Friday, February 12, 2016

Staving off Burnout

Odds are if you race your bike, train a lot, run marathons or any other kind of athletic pursuit that you’ve come to a point where you’re feeling burnt out. No one is immune from burn out if they don’t take the proper precautions, and even doing so doesn’t guarantee your body won’t revolt at some point. Despite this fact, there’s no need to worry but rather harbor the knowledge you need to stay fresh and dig yourself out of that hole should you ever find yourself in one. Recently I found myself feeling the effects on traveling long hours, racing every weekend and dealing with the realities of winter. I’ve talked with people multiple times about this subject and thought it may be useful to get some thoughts down.

A Frequent scene during winter race travel

Taking yourself seriously is like building a tolerance to caffeine. At first it has the benefits you’re looking for, but as time goes on and you indulge more and more the benefits are less and less. Sometimes you need to take a race or training session seriously, the focus and attention can help to amplify the results, but if you apply this to every action regarding cycling then you’ll soon find the affect to be diminished and over time it can actually become a hindrance. Keep perspective on what events you need to take serious, and focus on being more relaxed with the rest of your schedule and training. Training won’t always be fun, but if you’re not stressing yourself out beforehand then you have much better odds at enjoying and embracing it.

Be forgiving to yourself. It’s easy to console others on lack luster races, goals missed, or lack of fitness due to outside circumstances, but I find that a lot of people have trouble applying that same mentality to themselves. If work has kept you long hours, the kids haven’t been sleeping well, or your motivation just hasn’t been there, take a step back and don’t be hard on yourself about what could have been or chastize yourself for “where you should be”. Where you should be is most likely where you are based on lifes demands. Fitness comes and goes, sometimes we loose our edge temporaily but it doesn’t mean that we can’t resharpen it and come around stronger than ever.

Find time for fun in your schedule. There are going to be rest days, low volume days, spin-it-out days, and “free” days, be sure to take these days “seriously”. I don’t mean “seriously” like wake up at 5am to carb load, but seriously like sticking to keeping things fun and the level where they need to be. All too often people will stick a hard ride or tempo pace group ride in where a rest day or easy day should be just because they feel like they need the fitness or it will benefit them. The rejuvenation from a proper recovery or easy day will go much farther in the long run than cramming in another 2 hours of threshold effort. Get creative with your easy days, go explore a new park, ride somewhere scenic and stop frequently for photos, ride with a friend or spouse who rarely rides and stay next to them.

Fun group ride adventure!

Pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you. It’s easy to get excited and feed off when your body is hitting a fitness peak or you’re really in the groove. You can feel the hard work paying off and you’re dropping foolson all the stop sign sprints, but what happens when you’re the one getting dropped? As much as we can embrace the peak fitness we can deny the signs of burnout. Sometimes we all have off days and that strava segment remains elusive, but when you start to notice multiple symptoms (chronic fatigue, mood swings, lack of enthusiasm, lead legs, etc…) then it’s time to face the music. Don’t get upset or depressed because you’ve reached this phase, but rather accept it and take it “seriously”. By “seriously” I mean give it the attention it deserves along with the rest and recovery your body needs physically and mentally. The french have a saying “c’est la vie” which translates to “that’s life”.

Treating yourself well both mentally and physically is the key to getting over the hump. Give your body the rest that it’s looking for, and I realize this is always easier said than done, but try to get the sleep your body is craving or at least hold the couch down when you can. Don’t focus on “how burnt out you are” or “how slow you’ve gotten”, but rather try to excite yourself about getting some time off and the impending comback to strava greatness! Negativity will always hold you back, and letting go of those bad thoughts and embracing the positive will go a long ways in recovery. Give your body the food it wants (obviously use discretion here) and don’t fret over indulging in some Taco Bell here and there. During race season or heavy training we all too often withold what we really want (Taco Bell) in favor of giving our bodies the healthiest and leanest food. If you must get on the bike keep it super fun, go out without a route in mind, go practice wheelies in a park, go in search of some rogue trails or alleyways, go on a fun pub excursion with friends, etc… If you are really tired of the bike, find some other fun activites like running with your pet, hiking at a park, backpacking, kayaking a river you always ride by.

