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Shattering Your Glass Wall – Training Update from DC Ambassador + Pro Triathlete Alice Hector


The very best triathletes train very full-time, but even they will take regular periods of structured downtime.

For us trying to make the leap over to join them, it can be akin to banging your fists against a glass wall. You can see the other side, you can almost touch it, but there’s a barrier in the way, and every time you try and cross it you get knocked back.

(I like this metaphor as I’ve walked into many a glass door in real life too, but I digress).

During the past year I have won a 70.3 in what I would consider to be verging on a rather good performance. I’ve raced a prestigious Olympic distance in Lanzarote feeling like I was flying with wings. I put in some very hard work through the winter.

And just as it was all coming together…. a relatively quick descent into nothingness. My powers all but disappeared. An illness-type setback for 10 days wasn’t too huge an issue, but panic-training into a classy 70.3 where I was average, and the taper and recovery for that, saw me hop on a roller coaster of inconsistency: it was either all guns blazing or forced downtime. I was tired too: a few too many 2 week blocks of intense training without sufficient recovery afterwards meant I slowly came to grinding halt.

So, what to do?

I reassessed. Time for a change: a new coaching set up where I wouldn’t take it on myself to add things! A rest: There wasn’t much choice with this one – I was well and truly burnt out before the season was midway through. A lesson: somedays, I just don’t need to train a lot. A few blood tests too: just to see what was going on inside.

It was time to take control.

New coach (Mark – http://www.intelligent-triathlon-training.com/triathlon-coaching.html) wanted a human to train rather than a zombie. So he set me two weeks off, and then two weeks ‘easy’ which felt pretty tough after the period of near stagnation. Too much training: no power. Now I’d done too little: also no power. But at least we had the fresh start I needed.

For me, I gain no satisfaction in racing outside my means. I could have gone to the World champs and spent £4000 and finished towards the rear, or maybe blagged a little bit better, but the work had not been done, my speed and power were way off, and I only want to race big races if I’m confident I’ve done the work. So I decided my next race would be smaller, but still with an international flavour: Ocean Lava Galicia. A challenging half ironman in northern Spain.

And despite feeling ropey in my 2-3 weeks back training, and racing for 4.5 hours when I’d done no more than 2 at an easy pace, it all slotted together relatively well.

So all in, it took about 4-5 weeks, but gone was the horrible fatigue, my total lack of ability and the constant questioning of one’s life choices. I also turned into a functioning person again: it wasn’t a huge effort to go food shopping or do a half decent work day around training.

Suffered a burnout of your own? My advice. Reset, take some time. That’s not advice: that’s an order. Be a little patient; it will take a while. Once you’ve had two weeks off discovering other ways to fill your time, tick over for a few weeks and then get back to racing fairly quickly, but choose your event wisely. Whilst racing always has an element of uncertainly, it’s important to ‘get back on the horse’ in the most positive way possible. Pick something you’d like to do, not what you feel you should do. Choose a new course you’ve not done before, so you can’t compare your results too closely.

And, as ever, consistent training is crucial. Momentum is great and we want nothing less than to stop it in full flow where breakthrough session after breakthrough session is getting done, but that should infact be a danger sign. One of the last things I was told before the ‘slip’ was “you’re training so well: like an absolute machine”! Tone it down and make the weeks turn into months of solid (but nothing too special) sessions.

It’s vital to plan periods of recovery before your body goes into shut down mode – from there, recovery takes a whole lot longer. And no, you don’t want to be super fit all year round. You just need to time it right.

As we’re so eager to push to the limits to improve, it’s inevitable we’ll get it wrong from time to time. The mind can push the body and the body can trick the mind. It can get confusing which is why a good team around you can help monitor the signs of burnout and pull you back.

After all – the aim is to break down that glass wall – not you.

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