How do you tell when it’s time for a break and you have pushed yourself through one Ironman Triathlon too many?
We are in the midst of a triathlon boom that is seeing more and more Long distance triathlons springing up all over the world. Ironman New York, Ironman Mont Tremblant for 2012 and Ironman Lake Tahoe and Whistler set to go in 2013 are a few examples, and dozens of Ironman 70.3 races being born over the last few years.
Becoming a triathlete or crossing the Ironman finish line has changed many people for the better. It gives them sense of purpose, sense of accomplishment, and an inner strength they never knew they possessed.
The thrill of breaking down barriers that at one time seemed insurmountable and the rush of adrenaline every single time an Ironman finish line is crossed is a powerful, addictive force.
Many endurance athletes who get hooked on running or triathlon have obsessive, compulsive personalities. Not all, but many.
These are the characteristics that fuel their drive for success on the marathon or Ironman Highway. It takes a special person not just to compete in these races, but to train week after week, month in and month out in order to make it to the start line.
If a person has a compulsive personality, it is a Godsend that they are channeling those compulsions toward something creative and positive as opposed to more destructive compulsions like alcohol or drugs for instance.
However, there is a tipping point where one must decide to forge ahead with racing and training to the extreme or to back off and take a break and consider just exactly what the long-term triathlon goals are.
Sometimes it is so easy to become immersed in the quest for the Ironman finish line race after race that social and family life begin to suffer and serious injury or medical issues brought on by unrelenting physical stress is just around the corner.
TRIATHLON OVER-TRAINING WARNING SIGNS
Before you even realize it, you begin to push your social life further and further into the shadows. Often there is simply not enough time in a day to fit in that lunch with a friend or go to that Saturday night party.
Let’s face it, late Saturday nights with the possibility of being tired or hung-over are not conducive to Sunday morning two-hour runs or 80k training rides. And often it’s the triathlon training trumping the social fun every time.
Inevitably this can put a stress on friendships and in some cases simply end them and the time will come when you are simply not asked to do anything anymore because you have made your priorities quite clear.
Your wake-up call is actually when the phone stops ringing.
As is often the case it is family members who are your strongest supporters. They are always there for you and make sacrifices on a daily basis so you can pursue your dream. They are there at the finish line to celebrate with you.
But even the closest of family ties have a breaking point. It is usually reached when the time comes that training and racing begins to alienate you from the ones who love you most and have supported you most.
It is a sure warning sign if you begin to miss important family events that somehow have become a vexation in your life that take away from your goal of reaching the distant finish line.
When your Ironman obsession hints of discontent on the home front it might be time to re-think your priorities and perhaps make compromises that create a balance in all aspects of your life.
It is so easy to ignore pain or warning signs from your body that something is not quite right. After all, when you started out in triathlon everything hurt and soon you became immune to it and somehow the mentality became “if I just ignore it, it will go away.”
Many times you will get away with it and that pain in your ankle, or heel, or knee just goes away when you train through it. But the time will most likely come when it will not go away and becomes a chronic injury that can plague you for years.
Physical stress does not limit itself to just tendon, ligament, and muscle injuries. It can also upset your body balance and your career can be in jeopardy if you begin to have issues like adrenal fatigue that can have an impact on everything you do on or off the Ironman highway.
Adrenal fatigue can cause a cascading effect and a host of symptoms can crop up. Tired all the time, blurry vision, tinnitus, brain fog, dizziness and the list goes on and on.
HOW TO ENSURE A LONG IRONMAN TRIATHLON CAREER
Everything I just mentioned can be avoided if you incorporate a regimen of extended breaks from Ironman distance training and racing at regular intervals over the course of your Ironman career.
By this I do not mean taking a week off from training or perhaps only doing two Ironman races instead of six in one year.
An extended break should be measured by the year not by days, weeks or months.
Say for example you are forty-years-old and completely immersed in triathlon training and racing year after year.
If you look at recent Ironman race results from around the world(and I have many of them right here on IronStruck) you can’t help but notice how the senior age-groups continue to grow. I’ve done race results where there have been over twenty finishers in the 60-64 age-group.
Here is an excerpt from an article I wrote for the Examiner after Ironman Australia 2012.
One of the most amazing age-group statistics from Ironman Australia 2012 is that there were 31 males in the 60-64 age-group. They don’t get older in Australia. They just get stronger and have more fun.
I’m pretty certain this is the trend of the future.
Using a 40-year-old as an example, there is a good possibility that this person could have 25 or more years left in their Ironman career…..if they pace themselves.
I believe that the value of taking a year off from Ironman training and racing at regular intervals cannot be over-stated.
It accomplishes several things. It will get you back in touch with your family and friends and social life in general.
It will give your body much-needed time to completely resolve and heal any over-training issues that were perhaps getting ready to rear their ugly head.
It will make your next Ironman that more exciting and perhaps more successful as you return to Ironman training completely rested, healthy, and full of energy.
I believe that the Ironman triathletes who race for two years and takes every third one off from intensive endurance training will add years to their Ironman career. For some people taking every other year off is an even better plan.
It does not mean letting yourself get completely out of shape and becoming a couch potato.
It just means that the time spent training is far, far less with the main focus being on very short work-outs that focus on technique and not distance and endurance. Instead of five or six intense, focused work-outs a week it might be two or three shorter, much easier work-outs that focus on maintaining conditioning as opposed to working toward an upcoming Ironman Triathlon.
In your rest year it is best to not write out a strict training plan as it’s important in this stage to give priority to all those aspect of your life that have been pushed aside for perhaps too long.
If a person did a few 10k races, or half-marathon, or perhaps an Olympic Distance Triathlon during the year away from Ironman training there would be very little stress on the body, but at the same time you would not have to start your training at ground zero when you get back to the Ironman distance after a long rest.
With so many races around the world now more and more triathletes are falling into the trap of doing one Ironman Triathlon too many.
Possibly they have the mind-set that if they try often enough they will finally find a way of crossing the Ironman finish line a few minutes faster and win themselves a qualifying spot for the Ironman Hawaii World Championships in Kona.
Multiple Ironman races in a single year might not produce the desired results because of deep-rooted exhaustion that has intrenched itself in your body without you even knowing it. You may never know what you are truly capable of until you adopt complete rest as a strategy.
A year of rest from Ironman Training and racing and a year to ease into your first race after re-vitalizing your body on many levels could well be the key to you having your best Ironman Triathlon result ever.
Rest assured, there will always be an Ironman Triathlon finish line waiting for you somewhere once you come back at the top of your game to give it your best shot.