If I were to ask you today, “what stress do you have in your life?” Or, “How stressed are you today?” What is the first thing you think of?
Work stress? Health stress? Relationship stress? Family Stress?
A little over a year ago I was completing my Ironman coaching certificate and I was listening to Lance Watson when he said something like “you can’t just put Ironman training on top of all the other stress in your life. It won’t work.”
It solidified something that I think is sometimes glossed over in the super hardcore world of triathlon and Ironman training. Stress is stress.
In fact, the very basis of endurance training is the selective use of stress to create athletic improvement. We put ourselves through x amount of stress today – recover and come back tomorrow for more stress hopefully getting stronger and faster in the process.
We can be surrounded by messages that are very intense like:
How Bad do you want it?
Never Miss Monday!!
Push till you puke!
PR or ER!
It’s a strong message that we should train hard all the time. That if health and fitness is important to us we should be able to train no matter what is happening in our lives. But that simply isn’t always true.
Sometimes it’s true. There is a lot of value in a tough workout. To run fast you do need to practice running fast. But it’s not always true. Sometimes you need a day off. Sometimes it’s not possible. It’s just not.
I am extremely lucky and my day-to-day life is pretty easy. I’m aware of my priviledge. My daily stressors are usually traffic and getting dinner ready on time. I try my very best to enjoy and appreciate this mundane and boring life for the true luxury that it is. I am very lucky. 99% of the time when I miss a workout its because I choose to miss it. It may be a dumb choice but still a choice.
However, there have been some times in my life where there was just too much stress and my training just didn’t fit. Because of this I want say to others in a similar situation … it’s okay, try again tomorrow … or next week.
A very personal example is when my dad was having bypass surgery. There were times where I literally just couldn’t do it. The long hours of driving and waiting for doctors and procedures and the simple stress of the day exhausted me and even though I wanted to run or jog I couldn’t do it. I would wake up each day and think today I’ll run. Today I’ll get my workout in – and the day would finish exhaustion – too much wine with dinner and no run.
Emotional stress can have a huge physical impact
You’ve all seen the infomercials selling supplements and diet programs because our bodies are under stress so we gain weight … but it’s not our fault it’s because of cortisol. Magical mystery cortisol. Okay so that’s probably a sham to sell something but life stress can have a very real physical impact. I’m no doctor but you don’t need an MD to understand this. Think about how tired you can be after a long drive or flight when all you’ve done is sit on a plain or a car. Think about the exhaustion you feel when you are mourning the loss of a friend, family member or even a romantic breakup.
We all react to stress differently. Some people eat, some probably exercise. Not me … I sleep. Sometimes I don’t really sleep but I’ll burrow under the covers and rest. I will probably make my training schedule and maybe a few workouts but I’ll miss a lot until the stress has passed. I’m lucky. The stressors in my life so far have just been short and transient. The stress goes away and I get back to my boring and wonderful routine.
Why write about this now? Well to be honest, I had a super stressful week last week and I noticed that I didn’t really train as a result. It sucked. The whole week was a massive downer. The details don’t really matter. When I share the details I get sympathy which while great is not my intention. I want to share that this happens to everyone and that sometimes that push to train no matter what just isn’t helpful.
Every week people will confess to me that they have missed workouts. They put judgement on themselves that even though they are moving, studying, working, sick they are somehow inferior because they missed their workouts. You’ll find no judgement here. I get it. I really do.
At least I knew enough to not also be lumping pressure to make those workouts on myself as well. Well – sort of. I did need some help from my friends.
Stress is stress and we all have our limits.
This is not to say that if you have a lot of stress in your life you can’t do an Ironman. Quite the opposite actually. Several super talented Ironman athletes that I know have enormously stressful careers. In fact, I find that it’s more the norm than the exception. But you cannot ignore the outside stresses. You need to include them in your formula for success.
How does that work? Well if you have a job where you have no control over your schedule then you probably need to have full control over when and where you work out. You’ll need to be able to do those workouts on your time. If your coach says be at spinning class at 9:30 and you don’t set your schedule then that may not ever work for you. Then missing that workout is creating more stress. You are piling your Ironman stress on top of life stress and that doesn’t work. Your life like mine is most likely already full. If this is your life you’ll need access to a pool that is open when you can swim, you’ll need to create system where you can run and bike whenever you have the time.
You have to choose where Ironman training or marathon training and racing will go in your life.
We all have choices. This is why so many people will say Ironman is a lifestyle. Those of us who love it tend to make similar choices to not stay out late clubbing in favor of a sunrise run. But there are many different ways to train for Ironman so if running early in the morning doesn’t work for you – that’s okay. There are other ways to do this.
There are times in your life where Ironman may not fit. If you know my story you know that the original plan was to race Ironman Wisconsin with my brother but he and his wife had a baby. Training with a newborn is obviously possible for some families but we agreed that it wasn’t a good idea. That family first thing can be tricky but it’s important.
This past week, I knew that the stress I was under was going to end quickly so I didn’t really worry about it. I did the workouts I could and didn’t stress about the ones I missed. I really focused on being able to enjoy the workouts that I was able to do. Because it is a gift. Every day that we can run outside and move our bodies in this way is a gift. It’s super easy to forget that in all the hustle and bustle but if you can try to remember that you’ll be happier.
