Monday, August 27, 2012

My Love/Hate Relationship with Rest

I’ve been sitting on this blog post for a couple weeks, mostly because I'm kind of sheepish about the topic but also because a month ago I wasn't sure if this whole resting thing would help my season. There was a couple month stretch this year when my training turned into the non-sunshine and rainbows I usually think about when I see hard bricks, long runs at pace, or hill repeats in the double digits in Training Peaks. I was a little grouchy, a lot jealous, and mostly just missing killer workouts and fast races. I basically had a mid-season break that created feelings of doubt and sadness and seriously made me wonder how the hell I was ever able to run marathons in the low 3s or lay down respectable bike splits. All I wanted was to feel (my sense of) “normal” again and get back to work busting out hard 20+ hour training weeks, strong races, and lots and lots of miles.

But my body rejected this notion. Sometime around mid-June when I thought I’d be mostly recovered from Ironman St. George and ready to start building again, I just couldn’t come around. Ironman recovery is different for everyone, but in the past 4 years of racing at this distance, one month of really easy stuff and gradually getting back is what has worked for me. But not all recovery is created equal and this year I needed more time.

More recovery time, however, was not what I wanted. I didn’t have feelings of “burnout” and my motivation was in check, but I just didn’t have the speed and power I had earlier in the season. After my first DNF, a very poor VO2 Max test on the bike (whoa my watts were low) and a few less-than-stellar run workouts, I had one of many heart to heart talks with my coach. Kainoa said I needed more rest and that she was going to give me a good long break before I’d start easing back into it in mid-July.

I knew I had to accept this guidance and as I started talking about my break with some of my close friends who were also feeling some mid-season blues I realized people don't really like talking about rest for a couple reasons:

1) We all kind of suck at it. There's a reason most of us have hit our goals and had some sort of athletic achievement - it's due to hard work.

2) A lot of people, me included, sometimes view it as laziness or missing workouts and builds that will make us stronger (the whole "I'm not putting in as many miles as she's putting in, so I must not be making as much improvement...I must be GETTING SLOWER!! AHHHH!")

I realize these two things aren't true. Yes, achieving goals takes hard work and sometimes a lot of volume, but it's not going to happen if your body is worn out, you are mentally drained, or if you decide you hate the sport. I can't quite figure out why my body needed a break. It might have been the exceptionally tough day in St. George, starting my season too early after a long 2011, my 5th year in a row racing Ironman, or the constant balancing act of being a competitive age grouper (not that I want to change my life anytime soon).

So somewhat begrudgingly, I followed my coach's instruction. The low volume weeks coincided with the 4th of July and and the Knutson Family Reunion. I spent about 2 weeks with bike workouts that topped out at around 2 hours, runs no longer than an hour, easy recovery swims, and complete rest days. But, just like my coach always knows best, this was what I needed. And it happened be to a really great way to enjoy time with friends and family.

The last weekend in June I went over to Chelan, WA and had a few days with friends -easy bike rides, BBQs, fun swims, wine tasting and lauging - so much lauging. The second part of the holiday week I flew to MN and spent a few days at a lake up North with about 40 aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins. It was classic family fun - softball games, songs at night, matching t-shirts, playing in the lake with my cousin's kids, kayaks, big meals, tennis, golf, and easy runs with family. My two favorite workouts in MN were: swimming to the island where I learned to water ski as a kid while my dad canoed next to me, and running with my 65-year-old aunt and then jumping into the lake together (sports bras and all) followed by coffee on the lake. It was a good break from thinking about obsessing over my workouts and the first step in getting back on track.
The next couple weeks still weren't that pretty. I started ramping up volume, but it took some time before I felt like I was where I needed to be. It's hard to say just how this break will affect my performance when it comes down to my "A" race. I do know, however, trying to "train through" any type of rough patch probably would have really hurt me. It never got to the point where I wanted to give up the sport, but there were some tears and a lot of moments of frustration and doubt.

I have no idea how this story ends, but I do know that I'm in a much better place than I was a couple months ago. I'm coming off one of my hardest and strongest Ironman builds and feeling pretty good about my current fitness. I knew this all along, but I couldn't compare my workouts with anyone else, not the Twitter universe or even my own workouts from a year ago. I had to listen to my body, listen to my coach, and accept that no matter how much I suck at resting sometimes and no matter how much I might hate conceding to easier workouts, the love I have for the sport could have been lost if I pushed through it. A good, hard lesson for me to learn, but in the end, exactly what I needed.  


  1. I love this post, so honest and hard to write I'm sure. I'm glad you are feeling better than you were before, and I hope it continues to improve! I can't imagine doing an IM - recovering from just a marathon felt like a lot to me!

    1. Thank you, Paulette. It’s all part of the lessons we learn in life and sport. –ck

  2. Totally agree with Paulette! You make this all look so easy, and while I know it's FAR from it (especially when I hop on my own bike, or try to run... okay, jog... okay, walk fast), it's nice to see that you are a kickass triathlete human and not a kickass triathlete robot. Humans are much more fun to root for and cheer on! <3

    1. Despite occasionally being called “Cathleen the Machine,” I really am human and not a robot! Thanks for the support! I hope to see you soon, Sara. -ck

  3. I'm a "light runner" (think 5k, not marathon, hehe), but I can still relate to this post. I do the same thing with my extracurricular activities. I've done A LOT of volunteering the past few years, and recently I've started to feel really burnt out. So, I try to take a break, and then I take on an even bigger project. ahhhhh..... I think some of us are just programmed to be super achievers, even if it kills us. I should probably take a break, too...