What a week. Crap.
The good news was that I had work that I love, which is lovely. Satisfying and rich.
The bad news was that this work was so intense that I had no chance to run, get to the gym, or otherwise continue my training for Mt. Kenya this November.
Part of me panicked. WTF???
What if I fall behind? Lose ground?
That very common knee-jerk reaction happens to nearly all of us who are preparing for some kind of event. However, the truth is that a break- and I mean longer than a few hours or a day- is critical for the training process.
Here’s what I mean.
Two weeks ago I had begun to notice that when I hiked the steps with a heavy backpack, my legs had begun to ache. This isn’t the kind of ache that you feel when you know you’re developing muscle. This was an angry ache. It took me a lot longer to complete the circuit than usual.
I had begun to want to avoid training, despite the fact that I enjoy it. I was tired, weary, and felt weighed down.
A good friend of mine is a trainer, and we spend a fair amount of time together. He pointed out yesterday when I expressed concern about my longer-than usual training break that it was right on target.
We need to create cycles in our programs so that we can rest, rejuvenate and get re-inspired. This also allows us to plan for peak performance whether we’re in it for a season of games or a single event like a marathon.
Here’s what Breaking Muscle has to say about the value of periodization training:
- Management of fatigue, reducing risk of over-training by managing factors such as load, intensity, and recovery
- The cyclic structure maximizes both general preparation and specific preparation for sport.
- Ability to optimize performance over a specific period of time
- Accounting for the individual, including time constraints, training age and status, and environmental factors.
While the article gets into some pretty specific detail about which would be useful for more serious athletes, for those of us who are simply trying to get ready for a big climb rather than a big competition, for example, can take some of this advice to heart.
Five years ago when I trained almost daily for climbing Kilimanjaro, I put in up to four hours every single day. I rarely if ever took breaks. That not only caused me to injure, but I also got to the point of real fatigue. That’s a setup for misery.
This time around I not only backed off the intensity of those workouts but also the frequency. I’ve still turned my legs into pistons. I’ve still got amazing endurance and I’m five years older at 65. This isn’t the trajectory you’d expect. The key here is a combination of consistency as well as effort. I still push, push hard, but take more breaks.
This isn’t just true for an aging body. This is true for all of us. Without breaks, without rest, the body breaks down. Whether that’s a day off for the muscle groups we’re building with iron at the gym or the legs we expect to take us to high altitude on a long climb or extended run.
So I had a week off. Ate too much(Okay, Okay, so Sprouts had their chocolate covered almonds on half price). Put on a few extra pounds of water weight. While part of me panics, my friend reminded me that given the timing (I am five weeks away from leaving for Africa) this is just about perfect. Now I can recommit with enthusiasm and energy, and be able to again perform at high levels, having given my body a well-deserved break.
Since I began training specifically for Mt. Kenya on July 8th, I’ve hiked 60,600 steps, not counting going down, which would double that number. I’ve donned a backpack and steadily added weight each week until I am carrying 24+ pounds of water and small sand bags. I’ve run 66+ miles and spent untold hours punching weights. This doesn’t begin to include all the work I was doing before I began training specifically for this trip.
I ride horseback and run water laps and sit my exercise bike as well. To say that I’m in shape would be an understatement. However there’s always that feeling that it’s never enough. Some of us are dogged by it, and that’s one of the vulnerable areas where we can over train, injure and get ourselves in trouble.
I am as susceptible to over-training as the next guy or gal. I worry about taking time off. But if I don’t my body rebels. Being a badass also includes knowing when to veg out, eat that handful of chocolate almonds, watch a whole NFL game or all three on Sunday, and smell the roses.
The hike up Mt. Kenya isn’t an endurance race. It’s just a summit hike. The point is to take in every detail, smell, and soft swish of wind along the way. Enjoy the rattle of November rains against the sides of the tent and the warmth of a sub zero down bag at altitude. The delight of scrambled eggs in the morning. There’s no hurry. Training simply means that the trip will be easier along the way.
And a big part of training is to take it easy every so often to prevent injury, keep us engaged and energized as well as giving our bodies time to recover, grow, and get stronger for the task.