What happens if you don’t handle the stress?
You break. Either emotionally or physically you break. You might end up screaming at somebody you love for a silly reason. That’s an emotional break. You might end up in tears in a very public place or with exercise you might end up sick, or injured. You might eat an entire cake or container of ice cream. You may binge on a tv series instead of sleeping. If you don’t let yourself heal you can break yourself. You might sprain an ankle while out running because you’re distracted. You might overtrain right into a stress fracture. Or you may end up with a random sinus infection that you can’t explain. In my case I got pink eye (from my son … he’s such a sharing little dude) and a giant zit on my chin. GIANT.
Actually if you have extra sympathy to share please sympathize with over my giant zit. Seriously, I’m 44 with wrinkles and zits. Sigh.
If you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed because you can’t seem to find time for your workouts what can you do? Here are some tips and strategies.
Take an honest look at what is causing the stress.
Is it something potentially permanent like your own personal illness or injury? Is it something that you can control?
We simply don’t control when our family gets sick or when a natural disaster hits our towns. We don’t even control when the plumbing goes crazy in our house or unplanned car repairs. In those instances where you are really facing a type of crisis you need to put your resources toward what’s happening in your life outside of training. Yup in those instances you may need to just let the training go.
I’ll say it again. Let it go. If that phrase stresses you out think about it more like focusing on the part of your life that needs you most right now which is the crisis.
Is this external stress something that you can contain a little bit? Is it a job or a relationship that is going to go on for a while and you need to manage with your exercise?
Say for example, you have a lot of job stress. Your boss texts and emails you at all times of the day and because of that you are missing your workouts.
In this instance you can contain this. Yes, your job is important but your life and your health are important too. Even doctors, fireman and policemen who deal with true emergencies and life and death situations have times when they are not working. If you have a friend in a job like a firefighter you may have noticed that when they are working – that’s all they are doing and when they are not working they are really not working. There is a lesson here, make yourself a window where you are putting yourself first. This is sometimes called the oxygen mask lesson. In order to be able to help those around you with their masks you have to put yours on first.
If you’ve ever been curious whether you actually have time on an airplane to put on another mask before your own. Until I was corrected I will admit I always suspected that I could sneak on my kids masks first.
Here’s a video of somebody experiencing a cabin depressurizing. https://sploid.gizmodo.com/why-you-should-always-put-your-oxygen-mask-on-first-1784141153
Nobody is perfect with this. If people tell you that they are perfect with this just understand that they are lying. This past week my stress level crept up and up until a friend called me out on the fact that I wasn’t actually doing so well. He said something like, “you don’t have to do all of this.” He was right and I am thankful that he said it. I’m thankful that I was able to hear it. I had to look to my support network and say, I need your help. I also threw in the fact that I was doing something I wasn’t really sure how to do. Some folks are better at asking for help than others. I have personally had to learn to ask for help as an adult. As a kid my parents were busy doing their own things and I mistakenly learned that I was supposed to do everything myself. Luckily I’ve learned as an adult that I can’t do everything. And if there are things that need to be done but I can’t do them … well then they don’t get done. Usually that’s okay.
In times of huge stress you may have to let go of the non-essentials.
When you are in a crisis situation you can only deal with the crisis – we all know that. But there are other times when this is true.
In the first 6-8 weeks of having a new baby in the house honestly all that happens is that you feed the baby, change the baby and try to feed and clean yourself. You either need to accept that the house will be messy or have somebody else to clean it. If you are a lawyer in the middle of closing a big deal or in a trial you have to postpone a lot of other stuff while you get those done. In peak weeks of Ironman training you will need to acknowledge that not everything in your life will get done. The nice thing about peak weeks of Ironman training is that you know when they are coming and you can prepare.
When you are hit with a surprise that sucks up all of your time like I was last week all you can do is your best and then be honest with everybody around you. Forgive yourself and then ask for forgiveness from those around you. Either they will forgive you or they won’t. You simply can’t control how others will react.
Another tip is to be happy with what you are getting done. If you can only run 10 minutes. Be happy with that.
If you only have time for a 5 minute meditation. Great. There’s actually a name for this and it’s What you can when you can or abbreviated WYCWYC. Now that I’ve shown you that acronym you’ll see it in other places. It’s like busy mom code for it’s not perfect but it’s all I’ve got today.
Last week once I finally figured out that I was underwater. I quickly took steps to off-load several things. I ordered my groceries online. Thank you instacart. My kids had to live with waffles instead of pancakes … they’ll live. I begged out of some of my carpool duties. I made it clear to some folks that while they wanted me to do certain things I wasn’t going to do them. And that’s okay. One of the big lessons about growing up is that if something really needs to be done and you can’t do it usually somebody else will get it done. If it doesn’t get done … it just doesn’t get done. Very few things are actually so time critical that a day or two matters.
And you know what – I made it through the week and onto the next one. So far this week is better. A lot better. I’m spending some time being very thankful for that. Very very thankful.
I hope that you get some nuggets of goodness from this post and I wish you a great week.
If you’re looking for fun places to see more of what I’m up to follow me on instagram @amysayssomiami and also I’m on strava so you can follow my super slow daily runs.