Remember when we knew nothing about heart rate training, cadence, stroke count and such nonsense? When going for a run meant going for a run, and had nothing to do with intervals or tempo or taper? Do you remember those days? I don't. I've got no memory of them anymore than I can recall an existence before TiVo or e-mail.
Since I got quote-unquote serious about this whole triathlon lifestyle malarkey, my life has been a series of non-stop measurements. Heart rate this, lactate that, aerobic, anaerobic, VO2 max and glycogen stores. Truth be told, I don't even know what a glycogen store is or where I'd go to find one.
Whatever it is, I'm sure it needs to be measured and monitored and scrutinized, because that's what we do in triathlon. We take one step forward, then study it from all angles in all ways to determine if we can take a more efficient step in a more effective way to bridge that gap of three feet in one trillionth of a second faster.
Maybe if I had lighter shoes or more wind resistant shorts. Perhaps if I lost a little weight or invested in some plastic surgery to make my body more closely resemble one of those swanky Cervelo frames. Maybe that'll help.
After all, over the course of 140.6 miles, that one trillionth of a second adds up to a whole bunch of one trillionths. And maybe that's the difference between finishing in 1028th place and 1029th.
In the realm of life experiences, apparently that's really important to people like me. Though when I read this I can't quite figure out a reason why. In fact, it makes me sound like a bit of a boob.
I probably even begin to come across as a stereotypical Type A personality. But I swear to you, I'm Type B. Type B, I say! I was born low-maintenance and laid back and, dagnabbit, that's how I'll continue to live my life even if I have to make endless lists to remind myself.
Sure, somewhere along the way I replaced my unstructured workouts for a regimented training program. And, yes, perhaps I do know the exact number of granules of powdered potion I need to ingest every hour in order to maximize my endurance. Is that so wrong? Hey, at least I don't keep a continuous daily log of every detail of every workout. Actually, I take that back.
OK, maybe I am a bit controlling, but I reckon that's par for the course. Because whether we want to admit it or not, triathlon is all about structure. It is a sport customized for us folks who like a bit of controlled behavior in our lives.
Maybe you start off as the laid back Type B-er that I once claimed to be, but once you finish your first sprint distance race and then decide to tackle an Olympic distance, soon you'll be training for a 70.3, and then…
Next thing you know you're running deeper into the rabbit hole of multi-sport where the amount of regimented activity is directly proportional to the number of kilometers in your next race.
Us triathletes, we love our structure. We love to continually try to shimmy our Type B personalities into a Type A hole. With a racing and training season that can last most of the year, we have learned to become one with our sports addiction. We don't just race triathlons, we are triathletes. It is our identity. We are engulfed in a triathlon life.
Yet with this demanding lifestyle, we can easily teeter on the edge of Obsessive Compulsive Training Disorder. The pressures of living a balanced life can get overwhelming and so it is up to each of us to set our own personal limits. Like Don Henley told us many years ago, this could be heaven or this could be hell…we are all just prisoners here of our own device.
So with the hopes of avoiding the inevitable self-destruction, we must admit that there comes a moment in life when every triathlete has to realize that enough's enough. No matter how hard you focus, there comes a point in time when there cannot possibly be any more Type A to squeeze out of the proverbial tube of triathlon toothpaste.
I like to call that time "the off-season."
Unfortunately for many passionate triathletes, the off-season is oftentimes easier said than done. While we are out on a five hour mid-winter tempo ride, we talk about how great it is to finally relax, yet somehow completely miss the irony of the situation.
So here we are, having just closed the books on another wonderfully eventful year packed to the gills with the stress and self-induced pressure of the triathlon training lifestyle. We're just a Super Bowl bucket of hot wings away from planning out a new racing season.
Our Type A is rarin' to go, to breeze through the off-season like its transition training. But I'm here to remind you that it's not that time yet. We've got to step away from the circus mirror and take a more realistic look at relaxation.
We need to remember that it is just as important to let the mind recover as it is to let the body recover. While in the off-season, let's try not to work ourselves into a tizzy over tweaking this and rejiggering that. The off-season is about refreshing and reinvigorating. It's about taking time "off". Which is probably why they call it the off-season.
I'm not saying to avoid the bike, run or swim at all costs, I'm just suggesting that it might do the body good to relax a little. Maybe even stuff that daily workout log into the back of the bedside drawer.
If you wake up in the morning and don't feel like exercising at all, why not take a break. Do some yoga. Play with the kids. Go for a walk. Have a chocolate glazed donut if you really want. See if I care.
Feel nervous that a weekend on the ski slopes might ruin your hopes of getting a PR in next season's big race? Last one to the lift line is a rotten egg.
As committed triathletes, we are living a triathlon life, yet what better time than the off-season to remember that this "triathlon life" encompasses two worlds in its two words. There's "triathlon," and trust me, we all will have more than enough time to do that again this year. But there is also "life." During the off-season maybe we should try to channel our energy toward the pleasures of life.
So hows about we put the VO2 maxed tri-addict aside for a little bit and embrace the Type B personality we once had back when Thursday nights actually meant something on TV. Soon enough, we'll all be shopping for lactate at the Glycogen Store anyway. ###
Jeff Matlow is the owner of imATHLETE.com