How to deal with the “ughs,” the “blahs” and the “not todays.”
There’s something different lately, but you can’t quite place your finger on it. You’re checking off the boxes on your training plan, but you’re not improving. You were really excited when you put together your race calendar last winter, but now you kind of wish you hadn’t signed up for that October race. The routes you used to love for your long rides and run now feel tedious. You’d rather starve than choke down one more gel or sports chew, and the thought of doing today’s hill repeats just feels…ugh.
Welcome to mid-season burnout. You’re not alone—the “rut,” as it’s known to many athletes, is a common phenomenon in triathlon for age-groupers and pros alike. Though “race season” typically refers to the summer months in North America, triathlon is often a year-round effort, peaking in the months between March and October when races are most plentiful. Typically, the stoke level is high in the earlier months of the year, but many triathletes lose steam mid-summer, falling victim to the rut.
Burnout manifests in many different ways. For some, it’s a lack of motivation; for others, it’s a constant feeling of inadequacy or agitation. Training feels like a burden, a chore, or a pointless endeavor. One skipped workout can lead to more, and the rut spills over into other areas of life, including poor diet choices, lack of sleep, or moodiness at work or home.
The bad news: Burnout is insufferable. The good news: It doesn’t have to last. Small changes to your routine can generate big results for body and mind, banishing burnout and finishing the rest of the season strong, healthy, and happy.
Reassess your goals. Are you truly excited about racing that Ironman, or did you sign up because everyone else in your tri club is doing it? Take a hard look at what you’re doing and why—if your goals don’t resonate with you, motivation will be hard to find.
Get more sleep. It’s as true for babies as it is for triathletes—the less sleep you get, the more irritable you’re likely to be. Sleep is critical for athletes—a deficit of sleep also means a deficit in recovery.
Eat more, eat better. Is it possible you’re hangry? A common mistake triathletes make is trying to restrict calories while training to make “race weight,” but a chronic caloric or macronutrient deficit can cause you to feel sluggish, weak, and emotional.
Call a friend. Recruiting a training buddy or jumping into a group ride can bring the fun back to your workouts. In addition to lively conversation to make the miles pass faster, it’s likely you’ll find someone who has been in your burned-out shoes before and can offer advice.
Go short and fast. If you’re feeling stale, try racing a shorter, faster distance to find the thrill again. This can be a sprint or super-sprint triathlon, but a bike crit, road mile, or Masters swim meet can also fit the bill for excitement and novelty.
Get naked. Leave the watch and phone at home the next time you train. Without the stress of pace alerts or constant text-message notifications, you can relax, go at a pace that feels good, and enjoy your surroundings.
Go on an adventure. If you typically run roads, take to the trails this weekend. If you normally swim in an indoor pool, join an open-water swim clinic. Pack a tent and head into the mountains to train in cooler temperatures, or extend your next work trip by a day to do your long run in a new environment.
Get real (foods). If you’re sick of squishy foods in foil packages, try making your own ride and run fuel. The process of selecting a recipe, shopping for ingredients, and baking or assembling your food allows you to invest in your training in a different way. Bonus: You’ll get more excited to ride when you know you’ve got tasty treats in your jersey pocket.
Take a week off. A week away from structured training can serve as a reset button. Instead of running, go for a hike. When you’d normally go to Masters swim, try that aerial yoga class. Even though it’s the middle of the season, you won’t lose fitness by taking a week off – especially if burnout was making you skip workouts, anyway.