By - Chris Bagg - Professional Triathlete - Portland, Oregon
Over on my blog last month, I talked about goals, drawing a map for the season, and how I hoped to get from point A (January) to point B (winning an Ironman) over the course of 2016. We talked about how you might do the same with your season and your goals, whatever they might be. This month, I’m going to talk about a seemingly opposed topic: taking a little break in February.
Not a huge break, mind you, but a small, sensible break. A catching of breath, as it were. January is a breathless month: you’ve finished your off-season; the holidays (the food, the gifts, the drink) begin to recede behind you; the new year stretches out ahead, as friendly and as promising as a first date. Athletes attack January, enthusiastic and full of purpose, certain of sustaining their torrid pace. We all could probably complete this script (as it’s completed all over the country: full gyms in January become morgues in February): the athlete begins to tire in February, misses some workouts, begins to doubt his or her plans, and might even begin to fall behind.
So how do we avoid this? I know that I definitely resemble the description above, and am eager to avoid the February slump. I started back to my organized training on December 7th, and up until last Monday, I’d put in six weeks of training without a day off. My training wasn’t incredibly hard—about what you’d expect for the very early season: plenty of core work and Yoga; moderate-paced rides, runs, and swims; a few hill workouts, and a scattering of faster sessions. In the final two weeks of January, my coach raised the intensity and volume of my training, those fourteen days beginning to resemble mid-season workouts: hard but short bike sessions around threshold heart rate or power; track workouts; long runs; fast intervals with short rest in the pool. My fitness began to climb, but my fatigue climbed along with it.
Just at the right point, my coach (the great Cliff English) prescribed a recovery week. I don’t quite know how he knows when I’m feeling toasted, but somehow he does. Over the years, I’ve begun to recognize the signs in myself that I’m beginning to tire a bit, and that a step back might be in order. Here are my warning flags (yours may very well be different!).
- The world begins to seem a little unfair. I find myself ready to snap back at people more often than I normally would. Little things like poor driving, dog owners not respecting leash laws, and unread emails (no one reads emails any more, do they?) make me angrier out of proportion to the cause.
- I crave sugar, and easy nutritional fixes like burritos, chips, pizza, and ice cream. Some of these cravings should be listened to, but if they’re there all the time, you might be driving the bus too fast.
- My sleep (never that good in the first place) worsens, and I find myself getting out of bed at 3:45 instead of staring at the ceiling, praying that I’ll go under again.
So what does a recovery week look like? For me, swim volume dips a little bit, but not much. Instead of swimming 20,000 yards last week, I swam 14,000, all at a pretty easy effort, focusing more on technique. The bike was dialed way down: two 90’ recovery rides, one two-hour mountain bike ride (so much fun!), and one 60’ interval session. The run was also quite easy: two 30’ sessions, one 60’ track run with very doable paces, and then a long run to close out the week. All told, a 14-hour week, rather than the 19-21 hour weeks we’ve been doing up to this point. So cut your volume by about 30-35%, and remove most of your intensity or speed work, keeping one quality session in each discipline for the week.
It’s Thursday today, and I feel pretty good. I swam 5000 yards this morning, with 3000 of those at a fairly good clip. I’ve got a short run this afternoon, and then back to a hard bike session tomorrow morning. My mood has improved. I slept over eight hours last night. I’m back to craving fruits and vegetables instead of burritos. I’m being nice to people again. The hope, now, is that I won’t feel this way for another six weeks!
Thanks for reading - Bagg
About Chris Bagg
Chris Bagg is one of Wattie Ink’s professional triathletes. He lives, works, writes, trains, coaches, and very rarely (but very happily) plays ping pong in Portland, Oregon. His coaching company, Chris Bagg Coaching Group can be found on the web at chrisbagg.com/coaching or on Facebook here. He is @chrisbagg on Twitter here and @christopherbagg (he knows: confusing) on Instagram here.