One of the biggest challenges of being an amateur athlete is fitting in training with a busy life. The past few months has been the build up to our wedding. We organised the wedding ourselves, even to the point of making all the food (with help from friends and family). This seems like the perfect time to talk about getting fit for racing with a busy schedule.
For me it is not a question of fitting it in. It is about balance. I like the variety of life. That includes training and racing, but also working on a career and in this instance organising our wedding day. Getting out on my bike allows me to clear my head and to take time to myself each day. Funnily some of my best ideas during my PhD have come to me while out on a ride pondering. If I reflect on it all, there are many things you can do to become the prefect juggler.
Best man, Derek, and Brides Maid, Sekita-Ra, celebrating with us on our wedding day.
When you are racing (or training for a big event) you need to take care of 3 things during the week:
Train hard enough to continue to improve your fitness,
Recover from the previous race and
Rest for the next race.
All these things require one thing: time.
Since you only have so much time in the week the key is to forget about volume and focus on the frequency, intensity and structure of your training. Physiological adaptations occur only in response to an overload, so if you are going to make any forward progress with limited time, you need to be certain that you are appropriately stressing your systems.
I found it helpful to think of time in chunks and schedule the big, important sessions - your long ride, your intervals and so on. Try not to get too tied into getting in a particular ride on a particular day. Too many riders think if they don't get their four-hour ride in, all their fitness is going to leak out of their big toe. Instead make your sessions count.
For me, the 3 most helpful things to remember while training with a busy life are:
Quality not quantity.
Listen to your body.
Quality Over Quantity
As mentioned above it is OK to miss a day of training if life gets in the way. This is probably the hardest thing for an athlete to learn. It is also not worth trying to catch up on missed training days either. Try and focus on your long-term goals instead. A day here and there won't make any difference in the long run.
The best advice I was given from Olympic Champion Dudley Storey (Rowing, Mexico 1968) is to "give it your every best during each training session". Quality is the key. You have to be in the moment and put all your energy (mentally and physically) into this particular training session. The problem is that our minds like to wander. For me it helps to think of my goal (why I'm doing all this) or imaging myself in a particular race that I'm training for. Of course, it is equally important to get out on rides with friends to recharge mentally and just enjoying riding your bike!
Being flexible will help you with your time management and mental flexibility will also help you in race situations where very often things don't go as planned. I have an excellent coach who is very good at periodisation. He will plan the year around life and races. For example, the week leading up to our wedding was always going to be a rest week with a low training volume.
The daily sessions are usually planned 2 to 4 weeks in advance, again taking into account other important things (e.g. I might be at a conference for a week, have family to visit, etc.). He also changes things around last minute. This way I don't have to worry about anything. It is basically off my plate. I completely trust him and if he says it is OK to miss a session or to have a rest day if I don't feel up to it, I'm happy to take it without feeling bad about it.
Listening To Your Body
You have to be careful though. Just because you are having a rest week training wise, doesn't mean you are resting! For example, the pre-wedding week was anything but resting. Your body has only a certain amount of energy to spent every day. If you spent it on running around the kids or wedding chores, there won't be much left in the tank for training.
I can't overstate how important it is to know your body and what it can do. We are all different and not one recipe works for all. For example, I have learned that traveling long distance to Europe is really taxing on my body. Even if I feel good on arrival, if I push it too early I end up sick. So now I'm taking a week after a long-haul flight to adjust. I'm doing very light exercise if I feel like it. Have plenty of naps during the day. Take my time to settle into the new place and find my way around the place.
A very useful tool to know if you are run down or tiered is to assess how you feel in the morning when you wake up. One useful tool is to measure you resting heart rate when you wake up before getting up. If it is higher than usual, you are likely to need some rest or need to take it a bit easier for a day or two.
You can't do it alone
This goes almost without saying but you can't do it alone. You need a very supportive team around you. That includes sponsors, businesses, work and most importantly family, friends and your partner.
Even though my parents are on the other side of the world they are my number one supporters (or at least a very close second behind Josh). For example, when they visited me a few years ago, they came with me to a 24 hour adventure race straight off a 48 hour plane trip. Last week they arrived on Friday, and helped setting up for the wedding all day Saturday despite jet-lag and Dad's sore back.
Recognize that you can't do it on your own and reach out to others.
My dad Roland and mum Evelyn traveled 11,000km to be with us.
Having Josh next to me to hold on to is my biggest asset.