On Taking a Break

I pretty much only ride my bike.  If I’m not working, eating or partaking in that necessary evil called housework, I’m riding my bike.  It’s what I do.  So usually, when I am asked to take a week off from my bike due to injury, a work trip, a visitor who doesn’t ride etc., I start to feel a little panicked.  I immediately start analyzing how many days I can go without losing fitness and what I’ll need to do to make up time once I’m back to my normal routine.  I try to play it cool, and I’m pretty good at pretending, like, no big deal, I’m totally flexible, I can workout in the mornings before anyone is awake… or I can work out a little less and it will be FINE… but underneath that facade I’m totally freaking out.  So when I found out I was going to have 3 weeks in April/May with non biking visitors, my first instinct was to start to scheme and plot how I was going to fit in rides, or get in cross training. I was excited to see my family and friends, but I began to start worrying about losing precious time on the bike and eating less healthy, and not staying on top of my strength or mobility training.

I know what you’re thinking… ‘you just told us you were taking the year off racing, why are you training still?’  Well, apparently it’s a hard habit to break.  I didn’t even realize I was still in this frame of mind until it happened.  I think my anxiety was actually even worse than normal because I knew I DIDN’T have a race schedule, and one of the bigger fears I had related to taking the year off racing was losing all that fitness I’d worked so hard for.

Then I remembered a story my coach had related to me last year. She mentioned that at the end of her season, her coach told her she had to quit biking for a week.  So she took an entire 5 days off the bike, and it ended up being good for her.  You can read about her experience here, as I did.

While my situation was different than hers – I wasn’t overtrained or particularly tired physically at this point – I found myself taking her advice and reflecting on how I’d really been feeling on the bike lately.  After some thought, the conclusion I came to was that I just wasn’t feeling it.  I was tired, mentally rather than physically, of riding my bike.  I still wanted to ride if we were going somewhere cool or riding somewhere new and exciting, but those daily rides on the same old trails had started to feel a little more like work and a little less like freedom.  I still did the daily rides, because, as I said, I’m pretty afraid of not being fit, but it was more like “ughhhh I guess I’ll go ride now…” instead of “Let’s go ride!!“, and that’s not good.

I think every athlete probably goes through phases of burnout from time to time, and in this case, lack of a concrete goal for the first time in years was probably compounding that lack of motivation.  We had our trip to Nepal planned, but after that, I wasn’t sure what, if anything, I was going to be working towards.  Once I realized where my head was at, I suddenly realized I didn’t like it.  I was supposed to be having fun, enjoying not being constrained to a schedule, but I seemed to be trapped in a cycle of training for nothing yet still feeling guilty if I wasn’t training for something.  So I decided, that while I had visitors in town, I was going to take a break from the bike.  I just wasn’t going to worry about riding.

It was easier said than done at first, and I consciously had to tell the part of my brain in charge of biking to shut up.  But once I got into the idea, you know what?  I remembered I like other stuff.  I went for hikes, I went to hockey games, I went out for beers, I went to the beach, I did yoga, I sat on my patio, I slept in past 6.  I didn’t have to worry about getting up in time to get a ride in, or getting out of work in time to get a ride in, or eating just the right things at the right times, or counting up the miles or elevation for the week. It was totally refreshing. I can’t say I totally went off the riding, as I did get out a few times, but it was because I wanted to, not because I felt like I should.  In a matter of a few days, I had removed the guilt, and the monotony from my riding habit.

A secondary and happy by-product of this break was that by not worrying about any of this, I actually was able to fully and genuinely enjoy every minute I spent with my family and friends that were here to see me.  I hadn’t realized what I was missing.  It wasn’t that I don’t always enjoy seeing family and friends, it’s just that it had been a while since I had totally immersed myself mentally in just hanging out with them, just relishing in the awesomeness of having them around.  It reminded me, that while I do miss mountain biking terribly when I’m not able to do it at all, there are other things out there that are more important, and there are also other things I like to do.  It’s not going to kill me to hike or go skiing, or paddle-boarding, or just hang out and relax and spend quality time with my favorite people for a few days instead of ride my bike.  In fact, it might even be (definitely is) good for me.  My body was probably pretty stoked to be using different muscles, and my brain was able to break free of it’s pattern, which I’m pretty sure is good for it once in a while.   Not to mention, I got to have a lot of fun with people I love.photo-8photo-9

It wasn’t that long of a break, and if I’m honest, I think the reason I could do it at all was because I knew I could recover from a few weeks off the bike.  My thought process was probably something like ‘even if this sucks and makes me anxious the whole time, it’s only a few weeks’.  But it didn’t suck, and short as it was, it made a pretty big difference in my mental state on and off the bike.   Suddenly I was back to riding my bike because I really really like it and suddenly my brain refocused and remembered what is really important.

I’m back to the routine now, but it doesn’t seem as routine.  I have successfully (at least for now) managed to reset, and get excited about riding again.  I look forward to my rides, even the ones that are just workouts, and I’m calling people and saying “Let’s go ride!” instead of grumbling about having to go.  Russell and I have started training together, which is a nice change of pace on the training front, and if we feel like it, we just ride for fun together or with friends instead of whatever it is we’re “supposed” to be doing.   I’ve set some solid goals, and I feel like I have something I’m working towards now, but I also made some plans for time without my bike, and have made it a priority to enjoy those moments when I have the opportunity, and for that matter, to enjoy all the moments I have, whether on or off the bike.

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So, what’s the moral of this story? It’s kind of twofold:  1) We put a lot of pressure on ourselves, and pressure can be good and help us to achieve our goals, but we shouldn’t be afraid to just chill out sometimes.  If there is some reason you are feeling stressed or unmotivated or tired, take a week and reset – and don’t feel guilty about it.  Chances are, a week off will re-motivate you and remind you that the real reason you ride (or do whatever activity you’re taking a break from) is because you love it.  2) If, as an athlete, or a human being, you have the luxury of not having much of a schedule or specific commitments related to your sport for a while, or if you’re in the unfortunate situation of forced time off, make the most of it.  There are lots of other things in life that are worth doing.  Try some new things, rediscover some things you used to do, call old friends, spend time with family, eat a cookie.

Thanks for listening.

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