Thursday, February 06, 2014

Pushing the Stress Limit

Houston's Picnic Loop, not a bad place for steady winter training laps
I spent the better part of one half of my December in Houston.  I had a trial which was slated to last a little over a week; but with witness preparation, travel and logistics it made more sense to box up everything, bike and all, and set up camp not too far from Memorial Park for a full two weeks.  My location turned out to be very utilitarian.  Memorial Park is a 1.1 mile closed loop which is rideable day and night.  It was just what I needed to get through the two weeks.  It wasn't exactly the sexiest route to do day in and day out; but when it came down to steady intervals and the ability to start your workout at 6AM or 10PM (which is par for the trial life course) it did the trick.

While I was in-between court sessions I was sent an article about a fellow attorney and endurance athlete Caroline Gregory (@ckgregory) in which the author discusses the concept of "total stress budget" and explores how life around our athletic life impacts our training and ultimately our performance.  It's a well written article and I strongly support reading it for no other reason than it may make you think about your approach to life and training.  For me it was a reminder about the "amateur" aspect of my life as a professional amateur athlete, or as I like to refer to it faux pro.

I do not get paid to race bikes but sometimes I find myself living like I do.  I fixate over details of position, equipment and training.  I make sure to sleep enough and try to eat well. And right when things are poised for a substantial breakthrough and my fitness is primed for local race glory, life gets in the way.  Or more aptly put, my real pro life puts demand on me in the form of travel, deadlines or long hours.

Keep in mind, I love my day (and many times long nights) job.  The work I do, both on and off the bike, is an extension of my personality as much as my passion for clothing and wine.  To be honest, sometimes I forget where the lawyer ends and the person begins but these are all competing forces as there truly are only 24 hours in any given day.  As such, there is finite time to accomplish all those things I enjoy and those things that I need to do.

All that being said, having a full-time job, family, friends and a life beyond just two wheels is challenging when it comes to maintaining a career as a faux pro.  Employers and judges and life sometimes does not agree with me that it's important to train 15 hours a week.  Then you add in things like the weather, personal obligations, limited financial resources and it becomes a full on struggle to maintain focus sometimes.  What this all adds up to is distraction and stress, not just from bike racing but from everything.  The more focused you are on worrying the less focused you are on getting things done, professionally and personally.

A good group ride with friends I've found to be a solid way to decrease the stress of training.

It's a delicate and desperate balance that I do not often succeed in maintaining and, it is not for want of trying either.  I've been at this now for the better part of 20 years, first as a swimmer and now as a bike racer.  What I've come to learn is that in the vast majority of situations there is time, maybe not as much as you'd like, but often as much as you need.  What it requires is preparation, a lot of flexibility and good support from those who care.

None of it is easy and it requires taking things in stride.  Setting realistic goals and not getting supremely disappointed when those goals are not immediately reached are skills that I need to develop.  Success builds upon success just as repeated failure tends to lead to a proverbial downward spiral.  What I've found to be the hardest part is maintaining balance.  I have a tendency of over-focusing on tasks and feel the impulse that I need to block out everything until I have completed it. However, to the contrary I've found that the appropriately timed training break clears my mind and forces me to focus harder in a shorter period of time than if I just sat at my desk for 8 straight hours.  Keep in mind medicine now also agrees with the sentiment that the desk-based lifestyle has negative consequences.

What the concept of total stress budget is to me is another tool, like TSS or CTL; but less quantifiable than the latter examples.  There is no matrix, unfortunately, which calculates how much wattage working 12 hours a day for a week drains from your performance.  So total stress budget has its limits as a quantifiable training tool; but it's importance for the purposes of planning and prospective training limits is unquestionable.  It's once again, the re-insertion of a more holistic concept of training, a subtle reminder that we are all more than the watts we produce and the miles we ride.