When looking to make a real “go” of a world age -group championships title, my first step was to take more time off work- and do more training. Redundancy offered me an easy choice at the beginning of 2009 and suddenly all of my time became my own. Able to train like a Pro, I got stuck right in and increased all of my training targets by 50-60%. Enjoying the New Zealand summertime, I became pretty fit in the first couple of months of the year. However the months that followed were pretty tough for me, with disappointing race results, periods of illness and I was effected by depression for the first time in my life. I realised that I was not handling this opportunity right, and sought the help of a coach. Scott spent the remainder of 2009 trying to keep me fit enough for the races that I’d entered, whilst simultaneously gradually digging me out of the hole i’d gotten myself into. The early programmes that he sent me were full of notes like – ‘take a nap’ ‘ have a big carb drink and nap’, ‘stretch, read some, take a nap’. Scott Molina is a legend in our sport – a champion across all aspects of triathlon, not just a hawaii winner – and is known for his hard-training high-volume approach from which his Epic Camps bloomed. However, something that he has greatest expertise in is napping. Any one who knows him will tell you- the guy could sleep on a washing line, and anytime he gets a spare quiet 10 minutes, he’ll close his eyes and snooze! I’ve heard him say that he still thinks he’s catching up on sleep from the days when he was racing every weekend around the globe to earn his living.
So, with his guidance, what I’ve learned over the last year is that the difference between living like a pro, and an age grouper is NOT the amount of training that I can do, but the amount of recovery I can allow myself. Few of the professional triathletes that I have talked to and trained with put in more than 30 hours/week, for most of the time. Everyone is different, of course there will be some that do more than that regularly, and most will have a few big blocks of high load in their season – but from what I’ve seen is that 30hrs is actually higher than average. That’s only 3 or 4 sessions/week more than your keen age grouper. But a typical Pro will ensure 8 hours of sleep each night PLUS an afternoon nap on multiple session days.
During sleep our bodies undertake repairs – both physical and mental. Hormones are released into the blood to heal muscular and cell damage whilst the brain is busy consolidating neural pathways during sleep. Therefor, any information or motor-skills learned prior to a nap have a far better chance of becoming engrained in our subconscious if we sleep after the practice, according to studies by neuroscientists. A quick power-nap also enhances our mental focus for the other tasks that we have to do in the day – thus we can be more effective at work and get out the door a little earlier to train!
This is all very well for those with time to get their head down during the day – but as a working age-grouper with so much to fit into the day, there’s little hope for sleep. Even if you did have time, you’d probably find it hard to “switch of” sufficiently to nod off, right? Most people would find it very hard too- however, napping is a skill that can be developed. I should know – have always found it very hard to sleep unless i’m in exactly the right environment with no distractions whatever, and nothing playing on my mind. I find that for a 40-50 minute sleep, I need to allow about 90 minutes of relaxation time, because it takes me a long time to ‘wind down’ – it’s against my nature to do “nothing” and i’m pretty a poor sleeper at the best of times. But i’m improving – the first step for me was to plan my nap times into the day, usually based around when i know that no one will be home. Next, I had to learn to clear my mind – or distract myself from the thoughts relating to tasks and concerns for the day. Music is very distracting but the radio, podcast or audio book helps me because I find voices very relaxing once i stop listening to the words and just let my focus drift to the rhythm and sound of the language. i’ll happily fall asleep listening to kids playing in the street or even a domestic argument next door. 20-40 minutes of sleep is sufficient – an hour is generally too long an we wake feeling groggy and less alert than before as well as at risk of disturbing night-time sleep. Once I took sleeping pills during the day, which i wouldn’t recommend at all, since their effects last longer than you’re likely to want to nap for! I was impressed when staying with my sister to see her making the most of a 30 minute slot between getting home from work, eating and having to leave the house to make an evening swim squad with a 20 minute power nap – totally efficiently she’s out cold within seconds.
Consider the benefit of cramming an additional half hearted run, an hour of Big Brother or trawling Facebook for discussions about what your friends ate for breakfast compared to a refreshing sleep, and you may find yourself choosing to sneak off to a quiet and comfortable place to get to work on maximizing your advantage over you competition!