Thursday, November 27, 2014

Take no prisoners

Last Monday marked the start line of the long haul back to some semblance of fitness.  After several years of taking a notable break after a season of racing, it should come as no surprise when I return feeling sluggish, slow and out of shape.  As I huff and puff and lament how my muscle memory has seemingly faded from existence, those first few workouts remind exactly how hard returning to swim/bike/run is after a over a month "off".

How do the other half live?

Off-season is the time of "normal", as though this hypothetical "normal" can be defined.  

My training friends, for the most part, are not exactly shining examples of this normal that I sought to achieve.  One even casually noted to me that he felt a 50k race was a perfect off-season activity to keep "things fresh".  Yeah right.

So absent any kind of real role model for normal, I free-styled for a few weeks...

An extra glass of wine (ok, maybe two) on a Friday night.  Sometimes Tuesdays too.  Sunday brunch with no run preceding it.  A weekday alarm later than 4:45am.  No pile of lycra laundry or packing around workout gear.  No training peaks schedule.  A (gasp!) holiday without a bike.  Drinks with friends.  Carelessness about food intake.  Shopping...of the variety where you go into real stores (not online), buy real stuff (not bike gear) and even buy girly clothing (not containing spandex).

And, like every other year, the beauty of off-season normal is that it makes me appreciate how absolutely not normal that lifestyle is, for me.  I want to sweat and breathe and create piles of lycra laundry.  I would rather stick pins in my eye than spend a Saturday afternoon in a mall, and quite frankly, I love to eat but really do prefer salads over chocolate and Perrier over martinis.  Perhaps that is just the sensibility that comes with age.  Or perhaps, the reinforcement of years of exercise that have taught me to appreciate that feeling awesome is a life premium worth seeking out.

The other beauty of off-season is that it reinforces how much balance training lends to my life.  Dropping a training schedule out of my week does absolutely nothing to improve my productivity at life in general, in fact, it makes me feel sluggish and grumpy and absolutely aching to get back to my routine.  Again, I realize that sounds strange, but taking breaks to workout energizes me to be productive in my career and at home.  Those hours "gained" in off-season, quite frankly, make my soul feel a little lost.  I'd rather be busy juggling it all than missing the sweaty parts.    

Do it because you love it

So I am back to juggling schedules and laundry and workouts.  Off season is off.  Not "fully" training, but at least sweating again.  And I love it.

Early season is its own beast.  Time off certainly refreshes the mind, but is enough to make the legs a little rusty.  Ask anyone who returns to swimming or running after several weeks off, and they will tell you how much of a struggle it is to return to simply feeling normal.  The truth is, it really never gets easier... but is a matter of setting your mind to it.

Those tough first workouts are tempered by the knowledge that race season is a long way off.  In my view, intense training at this time of the year really does not lend to race season success.  In fact, I believe that too much structure and intensity only serves to damage the opportunity to recalibrate.  Forget FTP, heart rate, wattage, time trials, race pace...this IS the time of year to enjoy being active, enjoy moving, have some fun and not get too fussed about where it all is going.

Same, same but different

I firmly sit in the camp that believes that the human body was not built to train serious, hard and fast year round.  As important as rest days and recovery periods are in a cycle of training, an absolute break followed by a gradual return to fitness is absolutely needed for me to restore the mind and body for the next big adventure.  And, upon returning to a regular schedule of training, my training week purposely looks a little different than the summer months.

Strength, base fitness and balance are my go-to in the early season.  Workouts are not long, but they are very focused and technique driven - good form creates a better base than anything.  (I really loved this article from training peaks that speaks to off-season training.  Someone else gets it!!)

One of my favorite off-season retreats is hot yoga.  As the weather turns nasty and the long dark Vancity days persist (why is it dark at 3pm!?), the heat and comfort of the hot room is my cocoon.  To be fair, I am not a very good yogi - I am definitely more linear than flowy, and my class preference tends towards more "athletic" styles of yoga like power or hot (I highly recommend Katherine Moore's hot class at YYoga...amazing!).  But as a non-bendy athlete who focuses on repetitive movements and pavement jarring impact for much of the year, my joints and muscles are very thankful for the variety and freedom of movement.  Not only does yoga promote greater flexibility and range in a body that is not used to being flexible, but I believe that yoga helps ward off injury and compliments running and cycling by honing in on mental focus.  My head loves being in that place, and nowhere else, for the entire class - the world around just gloriously disappears for an hour at a time.

It is also the season of balancing the things I really like (running for the sake of running!)...with the things-I-really-don't-like-but-are-good-for-me.  Aka...weight training and swimming.  I would really find any excuse in the book not to go to the gym or the pool, so this is a matter of scheduling it in and just doing it.  And, true to my experience every year, the more you go, the easier it gets...but you gotta show up.  Don't over think it, just go!     

My version of fun

And slowly, slowly, it is all coming back.  I am taking no prisoners and doing things exactly the way I want to.  I do this all because it is my version of fun, and as a consequence, I get to decide exactly what that looks like.  And with that, comes the reinforcement that this is the way I like my life to be -  the familiarity of the routine, the happiness of a workout achieved, and the joy of feeling healthy.  

Beach running...a perfect winter activity.

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