Athletes: we’re used to a go go go lifestyle. It’s almost an expectation; we push each other at practices, crush intensity, power through gym workouts, grind through volume weeks . . . . So much of our vocabulary and training is, somewhat understandably, focused around workouts & going that it can mean rest & recovery gets pushed to the back seat. And, April. You’d think a designated off month would result in guilt free rest time, but for some athletes this rest is a bit of a struggle. When you’ve spent the previous 11 months focused on making every workout count, pulling back in April can seem a bit strange, or can be interpreted as slacking off. (This is of course a generalization, based off myself and conversations I’ve had this month. If this doesn’t sound like you, then more power to you!!).
For others, this mentality may not be present in April, but is potentially present in other parts of the season when the thought of pulling back to recover from injury, sickness, or psychological fatigue is accompanied by worry of how this will affect this year’s plan rather than the realization this recovery may be the very thing you need for your season to go well. Rest is not the opposite of training, but is rather the complement. Part of being an athlete, especially in a late peaking endurance sport like cross country skiing, is learning how to listen to your body — knowing when to push through and when to pull back. Balance doesn’t just apply to slacklines, but is something I’ve been striving to find in my life (hence the #studentathlete). I’ve always been someone who goes all into things, which is great for working hard and reaching goals but it’s also a trait that can easily lead to burnout. And, if I’m completely honest, I’ve been riding the edge of burnout for quite a while. Although juggling between school, skiing, and work can help provide balance, they bring with them stress of their own and last fall things reached a breaking point.
I entered the fall semester after a summer full of volume weeks, an injury, work, and a semester long chemistry class condensed into a month and a half. I was able to make it through and do a good job, but not without using up considerable mental energy. And then, launching into full time school and increased intensity in the fall– I was out of energy, low on motivation, and wasn’t able to complete workouts with the quality I expect. Taking no break had caught up to me, and after a discussion with my coach (and much contemplation and worrying on my part around pulling back) we decided I’d take the following week off from structured training and just do whatever I wanted, and NO rollerskiing!
I filled that week with long adventure runs with my younger siblings and just overall took some time to recharge. Of course, one week isn’t going to fix everything, but it was one of the best decisions I’d made all year. It allowed me to pause, take a breath, and bring a renewed focus to the intensity that fall. Although taking a break may decrease the quantity of training you’re doing, it increases the quality. It’s that quality, what you bring with you and what you take out of each workout, that allows for continued growth and improvement. Without rest, I would probably not still be here getting ready for another year of training.
This April, I embraced the student lifestyle and took a complete break from training, not doing anything until my motivation returned. I also have a summer break planned where I’ll be hiking in the Adirondacks with my family and eating lots of s’mores! Cross country skiing is a long term sport and is just one part of your wonderful life. Although it can be fun to “go go go”, it’s important to throw a few “stops” in there and take a break to party (I hope someone’s getting these Dr. Seuss references!!)!
Wishing you all a wonderful summer filled with tons of training and some solid recovery. – Zoë