Given the year-round athletic lifestyle of the average triathlete, moving from a summer of racing to a winter full of running or skiing, there comes a time of the season where things go south. You might have some flavor of overuse injury, you might be burned out, or maybe you are overtrained.
Whatever the cause, you are not training right now and it’s the middle of the season you have been focusing on for so long. If your hands are getting cold and sweaty right now, just reading this, then you know what I am talking about — the dreaded “mid-season slump.”
Symptoms & Solutions
While there is no one single indicator of a slump, here are a few signs you can use to self-diagnose and self treat.
Level One: Mental Fatigue
You feel fine when working out, it’s just that you really aren’t that into it. You are sleeping in and missing otherwise regular training sessions. You are blowing off your training partners and cutting workouts short. You have stopped logging your sessions or tracking any data…it’s as if your heart’s just not into it.
The Solution — You need time away from working out with goals! Triathlon is a lifestyle, but you don’t have to be a slave to it. Find some fun things to do that involve fitness but have minimal requirements. Maybe invite some friends or find something they are doing to give back by helping out. Perhaps a solid work block where you dominate your office / professional responsibilities will help you get re-aligned. Whatever it is, you’ll know you are ready to return when you are looking forward to that next session!
Level Two: Physical Fatigue
Even if you aren’t really training right now, you are sleeping as if you are in a peak week. Your resting heart rate is elevated and most of your workouts are more “out” than “work.” You aren’t getting close to your target numbers, numbers you easily hit earlier this year. Your perceived exertion is off; even the easiest rides feels like an interval session.
The Solution — You need to stand down and recover; this general malaise is the precursor to a real problem, and there is no “work” that will help your rest more than actual rest. Initial steps would be to give yourself a week away from structured training, with maybe some fun sessions in there to just stay sane. If after seven days things still don’t feel right, put this to two weeks. If that’s still not enough, you’ll need to revisit your overall plan and try to address any larger underlying issues that are preventing you from recovering.
Level Three: Physical Injury
This is the most serious of all three…you have been able to push through the mental and physical limits to the point where you have earned some kind of overuse injury. Instead of training right now, you are fully into damage control mode: foam rolling, massage, icing, NSAIDs, etc. Your mood has also suffered considering that your regular routine has been interrupted and your daily dose of endorphins is gone.
The Solution — Problem is, since you’ve “made it” this far, you probably can’t really stop. And with other races around the corner, it’s hard to slow down because you don’t want to lose fitness…but you HAVE TO. Remember the long-term impact of this injury, if not treated, will extend well beyond this season into future years as well. You must put your training on hold and dive into treatment, being as aggressive and focused and compulsive as you are with your usual training. Do this and you’ll be back on track in no time…and most importantly, you’ll be healthy enough to quickly regain any lost fitness!
Hopefully, you either have no idea of what I speak or you are smart enough to have planned for it. Experienced athletes have been down in the dumps before, and they know their bodies (and their limits!) well enough to make sure that they never truly hit rock bottom.
They will build mini-breaks into their seasons at critical points, typically after big events. They are flexible enough to modify their schedules to maintain fitness swimming, for example, without exacerbating a running issue. And they typically know their bodies well enough to have a standard self-care routine that ensures nothing flares up.
Take care of your body and it’ll help you have a great season…but ignore it at your own peril. Good luck!