Monday, July 30, 2012

Getting Back in the Saddle: Recovering from an Athletic Layoff

Alright, so the crisis at work is over, and as it happens, the summer isn't.  In Connecticut, we've got maybe a month and a half of weather that's good enough for open water swimming and probably a bit more than three months of weather during which we can do road races, either riding or running.  That said, the crisis at work was ill-timed.  I've been on the shelf for about five weeks, and in that time I've lost muscle mass and put on weight.  I went into the crisis weighing 192 lbs.  After spin class this morning, I weighed 196.  Considering the lost muscle mass and aerobic fitness involved in a prolonged mid-season layoff, I'm gonna guess that I'm carrying between eight and ten pounds more fat than I was six weeks ago.  On top of that, I had to put in seven all-nighters at work over the course of a crisis that lasted not quite four weeks.  So not only am I heavier and slower than I was, I'm also chronically behind on sleep.  That's a substantial issue all by itself, and it helps explain how I managed to put on so much weight so quickly.

Bad Sleep + Bad Food + No Exercise = Fat!

Sleep is an important but under-appreciated
aspect of fitness. 
Unfortunately, that equation describes the lifestyles of most Americans, and that in turn explains why we are so fat as a nation.  I mean, the bad food and no exercise are obvious problems, but the lack of sleep is one that I think a lot of folks underestimate.  Why?  Because it's hard to find the motivation to exercise when you're exhausted, and it's impossible to recover adequately from whatever exercise you do get if you're not sleeping enough.  For me, I'm now in the unenviable position of needing to recover from chronic fatigue at the same time that I'm trying to rebuild my fitness base.  Bottom line, that's gonna be tough slog.

With that said, this is hardly the first time I've had to rebuild my fitness level from a sub-prime base.  The first time was my senior year at West Point.  I got mono at the end of the summer before my senior year and wound up trying to swim through it for the first half of the college swimming season.  In a few short weeks, I went from being Army's #1 butterflier to being a guy who was lucky just to get third at my last Army-Navy meet.  I was lucky, though, because my case was a mild one, and by the time we took our team training trip over Christmas break that year, I was able to train at full speed.  I finished that season reasonably strong, winning either the 100 or 200 butterfly at the Patriot League Championships (I honestly don't remember which it was) and finishing 8th at the ECAC Championships in the 200 fly.  Still, rebuilding like that was not easy.  In fact, the experience left a bad enough taste in my mouth that when it was over, I took the next fifteen years off from competition.

And that was only the first time I had to rebuild.  There was also the time I had a heat stroke.  And the year I left the Army, when I got up to 235 lbs!  And the two years after we first had our kids.  Also, I broke my scaphoid in a biking accident one time.  And I got pneumonia from over-training a few years ago.

My point is, this crap happens.  We try to train hard, but we also have to train smart, and then too, sometimes life gets in the way.  Shit happens, and we're left to pick up the pieces.  That's part of the challenge, part of what makes being a competitive amateur triathlete so challenging--and ultimately so rewarding when all goes well.

Personally, I think the key to coming back from a layoff is being patient.  You have to take it slow and easy until your body tells you that it's ready to do more.  For me, that's probably going to be about two or three weeks from now.  Until then, there's no point in getting impatient.  I just have to build strength and fitness as best I can and wait for my body to start responding the way that it's supposed to.

I felt yesterday on my bike the way I've felt in the water ever since I quit swimming seriously way back in the day.  I could feel that my body knew what it wanted to do in the saddle, but I just didn't have the strength and the power to actually do it.  So I was sitting there, just kind of hanging out because every time I tried to do more, my breathing and heart rate got completely out of hand.  And yet, even with that I can still acknowledge that it was nice to be out there.  I enjoyed riding.  That's something, at least.

My foldie is a Dahon Speed P8.  Mine's red.
If you're wondering, my strategy going forward is similar to my off-season strategy.  Sally encouraged me to sign up for the Westport Kiwanus Triathlon, but given that there's not that much time left in the season, I think it might be asking a little much to try to train all three disciplines between now and then.  The Westport Tri is a short race, and it's in five weeks.  I might be able to rebuild my base in all three disciplines in that time, but I doubt that I'll be able to do that and go fast.  And with a race that short, speed is what's needed, not just base training.

Instead, I think I'm gonna focus on just one sport--cycling--and try to build my strength through weight training.  That's kind of what I do every offseason, save that last offseason I focused on running.  This season, that's not my plan.  Anyway, depending on on how I feel in a few weeks, I might sign up for a late season race.  Right now I'm looking at either the Simply Du It Duathlon in Ridgefield, CT, in late September or maybe just a late-season NYC bike race.  In any event, I'm hoping to get in at least one long ride per week along with a session of spin class at my gym once per week--because at this point, I think I need the uptempo work that spin classes provide--and at least two sessions of weights per week.  I'm also gonna try to run twice per week, but those will be auxiliary sessions, not primaries.  I'll use them more to balance my other training and hold form rather than to build real speed.  If I can then get my folding bike out of the shop and re-start my daily commute ride, I think I'll be in good shape.  Unfortunately, I blew out my rear rim last month, and since then Dahon has gone on vacation, leaving my new rim on back-order.  That's gonna leave me scrambling a bit for mileage, but what can you do?  As I said, sometimes life gets in the way.

Anyway, that's my plan.  What'd'you think?

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