Finding the Balance

There’s a story about a triathlete and a frog that I often think about when I speak to people about fitting training into their busy schedules and finding the balance between training and living. And that’s why I’m still looking for a special frog… – BY SEAN FALCONER
A man was out jogging in the forest one day when a frog called out to him, saying, “If you kiss me, I'll turn into a beautiful princess.” He bent over, picked up the frog, and put it in his pocket. The frog spoke up again and said, “If you kiss me and turn me back into a beautiful princess, I will tell everyone how smart and brave you are, and how you are my hero.” The man took the frog out of his pocket, smiled at it, and returned it to his pocket.
A short while later, the frog spoke up again, “If you kiss me and turn me back into a beautiful princess, I'll stay with you for a year and do ANYTHING you want.” Again the man took the frog out of his pocket, smiled at it, and put it back into his pocket. Finally the frog asked, “What's the matter? I've told you I'm a beautiful princess, that I'll stay with you for a year, and do anything you want. Why won't you kiss me?”
The man took the frog out of his pocket again, looked it in the eyes and replied, “Look, I'm an Ironman triathlete. I train three times a day, doing a swim session, a bike session and a run session, and on weekends I combine the various disciplines in what we call brick sessions, designed to simulate race conditions, and I also do transition training, where I practise getting my swim to bike and bike to run transition times down. After most sessions I take ice baths to speed up the recovery process for my legs, and then I take extra naps twice a day to make up for the sleep time I lose because I get up at 4am each day to train. I don't have time for a girlfriend… but a talking frog is cool!”
OK, I’ve just used triathletes as an example here – there are just as many runners and cyclists who could be substituted into this story, all of them ‘guilty’ of perhaps overdoing things a wee bit, of becoming consumed by their training. Because I believe that the secret to sporting success is finding balance between your sport and the rest of your life. Yes, by all means, put as much effort into your training as possible, so as to get the best possible results come race-day, but don’t let your sport become ‘everything,’ an unhealthy obsession, to the extent that it takes over your life. Even worse, to the extent that you simply don’t have time, or energy, to have a life, so to say. Like the triathlete who is too busy to have a girlfriend…
Of course, I admire athletes in any sport who have the dedication to train hard for their chosen sport, and make sacrifices in terms of time, sleep, diet, etc, so as to improve and get better results, but I also believe that balance is essential. I believe that when your favourite sport becomes the be-all and end-all of your daily life, it can potentially turn from passion to monkey on your back quite soon. In other words, instead of your training being the thing you look forward to each day, to get you out in the fresh air and away from the daily bustle of work life, it becomes a grind, a slog, something you dread and wish you could put off for a while, or take a break from. Hell, even work begins to look like more fun…
Runners training for a big ultra often find themselves in this frame of mind. When you need to follow a seven-month training programme building up to Comrades, and your programme says tomorrow morning you must go run 55km, but your body says it doesn’t even want to run 55 metres, then you will potentially have reached training saturation point, and a break is called for. Then I believe it is better to take a few days off, recharge your batteries, and come back ready and willing to run, instead of grinding your way miserably and exhausted through a long, long, long slog. And the same goes for cyclists training for that big event, or Ironman triathletes.
Some people may tell you to push through your mind’s objections, that once you get going you will soon out-run or out-ride these thoughts, that the endorphins released into your brain will soon have you feeling happy again, and raring to do the mileage. Sometimes they’re right… but I reckon the body sends you messages for a reason. Pain is a message from the body to the head that something is not quite right, and needs to be fixed. Exhaustion and demotivation tell you that rest and time off is needed. And I believe you should listen.
After all, when we get that same message about exhaustion and demotivation in the workplace, the first thing we say is that we need a holiday, and we check our calendars for the next long weekend. But when busy with a training programme, too often we simply ignore that message and try to slog on, regardless. Doesn’t make sense, does it? And just a few days of rest could make all the difference.