Has this happened to you? You've jumped in the pool for your morning swim session, or you're out on the track doing sprint drills, but something feels off. You can't quite put your finger on it, but you're not loving the way you're feeling, where your mind is, or how you can't quite reach the speed or cadence you've had in recent training sessions. This probably has happened to you, because it happens to everyone. Coaches and athletes, professional and amateur, young and old, have all experienced unexpected underperformance in training or on race day. While it may feel good just to chalk it up to a bad day and move on, an underlying issue with your mind or body is more often than not the culprit causing you to feel this way. It's important for all athletes to look inside themselves when this happens and investigate what could be causing their imagination to wander, or their muscles to not cooperate, or their mind to not push through an unseen barrier.
- What are you eating?: It takes more than just one day to have a significant drop in fitness level, so if you're feeling fatigued or unfit in and around your regular training schedule, there may be an issue with what you're fueling your body with. Your nutrition and hydration levels play a significant role in your performance, so this may be to blame for drastic changes from one day to the next. To overcome this, make sure you're taking on enough fluids and quality food in the days before a big training session or race. Living in Queensland means that you'll more often than not be contending with extreme heat, so keeping hydrated is of key importance. If you're still feeling fatigued or off-kilter, consider talking to a dietitian or nutritionist to assess your food intake and see where you can improve. Our friends at Sports Dietitian are here to help all TQ members reach your nutrition goals.
- Pump the breaks: A little healthy competition is nothing to worry about, but if every training session becomes a flat-out slugfest, it may be time to ease off on the intensity. It's common, especially when training in a group or team setting, to see athletes giving 100% during every swim set, track run, or bike ride, for no reason other than to see if they can. This, combined with daily (or sometimes two-a-day) training sessions, can lead to high levels of fatigue or injury in even the fittest of athletes. We can't always be expected to give it our all, because it's assumed (and healthy!) that life will sometimes get in the way. When this happens, consider taking a few days off from training, or if you really want to get out and train, reconnect with the fun side of your program; instead of smashing out sprint sets, go for a light jog at a comfortable pace, or get in the pool and do a short set of easy tempo laps. It may be a good thing that these sessions won't leave you gasping for breath, as the absence may help you rediscover your love for the sport.
- Mental barrier: No matter how fit your body is, if your mind isn't on board during a training session, it's hard to put in the work needed to yield results. Whether you're out for a long-distance ride or run and you can't imagine finishing, or if you're doing sprint sets and you're worried that you're feeling and performing worse than you normally do, a mental barrier can be difficult to overcome in the heat of the moment. If you find yourself in this situation, you need to find a place in your mind that's calm and can help you push through the pain. Everyone has a different way of finding their centre; some count incremental milestones to help them plug along, while others focus on something else in their head (such as a song, or list, or events of the day). Whatever your centre is, if you're having a rough race or training session, getting out of your mind can be a great way to overcome a bad day.
- Bad sleep pattern: Above all else, the most common root cause behind a sluggish or fatigued workout effort is an athlete's sleep pattern. While a single night's bad sleep may have some effect on performance or mental state during a training session, chronic poor quality sleep pose a bigger threat in the long run. This often happens in the lead-up to an event that may be stressing you out, during a full-on period at work, or as a result of what you've been eating and drinking throughout the day. It's important to create a bedtime routine that works for you. Try cutting down on screen time an hour before you plan on going to sleep, as the blue light from your smartphone or tablet delays your circadian rhythm and inhibits the release of melatonin when you plan on putting your head down on the pillow. Also, make sure your room is nice and dark, and at an optimal temperature (cool is better than warm) to encourage a five-star snooze. This will help you be back at training and fighting fit in no time.
Above all, it's most important to remember that feeling low isn't a forever feeling. The reason we do this sport is because we love it, and one or two off days won't change this. By taking time to find your centre and focus on your goals in triathlon and in life, you'll remember why you take part in the first place. Small changes can and will help you shake off your ennui and bring you back to your former performance glory.