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Pros share their tips for staying fresh in a long season.
It’s one thing to groan when the alarm goes off yet again for an early-morning workout—to dread that workout entirely, however, is a sign of a bigger issue.
August is a time when many triathletes experience the mid-season rut. This dip in motivation partway through race season can be both frustrating and perplexing—during this phenomenon, most athletes have every intention of achieving their race goals in the coming months but struggle to check off the training objectives for today.
That lull in motivation can stem from a variety of factors: physical fatigue, emotional exhaustion, nutritional deficiencies, life stressors and boredom are common contributors to the mid-season rut. Symptoms, too, are different—what one athlete dismisses as “a bad week” may indicate something bigger is happening for another athlete.
For all cases, however, it’s important to address the issue, as simply ignoring the mid-season rut can quickly lead to a case of burnout. Today, professional triathletes share how they experience the mid-season rut (and they all have experienced it!) as well as how to get motivation back on track.
Mary Beth Ellis
The primary tell I’m in a rut is an “emotional trough.” As triathletes—pro and age groupers—we are all highly driven and motivated. When you start to dread your training sessions for several days in a row, then you are in a rut.
I think the first step is to give yourself permission to take it easy. Taking a mini-vacation from training is key to getting out of the rut. In addition, it might be a good idea to shake up the season and do some different races. If you normally race Ironman, plan a year with sprint and Olympic races, or do something completely different like Alpe d’Huez triathlon. You might also be excited for a race in a new, exotic locale like 70.3 Norway, or do a crazy Spartan race or mud run that sounds fun. By changing up your training and racing routine, you can keep fit but invigorate yourself with an exciting new challenge.
For me, during the mid season rut, training just feels blah and pointless.
The best way to get out of that hole is to set some late-season goals. Most successful athletes, be they amateurs or professionals, are pretty good at setting goals in the winter, but by the time August rolls around a lot of those goals need a quick update, or even some completely new ones need to be set. Most of the time, once those goals are made, and a training plan is in place to achieve those goals, getting out of the rut comes after a couple weeks of training. Often times, you just have to force yourself out the door for those couple weeks. Eventually something clicks and you’ll be back in the routine, mentally and physically.
I always know I’m in a bit of a rut when I stop logging my sessions on TrainingPeaks. It’s a sign that my head just isn’t where it needs to be when I can’t muster the energy or enthusiasm to log my sessions. I’ll still get the workouts done; it’s just recording them that is the real sign of how I am doing.
I like to try and find a new place to ride or run around town, just do some exploring to help me get out of a rut from the same-old-same-old routine. It’s amazing how finding a new trail or new climb on the bike can really get you pumped up! Going on a little mini training trip can be great too. Rinny [Mirinda Carfrae, Tim’s wife] and I recently went up to train for a few days in the mountains and it was awesome. The change of scenery got us excited and when we got back home training was even better.
A big sign that I’m headed for a rut is when I start concocting some crazy training rides, dreaming about off-season vacations and probably most of all feeling a bit lack luster about my usual training routine. This year, I started planning a ridiculously long bike route over 5 days. Julie [Dibens, Rachel’s coach] sensed my wish to do something different and, luckily, tempered my plan but I still got to do some longer days out on the bike to satisfy the itch I had.
To shake things up I take a bit of a mid-season break. That doesn’t necessarily mean time completely off, but making sure I do something different and take a break from the usual routine. Being based in Boulder, Colo., an easy way to get a change of scene is to head up to the mountains for a few days preferably with friends. In June we had a long weekend up there, only rode road bikes and tackled some new routes. It’s as much about the mental break as the physical let up.
The telltale sign that I’m in a rut is when I have several days in a row of what I call ‘WEB’ (Why Even Bother) workouts. WEB workouts are completely normal in training for us all, but often they just happen on one day when you know your body will just not deliver on what is asked of it. Having one or even two WEB workouts doesn’t mean you are in a rut, per se—it may just mean a series of things such as: accumulated work load, lack of fuel, lack of sleep, life stressors. etc. But a series of WEB workouts, where every workout seems to be forced and there is no extra gear or pop, means it’s time to take initiative and dial things back to recalibrate.
When I am in this rut, it usually means I need to pay more attention to recovery. This means the little things, such as sleeping in my Recovery Boots, taking more Vector 450 immune vitamins, hydrating better, eating more protein and a couple days of easy-peasy ‘exercise’ vs. training just to keep the blood moving lightly. Everyone’s workouts can’t always be spectacular, but if you string together a week’s worth of uninspiring performances, it probably is time to walk away for a few days and come back refocused, vibrant and ready.