One mile from the finish of Sunday morning’s 20-mile run, my Garmin read, “BATTERY LOW.” I almost said out loud, “No kidding!”
By the end of race season, most of us feel we’re running on empty. We’ve committed considerable time and energy to training and racing. When that chapter of our lives ends, there’s a gamut of emotions.
Initially, we do the Snoopy “happy dance” after crossing the finish. The mind may be ready to go again, but the body often refuses. Likewise, we may feel burnout or post-race blues. Don’t fight it. It’s a built-in survival mechanism to keep us from doing too much. The body and mind need time for recovery — to refresh and renew.
When I think of athlete burnout, I’m reminded of the controlled or prescribed burns of the prairie grass fields at our farm. Like the farmers, we must use periodization carefully and intentionally to increase and decrease the heat in training to stimulate improvement and promote new growth. After the burn, it is essential to allow time for nutrients to be released into the soil.
The most successful athletes create a detailed plan to prevent unhealthy burnout and overload by carefully maintaining a balanced lifestyle. They know when to turn their sport on or off, and set aside time for rest and enjoyment of the simple things in life aside from triathlon — especially at the close of race season.
Terry Orlick, world-renown sport psychologist, insists “The challenge is not only to pursue excellence, but to do so while embracing the rest of your life.”
So, what are you to do with do during this downtime? Your purpose is gone, self-identity shaken, and affirmations withdrawn. You may even be wondering, “Who am I?”
Most important is to savor your accomplishments. By this, I don’t just mean how many times you won a race or your age group, but how many times you had the courage to toe the line, to accept a new challenge. Recalling past success is the primary source of self-belief, a key to success in future pursuits. And there should be a future event. Always have another race on the schedule to look forward to after a time of rest and reflection.
Next, connect the dots. Give particular attention to why you were successful in particular races. Though it may seem magical, many factors contribute to being in the zone. It’s important to recognize those so you feel a sense of confidence and control to repeat the experience. Likewise, if you incurred injuries or experienced suboptimal performances, examine underlying reasons to avoid making the same mistake twice. Did you suddenly up your mileage or pace? Did you pencil sufficient rest days into your training schedule?
Introspect and self-assess. How did you measure up to your own personal standard of excellence? What steps might you take to enhance your physical and psychological skills? While you are giving your body a rest, use the offseason for training the mind. You will emerge with a psychological edge and enjoy and embrace yourself and triathlon in a way you never imagined.
Cheryl Hart, owner of 2nd Wind Motivation, is a sport psychology consultant who works with athletes around the world on mental toughness skills. To reach Cheryl, call 502-693-7443 or visit 2ndWindMotivation.com.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.