8/17/17

Avoid late-season training burnout



Since starting my 2017 back in November, my motivation for training is still high and I am itching to race my last race of the season, the IM 70.3 World Championship, in just 24 days! I'm actually getting a little sad that my 2017 season is coming to an end. Although I look forward to the fall, when I have the opportunity to exercise without structure and enjoy our amazing fall weather, I really do love training with a purpose and being in the race environment. But with a close to one season comes the start of another season and I can't wait to make my return back to Ironman distance racing after this 2-year intentional break from training for the 140.6 mile distance. Ironman Austria and Ironman Wisconsin will make Ironman #12 and #13 for me in 2018!

Although it's normal to experience motivational highs and lows throughout a season, there can be a great risk for burnout when you have been training hard for a long period of time, in preparation for an important event. Typically, the symptoms occur gradually as you can't seem to find the motivation that you once had to train and you notice a loss of enjoyment for training. Not to mention, you may also be struggling with injuries, health issues or a change in mood. You may even say to yourself "I can't wait to get this race over with".

The interesting thing about burnout is that it's not always predictable. Life, work and family stress can increase the risk for burnout. You can also feel burned out when you are injured, sick or feeling a plateau in fitness.

Although we all know that athletic success requires hard work and embracing "the grind" (there will be some workouts that brighten your day and others that suck the energy out of you) but if you don't love training, you won't experience the results that you are capable of achieving.

I've been lucky that I have never lost my enjoyment for the sport of triathlon and thankfully, for many years, my body has given me some incredible results without a health or injury-related setback. Since my first Ironman back in 2006, I still love the sport as much as I did when I was introduced to the swimbikerun, multisport lifestyle. But the joy and passion that I get from training and racing does not come from one of placement or time, but self-improvement. And over the years, I've always made the conscious effort to adjust my training so that I can safely integrate training into my life, without it compromising my health or well-being. Today, I've become smarter, wiser and more experienced as an endurance triathlete (and coach) and I've learned a few effective strategies that have helped me avoid late season burnout.

  1. Avoid just checking off your workouts and simply going through the motions. If you feel obligated to train but gain little enjoyment or satisfaction from completing your workouts, you need a specific purpose or focus for why you are training, which will help you get more out of every training session.
  2. If you feel physically and emotionally exhausted, training may not be to blame but it's likely the first thing that gets removed when life feels overwhelming. Exercise is a great way to improve your mood so don't scratch your workout just because life is stressful. Give yourself permission to move blood, participating in an exercise that makes you feel good, for 20-30 minutes. You will likely feel more calm and relaxed after the workout is finished.
  3. Change up your routine if your daily grind is becoming monotonous. Go somewhere new and exciting to train, join a group or invite a training partner to join you or take a few days off from structure. Sometimes a mind/body recharge is exactly what you need.
  4. Join a group or participate in a camp for motivation. There's nothing more inspiring that training with others, in a new environment, especially when they can keep you accountable to an effort and likely bring a bit more out of your body than what you can do alone.
  5. Eat enough! If your caloric intake is not adequate and you are skimping on your sport nutrition, there's a good chance that you are sabotaging your health and performance as your body can't keep up with the workouts. Take some time away from training so that you can kick-start your appetite (or organize the diet) so that you can meet your energy needs.
  6. Remind yourself of your goals. Sure, it may be a long season and you may be looking forward to a break but what got you excited to train for your upcoming race? Since you can't control the future, make sure your goals help you stay motivated with your training journey/process.
  7. Remove the pressure on yourself that you have to get faster. Far too many burnout stories stem from an athlete pushing through fatigue, restricting the diet in order to make race weight, being extreme with the lifestyle or working out at any cost in order to boost performance or to feel more physically prepared for race day. Added pressure brings stress and anxiety but it also induces a constant state of stress for your body when you push beyond your physical capabilities.
  8. Get your sleep! Sleep is an amazing recovery tool but when you fall short on sleep or try to function in life with restless sleep, it's easy to feel run down and to lose motivation when your body no longer works to your expectations. Try to get to bed earlier and allow yourself a few days to wake-up without an alarm so that your body can get the sleep it deserves.
  9. No structure workouts are in order! Sometimes you need a break from structure. Go out and just go for a run without a watch, ride your bike for fun (and stop at the local coffee shop) or do an open water swim and enjoy the freedom of not following a black line. Or, do nothing related to your sport without guilt.
  10. More is not better. Don't let your sport control your life. If you have found yourself in a training rut, grinding away the miles and feeling an intense amount of guilt if you miss a workout or don't hit your expected watts or paces, it's time to put things into perspective. Your sport is your hobby and training is a way to keep you in great health - physically and mentally. Take a step back and figure out a strategy of doing less so that you can get more out of your hobby. 
Your sport likely requires a lot of time and energy and when motivation is high, it's easy to be all-in. But when you feel like your sport is taking over your life, controlling how you live, the constant stress of your training demands may be giving you little time to physically and mentally rest and recover.

It is important to respect your body and keep your body and mind in great health. No matter what race is on your horizon, remember that training should be fun and it should make you a better person.

 If you are feeling overwhelmed, constantly fatigue and noticing a loss of enjoyment for your sport, it's time to change your relationship with your training regime/sport and adjust your perspective so that you can finish off your season with the same joy and excitement as when you started your season.