When I was pregnant and fretting over the weight I was gaining, well-meaning friends would assure me that I would eventually lose the weight, but the key was to be patient and not put too much pressure on myself to lose it too quickly. The refrain I heard over and over again was "nine months up, nine months down."
With my first race of the season just two months away, I find myself reflecting on these words of wisdom and realizing that I am out of time.
When I wrapped up the 2010 season in October, I was determined to give myself a break. I needed a break. I imagined what I'd do with my newfound free time when I could finally scale back on my training. The problem was, I couldn't.
In October, I was still at the peak of my physical fitness and I'd worked really hard to get there--six months of training six days a week, sometimes up to three or four hours a day--and I didn't want to lose it.
Physical fitness is fluid and fragile and sometimes elusive--so hard to gain, yet so easy to lose; the inverse of body weight. I wanted to hold on to it tightly and never let it go. I imagined my fitness as a handful of water carefully cupped in my palms, my fingers squeezed together to prevent any of it from escaping. Should my attention be diverted for just a moment, I might risk allowing a crack to form and all of it, my effort, my fitness, would simply trickle away.
This all might sound a little crazy, but after six months of intense training, not only was it part of my daily routine, it was part of me; part of who I was and part of how I identified myself. I enjoyed the rush of endorphins after a good workout; I think I'd become addicted to it. I also liked being able to eat anything I wanted without gaining weight. Cutting back on exercise with the holidays looming seemed like a dangerous and foolish thing to do. I thought of all the Christmas cookies and chocolates and pumpkin pie that were headed my way and I could picture my thighs growing with each bite.
Letting go was hard to do, but I knew it had to be done. Mentally, I needed a break. My spirit probably needed it too. But, mostly, my body needed time to rest, heal and recover.
Slowly, I began to cut back on my training schedule and went through the same type of withdraw one might experience when giving up caffeine; I was grumpy, guilty, tired and agitated--a condition often only remedied by getting some exercise.
Thankfully, the festive time of year helped to distract me from my plight. We had family in town and running was replaced by hiking in the park; swimming was replaced by snow tubing. The cold temperatures forced me off of my bike and into the house where I rediscovered the joy of watching movies and playing card games, of simply relaxing.
Don't get me wrong, I never stopped working out altogether, but I did eventually tone it down. I gave myself permission to skip a workout and not feel too guilty about it. In fact, I just returned from a long, relaxing vacation to the Dominican Republic where I ate and drank all I wanted and didn't exercise once during the entire five days I was there. And it felt great! I finally managed to purposely, consciously, blow off my workouts without an ounce of guilt.
But here's the thing: it took me at least three full months to get to this point and now that I'm here, it's time to start training again. Will I need three full months to recover the necessary fitness, determination, motivation and energy? Will three months down require three months up? If so, I have my work cut out for me.
My focus is gone, along with some of my endurance. My mental motivation has turned to mush. I know it's inside of me somewhere, but locating it at this moment might be a bit like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. I'm not even sure what it looks like anymore. And, unfortunately, I am out of time.
The first race of my 2011 triathlon season is just eight weeks away--a full six weeks earlier than I've started my season in past years, and at twice the distance of my usual first race. So, literally, I hope jumping back into training mode really will be just like riding a bike.
I'm back to working out six days a week again: Spinning on Monday, swimming on Tuesdays and Thursdays, yoga on Wednesdays, running on Fridays and Sundays, and lifting three times a week. But on Friday, it's official: with the weather expected to be sunny and 72 degrees, my husband and I will break out the bikes and hit the road for a hilly 30-mile ride; the very same ride I crashed my bike on at the start of the 2010 season, and I still have the scar on my knee to prove it.
Sure, we've had the bikes out once or twice already to take advantage of an unexpectedly, unseasonably warm day here or there. But those were just joy rides--15 or so miles to simply feel the wind in my hair. But starting Friday, it's on! For better or worse, let the training begin!