Managing Stress and Training

Posted: February 27, 2013 in Motivation, Training
Tags: , ,

Should you ever Google ‘Stress and Triathlon’ you will inevitably receive about a zillion hits for pre-race anxiety, over-training syndrome (OTS), and over-coming ones fears, but that’s not the kind of stress I’m particularly interested in these days.  As I have mentioned before, my training has taken somewhat of a background focus to other more important events occurring in my life presently.  Sure, by its very definition, I’m still “training” to compete this summer, but that preparation has taken on a very different role in my life.  Now, it’s more of a means to alleviate stress while my mom is finishing her second bout of chemo and my dad is waiting for the melon-sized lump on his leg to shrink enough in order to be operable; tough times indeed.  It’s not so much about preparing to race anymore as it is a means of coping.

Stress has become an ambiguous term for most that confuses professionals and laymen alike.  Much of the confusion stems from how H. Selye first defined stress back in the 1930’s as “in addition to being itself, was also the cause of itself, and the result of itself.” 

All righty, then!

Of course, Selye was dealing with a completely different set of events back then; WWII, and a little something known as the ‘Great Depression’.  Sure, those things might warrant a little worry, however, my situation may not be quite so profoundly dire.  What I’ve learned through my own series of recent events is that my triathlon training has become a way to deal with these other mental and emotional stresses in my life; professionally and personally.  The pace and outcome of my training sessions, whether running, cycling or swimming are largely due to the amount of mental stress I’ve endured that day.  Often, I have bunked a scheduled easy run for a faster than usual tempo run, or I’ve swam longer than planned simply because I was not ready to return to the dry world again.  Whatever the case, when possible, my workouts even I’m able to do them have become very IN-tense, with a capital ‘I’.

But that’s good isn’t it?  Or is it?  I’m not always so sure.

Some choose to subscribe to the notion that training through stress is a good thing.  Science might have us believe that mental stress on the body is very similar to physiological stress.  There is ample research to show that physical exercise can alleviate the effects of mental stress; something I already know full well.  I know I literally crave it when I am stressed.  But at what cost does this training come at?  Hey, I’m proud of the fact that I ran the fastest 8k of my life three weeks ago after receiving the disappointing diagnosis on my mother’s condition from her doctor, so it’s good to know that I’m capable of such speed.  But, on the other hand, it took me nearly three days to recover from the beating I inflicted on my poor unsuspecting legs that evening.  That can’t be terribly good can it?  This past week, I kicked ass during a brutal hill interval session on the bike and still had enough for a decent 20 minute Brick run afterwards, but felt beyond fatigued the next day.  So where once I had to train myself to push harder, go longer, etc., now I might have to undue all that mental programming and teach myself the exact opposite in that there has to be some happy medium and I should pull back the reigns every so often to avoid overdoing it.

Regardless of what the experts say, I think the answer is completely personal and unique to the individual.  Already I have noticed a correlation in my daily Mood journal between my ‘Motivation to Train’  and ‘Mood’.  The shittier I feel the more motivated I am to train.  In relation to this, the crappier my ‘Mood’  the worse my ‘Diet’  is on any given day, so all the motivation to train in the world won’t amount to a hill of beans if I haven’t fueled myself up properly first.  The body can’t function properly on hotdogs and bags of Cheesies can it?  So there is the good chance that I am endangering myself of becoming physically injured, or suddenly becoming susceptible to infection or illness. Plowing through hard workouts with reduced performance might mean I’m actually digging myself into a very costly rut.  I want to get faster, stronger, and more efficient…not stagnant.

So what’s the answer?  Beats the shit out of me!  I guess I’ll just have to play the cards I’m dealt on any given day and simply see what happens and how I respond afterwards.

I may not be able to join in on many of my TryForce group workouts yet, but I’m losing weight once again and getting close to my Ironman racing weight after a few months of gluttony and ballooning, and my motivation is returning by leaps and bounds since the infamous outbreak of Ironfunk back in October.  Despite going back to short course racing this year, I’m pretty much back on target for a half, or even full on Ironman base training despite the setbacks and I have settled into a pretty manageable weekly routine around all my other personal obligations.  My foot has all but healed, and I even get out swimming with my coach on the weekends and I have been making good progress on my bi-lateral breathing and kicking to boot; hell, I might even be getting a little faster on my 100m’s in the process as well.

My favorite workouts so far though, have been my functional strength workouts which I have now assumed full and complete responsibility for.  Similar to yoga, I find that nothing beats a good old fashioned ass-kicking at the gym to purge the spirit of negative emotions.  However, between trips to the hospital and the kids swimming lessons I can’t make time for the Crossfit class anymore, so I’ve grown to appreciate 45-60 minutes of pure, unadulterated, hot me-on-me action in the gym mirror whenever I can fit it into my schedule.  Forget the Wii Fit, I more enjoy the challenge now of finding new ways to torture and strengthen my core using little more than my body weight, and already I am over 2000 in my push-up challenge.  So its lots of planks, lunges, crunches, wall sits, V-sits, squats, hamstring curls, single leg dead-lifts, and, yes, even more of those god awful burpees.  Yippee.

So all in all, things are good while still being tough.  I continue to have the unwavering support from my girlfriend, and we are coping through it all together.  We may be spending the equivalent of a small fortune on gas and I may now be running the risk of growing roots thanks to my snacking on so many apples in the car, but, all in all, we’re getting by and I’m anticipating the coming spring training outside, the increased production of Vitamin D thanks to the sunshine, and my getting back to racing.

Heck, it may even be safe to start planning the season’s race schedule soon.

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