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Probably one of the things I think about most in terms of my training is whether what I am doing is working. Otherwise there’s no point, right? We all have goals and objectives and we want to see them come to fruition as a result of our hard work. Usually, this translates in my head as “am I doing enough?”

I have never ever had a problem with motivation (apart from the odd day or two) – on the whole I have this in abundance. The only reason I first got a coach was to make sure I wasn’t overtraining, because if I was going to go either way, it would definitely be by doing too much. I never gave myself rest days because I felt like I didn’t need them. However much I did I always felt like I could do more.

Having spent a few years in the sport now, I am older and wiser. But, my mentality hasn’t changed that much. I still get THE GUILT. We know how this feels, when you skip a training session because of some other commitment or time issues, and it eats away at you like some parasitic worm. Until you get to the point where you can no longer ignore it, you MUST add that session back in the next day or you will FAIL AT EVERYTHING. 

Yes, it’s stupid, and yes, any coach will tell you that once you have missed a session just leave it, it won’t make any difference if it’s just the one anyway, and that by adding it back in you might be compromising the rest of your training on those days. And we know all this. But somehow, it is SO hard to take the advice and shut up.

I am very guilt of this scenario. Some people may find it easier and think it’s sad to be a slave to training, but it’s not that, I am so motivated and I feel like every training session counts. 

My coach knows what I am like and recently wrote to me about adaptation. I struggle with rest days sometimes (althopugh other times they are very welcome!) and when I had an easy recovery week scheduled in, I panicked after looking at the programme thinking, “I cannot cope with that little amount of training”. Mad, I know.

He refused to add in any extra training and stressed the importance of adaptation. “It’s not during training that you generate performance gains, it is during recovery.” As it happened, I flew back home to the UK for a week to recuperate and quickly engendered all the signs of overtraining – no motivation and very little desire to train. I was tired all the time, headaches every day, and knew this was my body telling me to chill the bloody hell out for a change. So I did just that.

I am back now for a final two week stint in Lanzarote with some big volume training before my first race in four weeks time, and that recovery week will be key to my performance at that race. Yes I know my coach knows best but sometimes I struggle with my inherent motivation to train ALL the time and the completely wrong philosophy of ‘more is better’!

I’ve spent some time thinking about it over the past week, about adaptation and how the body adapts to the workload by recovering and restoring its muscles, imprinting muscle memory (the old 1,000 hours theory) and how this is such a crucial part of athletic performance.

If you think about it on a far more macro scale, adaptation is the key to survival. It is the absolute essence of evolution and longevity of any species. So it makes perfect sense that by allowing the body to sufficiently adapt to its environment (large training volume without wearing the body out), then it will ensure longevity and ability to perform when challenged.

I have had coaches where big training volume underpinned the entire plan – it was all about masses of training, without factoring in much rest and recovery. It works initially. It’s quite simple – increase an athlete’s training and they improve. Until they stop improving. And then see a performance decline. Because it’s simply not sustainable to train hard and long all the time without recovery.

Not only is it wearing the body down until you begin to feel ‘a bit tired’ ALL THE TIME, but it’s also mentally tough. As I mentioned in my previous blog, it’s not sustainable to be motivated every single day all the time, so that rest day, or recovery week, enables you to not only let your muscles and your body adapt and restore itself, but also for you to mentally switch off.

In an endurance sport like triathlon, I think this is really important and I have realised how critical it is to not only sustaining mental motivation but also physical load. I have experienced it myself and seen others do the same – overtraining eventually leads to burnout, mentally and physically. 

If this was a species, it would probably fizzle out and die. Sounds dramatic, I appreciate, but fundamentally, we are going through a mini process of evolution. 

We challenge ourselves mentally and physically, we adapt, and we evolve…