Sunday, November 5, 2017

Resetting the soul – an endurance athlete’s guide to sanity

Every Fall after a long season of training and racing, I become overwhelmed with a great feeling.  Something comes over me — the desire to throw my bike in a dark corner, and never ride it again.  Okay, maybe not never again, but for at least a month.  That’s right, while many are enjoying arguably the best time to bike in Colorado, I’m thousands of miles from home “recharging”.  No bikes, no (structured) training, no scales, and most importantly, no dieting!  It’s my way of hitting the reset button on my soul, and reconnecting with my family.

Deep In the hole

When you’re deep in the hole of training and racing, the mind can become unclear.  Any endurance athlete knows it takes so much more than just getting in the miles.  There’s making race weight by tirelessly logging every calorie, getting in more sleep than a hibernating grizzly bear, doing yoga/stretching, strength training, and so many other small things.  Essentially, being an endurance athlete so much a part of your being it consumes every aspect of your life —and we love it!

The love affair of being an endurance athlete is complicated though.  Everything it takes to succeed also takes a toll on one’s soul — especially after months of grinding.  More importantly, it takes a toll on your family.  After all, living with your typical narcissistic endurance athlete isn’t easy.  Alas, the fogginess of the mind can make anyone unaware of just how unbearable they are to be around.  That’s when it’s time to press the reset button for the sanity of yourself and loved ones.

Pressing Reset

When you’re deep in the hole, there’s only one thing left to do — fill that hole back in to the surface! 

Refocus your energy

Even when you’re not trying to be an endurance athlete, you can’t just turn off all that energy.  The offseason is a good time to refocus all that pent-up energy elsewhere.  For example, if you bike, run — if you run, bike.  Personally, as an endurance mountain biker I like to run while also focusing on strength training.  Signing up for an event outside of your field of athleticism can make things fun.  One of my favorite achievements as an endurance athlete is running a half marathon in Lisbon, Portugal.

Another option is to focus your energy on getting things done around the house, especially if you’ve been neglecting projects amid training.  I once spent a whole month remodeling a bathroom before the birth of my son — working on the project after my nine to five and on the weekends.  Although it wasn’t the most fun I’ve had during an offseason, it was incredibly rewarding.

If you’re an endurance cyclist, and you just can’t stay off the bike in the Fall then another great option is cyclocross.  These fast-paced races are great for increasing VO2max, and working on corning skills for both road and mountain cyclists.  Working on dismounting/remounting to get over obstacles is another skill for all those hike-a-bike sections in endurance mountain bike races.  Also, by trading in long rides for shorter all-out rides, you’ll still have more free time with the family!

Putting your main athletic endeavors aside for a while helps you carve it after a long period away.  By the end, you’ll be itching to get back to it for another great season!


What kind of body type do you have?  Can you get away with having a beer and/or eating badly from time to time during training/racing without much weight gain?  Awesome!  You probably don’t need to take a month off from dieting and can skip this section.

Some of us aren’t as lucky — present party included.  For us, we magically gain five pounds overnight just from one bad evening of drinking and/or eating.  This wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t take several days to get back on track.  When you have this body type, it’s not feasible to splurge here and there; especially closer to race season.  We must stay dialed most of the year or else risk being above race weight.  After months of this, it can become unbearable.

For us fat kids, I suggest taking a month to say f@*k it!  That’s right, indulge!  Don’t try to hold back, don’t log a calorie, don’t even look at a scale.  I usually do this whilst traveling in Europe where it’s ludicrous to even try to hold back.  After a couple of weeks of this, you’ll start feeling lethargic.  You’ll remember how much better you felt well dieting properly, and be ready to get back on it!  There is a disclaimer though — only do this if you know you can loss the weight by your first race.

A season’s worth of benefits

After a long hiatus, you will be given the gift of a clear mind.  This is a great time to take advantage of your clarity!  I strongly suggest taking this time to write down your thoughts — especially if you feel you’ve really gone over the deep end during the training/racing season.  This aids in not falling into the same pitfalls you may have had when you were close to the grinding wheel.  For instance, write a blog entry — hey, look at me!

My personal reflections

As the candid author I am, allow me to share my own personal reflections.  In my own clarity, I decided to change up my race schedule for next year to better suite my family.  I was signed up for a seven-day stage race in the Spring.  Although this would have been an exciting endeavor, the amount of time training would have been far above my normal pace.  In addition, it would require taking vacation days from work to race my bike.  All this adds up to sufficiently less time with the family.

In my clarity, I realized just how selfish I was being with my time.  Especially true with having a toddler at home and working a nine to five job on top of training.  I may never get the opportunity to do this race again, but I also will never get to experience my son being three ever again either.  Perhaps when my son is older and more involved his own life, the old man will get another shot at stage racing.  For now, I know in my heart this is the best choice.

Remember what’s important

Without clarity, the endurance athlete’s decision making can become irrational.  Yes, being an endurance athlete must be a top priority if you going to succeed.  However, there is a point where you need to recognize that the same athletic drive that makes you great could also be negatively affecting the world around you.

Taking some time off can help you address these issues, and give you the clarity to stay somewhat sane into the next race season.  Not just for yourself, but for your loved ones as well.  Just remember to cease the moment of clarity and put your thoughts on paper. I can only say somewhat sane though because we all know you must be a little crazy to choose the path of an endurance athlete!  Stay somewhat sane out there my friends!