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Self-Care in Triathlon

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Happy 2019!

This past year was a whirlwind of changes and events! From defending my master thesis, graduating from my master degree, closing a chapter of being a graduate assistant athletic trainer for the cross country/ track and field teams at Kansas State, saying goodbye to some great friends in Kansas, leaving some not so good people behind, coming back home, exploring and seeing family in Mexico, moving to Wisconsin, starting PhD school, completing my first Ironman, and getting engaged! SO. MUCH. HAPPENED. It is crazy. But the first half of the year felt like go, go, go and the send half I felt like it was more like a go…but with rest. 

Something was off

Weeks/months after my Ironman I felt like something was just not right with my body. It felt like I finally had the chance to rest except it didn’t feel like rest. It felt like no matter . how much sleep I got, how much my training had decreased, how much of an off season I gave myself I was just still tired. Perhaps it was growing pains with moving to a new city, being away from family, and starting a new level of graduate school but I had been through that before with K-State and to be honest, back then it was a much tougher and less ideal situation than now even though and I am further away from family. So I just didn’t understand why I was still tired. It wasn’t that I didn’t love triathlon or school anymore, or that I was homesick. Now looking back it was because I wasn’t participating in enough self-care. I was experiencing overtraining syndrome.

Overtraining Syndrome

Generally speaking with overtraining syndrome (OTS) can be symptoms of fatigue, depression, loss of motivation, insomnia, irritability, restlessness, weight loss, lack of mental concentration, heavy, sore, stiff muscle, awakening unrefreshed. Sometimes OTS is seen as a myth or overdramatic diagnosis. The diagnosis is very arbitrary to be honest. Some common terminology with OTS is burnout, staleness, failure adaptation, under recovery, chronic fatigue and over reaching, over training as a continuum. But unfortunately there isn’t much research in the literature to have a concrete definition of OTS. All I knew is I had many of these symptoms despite having had taken a break. I guess it was all in good timing since I was done with Ironman Wisconsin but it did start affecting me in the worst ways, academically. I would go to school or work and some days just could not concentrate all though all I had only done a 45 min ride instead of the 6 hour rides I was used to.

Self-care

Although there is no concrete definition or course of treatment for overreaching/overtraining syndrome a lot of what I read in the literature are things to do for anyone’s lifestyle, not just an athlete.

  • Periodization of training (My coach has this one covered)
  • Tapering for competition (Again, thanks coach!)
  • Adjusting training volume based on performance and mood (Communicate with your coach!)
  • Adequate calories- remember to eat!
  • Adequate hydration- don’t forget to drink water! Drink half body weight in ounces!
  • Adequate sleep- are you getting 7 hours?
  • Rest period of greater than 6 hours between exercise bouts
  • Abstinence of training following infection or periods of high stress.
  • Avoid extreme environmental conditions when not adjusted
  • Alter training load based on mood states

I can not agree with these recommendations of prevention of OTS more. My Texas coach once told me that we have a thing called a stress bucket. And in this bucket is good stress such as training adaptations and work but when it starts to overflow with unforeseen stressors, sickness as a stressor, bad news, pressure from work, life, family it is not a good thing to stick to the training plan. You should adjust it. You perhaps take off from that run or adjust from an interval workout to just an easy shorter run. None of it is worth overflowing your stress bucket when it comes to your health. If you are anything like me, I was overflowing for more than 2 years…not good. It took me from September to current day to feel normal again.

My goal for 2019 is to be okay with rest days, follow these recommendations, stick to a morning and evening routine, stretch, and not be so hard with myself with triathlon training. In all I hope that with this state of mind it not only improves my performance with Ironman for Lake Placid but for my academic goals and career.

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