Urban exploration

Racing year round is becoming more prevalent. If I didn’t find the time to take breaks and have fun I could literally race every single weekend of the year, and multiple events at that! There are more and more events showing up each year, and the overlap of seasons is really starting to blur the lines. Here are some things I do personally to keep things fun and fresh:

1.       I make a calendar document in Word or Excel and just toss all the races/events that I’m interested in on there. I don’t decide right that moment if I’m for sure going, but I get them on there to see how it all lays out. Once they’re on there I “edit” what makes sense and what is too tight. This calendar is fluid and just because a race is on there doesn’t mean I’m going. This helps to avoid over-committing or racing 200 mile gravel races weeks apart.
2.       I try to always ride different routes. Sometimes it’s fun to do a TT or loop effort to check your fitness, but in general I try to always keep my scenery changing.
3.       I switch up what bikes I ride regularly. Just because it’s “gravel season” doesn’t mean I won’t jump on the fatbike and shred some gnar or hit the road bike for some speed work.
4.       I take hard days seriously while my easy days are very relaxed. I can conjure up the serious motivation in droves this way and I don’t grow a tolerance by taking the other workouts less serious.
5.       If I hit a chronic fatigue phase I will reduce beer or alcohol consumption (say it ain’t so!), be sure I’m getting good vitamins and nutrients, stay properly fed, and adjust my schedule to get plenty of sleep. I don’t worry about it, and if I need to skip a race or two then that’s what I’ll do.
6.       I get out and have fun on my bike, after all, that’s really why I do this!! I’ll go explore fun urban trails or alleys looking for cool urban routes, I’ll go ride somewhere I’ve always wanted to explore but haven’t, I’ll go ride over to Brewery Vivant to meet friends for good food, beer and conversation.
7.       I try to turn training into fun adventures. If I need to get some high volume rides I’ll go bikepacking with friends, that way I’m getting the miles and effort in on the bike, but I’m also having a great time exploring. I’ll go do a gravel route that has a river or creek crossing and I’ll throw in some singletrack and a stop at the Otisco Bakery in Smyrna to baked treats!

Creek to River Fatbike ride 2015

Last weekend I found myself traveling to Minnesota for part of the GLFBS (races 5 and 6). The series is being contested by many awesome athletes so the pressure is on to perform, and with races on both Saturday and Sunday it was key to recover and relax whenever a moment allowed. I’m pleased with how the weekend went, and had a lot of fun with friends old and new, but come Monday I was feeling pretty wiped out. I had a feeling this would happen so I made this week a “whatever I want” type of training week. My goal was to take it easy on myself during the week and hopefully feel good enough to get some hard efforts in over the weekend to prepare for the next GLFBS race.

Cuyuna Whiteout race recon

On Monday evening Jenny and I went for a fun cruise on the fatties through some alleys, down by the Grand River, stopping at Broadway bar for a pint, and finishing over at Logan’s with some tasty food and a stout. Tuesday I felt better so I got a moderate ride in. Wednesday I wanted to get another easy ride in so I decided to go test out the ice on Reeds Lake, and I’m happy to say I didn’t fall in! Thursday Jenny and I met with my doppelganger to talk wedding photos and have treats at Harmony. After our meeting I was excited to go check out Reeds Lake again (feeling excited to go ride is a good sign that you’re recovering well). I went out onto the lake ice under the warm orange glow of streetlamps and soon left them behind for the frozen dark abyss of the lake with wind swept pockets of snow strongly resembling clouds. After promptly drawing an M on my impromptu route I made another fun lap of the lake. Nearing the end of my ride I stopped to get some photos to capture the adventure. I found myself standing on the crystal clear ice in the sharp winter air marveling at how awesome it was to be out there. I didn’t want to leave the frozen lake, but rather ride willy nilly about the lake under the dark night sky. I slowly crept off to the ice and headed for home, sidetracking through the 1 mile Hodenpyle trail for one last adventure. Heading home I knew I was in a good place to train hard and enjoy the weekend, and all I had to do was relax all week after racing and have some fun to get there.
Logan's Alley

Night ice riding