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Avoid winter burnout

Are you doing too much, too early?

Maybe you are new to triathlon this year, or maybe you set yourself some big race goals for the summer and wanted to make sure that you were ready for them. Whatever the reason, when January 1 came around, you dove right into your training. You had so much motivation, so much energy and so much enthusiasm.  You gave it your all at every workout, and saw tons of improvement.

A month-and-a-half later nothing feels quite that exciting. The alarm rings and it’s a struggle to get out of the bed and on the bike, or you spend more time staring at the pool psyching yourself up to get in the water every time you go. Or maybe you just feel flat on your runs. This might be the early stages of burnout. So why did this happen, and what can you do about it?

Related: Our top tips to avoid overtraining

Just like with a real fire, your body has only so much fuel – motivational, emotional and physical. You can burn it all up in a short burst and get a massive intense flame, or you can parse it out over a longer time period for a more measured, warming glow. If your motivation to train is dimming at this time of the year, you’ve likely started out with too much gusto and have used up much of your fuel reserves.  You need to take two steps to fix the problem. Slow down the burn rate, and give yourself time to regenerate.

There are two main ways to slow down the burn rate. The first is to decrease the number of training sessions, or the duration of each session, you do per week. The second is to decrease the intensity of your training sessions. Although the best solution will vary depending on who you are, your life situation and experience with triathlon training, I find that the most common issue is that people are training too hard, especially at this time of the year. Sure, Zwift races are fun, but they’re not exactly the best use of your energy in January, especially if you’re doing two to three a week. If you are training for the Canadian summertime triathlon schedule, most (more than 80 per cent) of your training at this time of the year should be at what is often called a Zone 2 effort – a steady, aerobic pace. This is an effort level that allows you to easily carry on a conversation throughout the training session.

Taking a look at your overall training schedule is also important. If you have family or work responsibilities, it can make a lot of sense to reduce the total number of training sessions you are doing per week right now and build them back up as the race approaches. All obligations in life drain from the same fuel reserves, and if something outside of training is drawing a lot of resources, you need to recognize that.

The second step, regenerating your fuel supply is easier in many ways. You just need to wait. Once you have slowed the burn rate, your “fuel” supply will refill itself. It just takes time. After a few weeks of reduced training, you might feel ready and excited to increase your training again. This is likely a sign that you have built back your reserves a bit, and also that your body is now possibly less stressed and drained by the training you are doing.  You can now think about increasing the intensity and volume of the training you are doing. If you do this, proceed in a measured way. Don’t just jump right back to what led you to your depleted state in the first place. You don’t want to yo-yo back and forth into and out of burnout.

Related: 10 emotional stages of going to the pool in winter

So, if you’re feeling flat, and some of the joy of your training is starting to fade, slow it down. Progress in triathlon is best accomplished through a slow steady burn, and the heat of summer is still many months away.

Darian Silk is a triathlon coach and Clinical Exercise Physiologist based in Toronto.  Read more about Darian here or email him at darian@teamatomica.com.  You can also check out his TrainingPeaks profile here.