Thursday, November 3, 2011

re(cover)y, or "First World Problems"

I looked up the definition of 'recovery' because I was curious.
'recovery': restoration to a former or better condition; the act of obtaining usable substances from unusable sources

I also looked up the definition of 'cover'.
'cover': to place something upon or over, so as to protect or conceal; something that provides shelter

This sums up my last few weeks back here at home.  I've had a bit of a mental block trying to sit down and piece together exactly what state of athleticism I've experienced after my last race, but it's been very hard to put into words.  I do think, however, reflecting on the 'post-race' experience could be somewhat useful to others, so I'm going to give it a try.

You may already be anticipating that this is going to be a bit depressing, the 'post-race' blues type wax and wane, but I don't think that's the point I want to get across.  I think I would be amiss to say that that doesn't happen, and as many people can attest to, there is a bit of a black hole after all the celebrations have gone quiet.  I think some people make it out to be more depressing than it needs to be, but, I also think there is a tremendous physiological component that I can't explain because I've yet to get my PHD in physiology or organic chemistry.  There must be, however, a huge change in hormones, cortisol, endorphins, dopamine, you name it, I bet there's a broad 'shift-change' at the body chemistry factory when you go from training X hours a week to 0.

So perhaps I've made up my own theory, ungrounded and un-researched, but I really do believe that have to be ok with your metaphorical 2nd, 3rd, and maybe even 4th line changes (it's hockey season so this is an appropriate reference) as you transition from your full-on "on-season" to that of your "off-season".  Even if you're 4th line includes the bum-knee, washed up, Hanson brothers type trouble makers, you might have to play them - just for a little while - until your 1st line gets a rest.

There is a whole range of adversity that athletes have to overcome, and I won't pretend that I've had a super hard go of any of it, but I think that that is the average experience and we think it's so average that nobody talks about it.  We only really complain if something horrible happens to us, as that should warrant attention.  So, I really do think a lot of us get lost in the 'muck' of what we think is normal, and we flounder a bit in it.  It's tough for similar minded athletes I think, who like goals and process and progress, to let go of that framework and start seemingly anew.

So that is where I come in.  I finished racing, I had a wonderful holiday, I came back to a very cold country that is losing sunlight by the second, I tried some light training & realized how far my body had to go in recovery, got one type of weird sickness (the inability to stand up without feeling like I was going to faint), then what appeared to be a stomach bug (convinced I had some type of parasite), then two days of feeling like things might turn around and my body might cooperate (yay), and then I totally lost all control of my healthfulness to a very nasty cold & flu virus (nooooo) and was flattened for another week.

So, if you add things up and you have a tendency to be a bit dramatic like me (or so I've been told), your races are over, you haven't trained in weeks, you feel weak and lazy and out of shape, it's raining, and basically, your life is not fun.  I know, I know, it seems stupid to write it down but I'd be lying if I said I never thought those thoughts.  Surprisingly though, I've been able to be somewhat objective about it all, with a little stir-crazy thrown in for good human measure.

That's why I was interested in the definitions of cover and recovery.  As much as I wanted to jump back into training, even easy training, as it's the most familiar thing to me, my body reached a point where it simply 'covered' up, and shielded me in the only possible way to stop me from training - full-on, in bed sickness.  I know better than to train on while fully ill, and I do try to practice what I preach about allowing myself to fully recover.  While all the other kids go out to play, I'm stuck in the detention of sports-land, writing lines on the chalk board, "I will be patient and listen to my body".  At the same time, to borrow a true to life experience from my high school, I also feel like lighting the desk on fire and throwing it across the room (um, in case you're wondering, I didn't do that, but someone in my class did).

As boring as it can be, it's so immensely useful to trust your gut and stop worrying about what 'everyone else' is back to doing, or at least, I have to believe it's useful, because that's what keeps my head pointed in the right direction, instead of lamenting about all the negative things one could think about.  So, in my experience, I've really tried to focus on what 'recovery' is - and again, borrowing from the definition, I liked how it could be defined as restoration to a former or better condition, and how you gleam the usable from the unusable.

I took the time to lie in bed, on the couch (a couple times just purely on the floor) when I felt I had to.  I also had to announce that I was doing this, proudly, to receive some sort of accolade ("Yes, good for you, I'm glad you're resting") from the person I live with, to help me lessen the guilt I felt initially (nobody's perfect) and normalize my experience (this wasn't the end of the world).  I worried I was being dramatic, over-doing the rest because I was too scared to admit that I just didn't feel like going outside to train and work hard.  I honestly can tell you that at this point I have very little interest in anything related to the self-inflicted pain of training, and most certainly not interested in doing it in a racing capacity.  One of my coaches pointed out that having the feeling like I need to protect myself from inflicting pain was probably a pretty good indicator that I had endured enough of it during my last race.  So that made me feel a little better.  It also helped me reflect that it may be one of my strong suits, that I really have little fear of pain & suffering, to the point of enjoying it, and that is most likely why I succeed in endurance sports.

I was forced to sit with the acceptance of being ok with not living by the usual rules of my life for the past year or so.  There are heaps of articles that talk about the loveliness of the 'off-season', how easy it is to go out for coffee with friends, jump in piles of leaves, take up knitting.....well, it's not really that simple.  What it is, however, is a great time to reflect and learn about yourself, as you finally have some mental capacity to spare for higher level thoughts above and beyond "I'm hungry....I'm tired.....I'm sore....Where's my other shoe?".  'Thinking' takes work though, and it's not always instantly rewarding, and you certainly come up against some obstacles, which because they are imaginary, are difficult/impossible to physically push through.  I have to believe it's all worth it though, which I think is a fairly good rule to guide most things by, because I just don't see the point in ruminating on the least not for too long.

So that is where I'm at.  A very long winded description of my thought process.  I highly doubt I'm the only person to ever be in this situation so I decided to write it all down.  Even the fact I wrote this all down is a bit of a stepping stone for me, because initially I was hesitant to write, thinking that no one would want to read anything unless it was related to a race, or training, or something exciting (my life has not been short on exciting things in this past year).  So to me, it's an exercise in personal growth, to accept all the parts that make an athlete whole.

In the meantime, I'm on a self-prescribed protocol of 30 minute easy bouts of jogging (yes, I was passed by someone in denim), or equivalent of easy cycling (yes, I was passed by someone wearing gumboots) to at least achieve a minimum amount of exercise related endorphins to keep a level of normalcy in my daily routine, to expose myself to at least 30 minutes of sunlight (lack of sun is not good for me), and to retain a sense of accomplishment & routine.  That seems to be helping me keep my boat afloat, and when my body is ready to go back to training, I'll be happy to let it.  This to me seems like a better situation than a whole lot of self-loathing, followed by depression, a general lack of respect for health and wellness, and a forcing of onself to a training plan you don't like until you're burned out, injured, with no motivation and wondering why the heck you're doing what you're doing.

I fully realize I have the benefit of time the the luxury to rest & recuperate when I need to, but I think more people could come to that realization as well if they let themselves.  The rush to return to training and sports is ever-present & difficult to overcome, but I think it's worth it.  My plan for next year is to be in better condition than I was this year, so, by definition, my most important job right now is recovery.

Recovery is the unsung hero.  No glory, no celebration, no medal, and a very quiet or unrecognizable end point.  To borrow the words of T.S. Eliot, recovery seems to be achieved "not with a bang but a whimper".

All the best for the fall, enjoy the colour change and the sun before we start thinking about digging out the skis!

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