this too... and as soon as I get done playing with Ricky Martin you better believe I am putting the legs up too!

Wish you were here... enjoy enjoy enjoy the training, almost show time and rest time...

And yes, your season totally taught me a lot about recovery!

Alili said...

So, what you're saying is I should have read this BEFORE I sent you a panicky email yesterday? Point taken.

IronMatron said...

But there are so many great road races in the winter!
(just kidding.)
(sort of.)

Anonymous said...

Wow - I really needed to hear this! Thanks!!

kerri said...

You should seriously consider submitting to Triathlete magazine. Seriously. Loved it. Thanks

Molly said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I'm a few days behind on reading this but it is a good reminder. I'm hoping I get my marching orders for eating junk food and relaxing for a few weeks after December 7th :)