This is part three of my "nuttier than squirrel turds" series, which details the most common anxieties that many triathletes and athletes in general, including myself, deal with and what to do about them without having to reach for the Prozac bottle.
Like many coaches, my coach posts my workouts on my TrainingPeaks account every Sunday night. I cannot wait to see what great workouts he has devised for me. It is almost like Christmas, or more appropriately, Hanukkah and getting seven brightly colored and wrapped gifts. However, occasionally I open up my "gifts" and receive a lump of coal: recovery day.
Many athletes rejoice at the mention of a recovery day. I remember in high school when my cross country and track team would jump with joy when our coach announced that we had a recovery day on which he gave us the option of either running the course at an easy pace or play Ultimate Frisbee. 99% of the team would jump for joy and then run over to the soccer field with the frisbee. I however was part of the 1% (You could say it was the "Occupy the Ultimate Fields" movement--my bad joke for the post), that would groan and instead of going with the team do the relatively too short 3.1 mile run at an easy pace that naturally turned into a moderate run when my coach was not looking.
Back then, my main reason for not playing with the rest of the team was because I wanted to burn calories. I hated recovery and easy days because I was not able to burn off my lunch salad. When I knew that these recovery days were coming I would secretly run in the morning and then after to log in the extra miles. Consequently, I never allowed myself to recover. All my "easy" days were zone 3 and all my hard days were zone 3 as well because I did not have enough energy to push it to more than that. I was lost in the dreaded grey zone. My races also suffered. Even for championship races, I never performed to my potential because I blew off and trained through taper.
Besides my fat phobia, recovery scared me because I was afraid that if I took a day or afternoon off I would lose my fitness. While I rested my competitors were training and getting faster. What I failed to understand though was that through recovery, I too would get faster.
It was not till college that I finally began to grasp and respect recovery. What I had failed to understand and trust was that an athlete does not get faster and stronger when they are pushing through a hard workout. In reality, you are actually breaking yourself down during these efforts. It is in recovery that your body builds itself up again. If you undermine your recovery by adding in secret workouts or going to hard on easy efforts (training in the grey zone) then your hard efforts that make you a better athlete will suffer as well.
I still struggle some with this though. Not nearly as much as I once did, but it is nevertheless present. Whenever I take a day off, have a lighter training week, or (Heavens forbid) a full week off, I just feel so lazy. It might be 100% psychological but my body feels sluggish, flabby, and (I really hate this feeling and description but its unfortunately true) "fat." My desire to cut calories again comes back, and I fear that I am getting out of shape.
Thankfully, I recognize these thoughts as huge cognitive distortions--believing them is a different matter. Taking one day off will not kill me. In fact it will make me able to perform better in my next hard effort because of the added recovery. I also will not get fat from one day of not exercising. Even if I do have to take several days off because of an illness or injury, my fitness will come back and so will I. Recovery is not a punishment for being weak but rather a present to yourself. It still may seem like lump of coal but when pressurized will turn into a diamond but at least thats my two watts....