I have recently been asked to write a blog entry about how to handle all the different areas in one’s life without feeling overwhelmed. I am by no means the ‘Master’ of it yet, but despite being rather young, I can promise I have a fair share of experience of high work/life load. The first crash course I got was in the German Special Forces, ‘German Mountain Forces’ for one year, straight out of high school. Before that time, I thought it was hard enough just to attend a full school day after 2hours of sleep and 10 hours of partying – I thought wrong!
I am not a huge fan of the military system, but I searched for the adventure as well as my mental and physical limitations, without being consciously aware of it at the time. Four hours of sleep for many months, with lots of climbing, running up mountains and gym work, gave me a good insight into fatigue, at only 19 years old. Despite the fatigue level, we were still required to stay focused on the task at hand. Of course, everyone would drift off every now and then; but 50 push ups were a good way to wake you up. It did make you less sleepy, that is for certain!
My journey of learning continued during my studies, where I worked nights in an Irish pub. Day time was for study and training. I guess my beer diet didn’t really help with getting less fatigued, but you only live once, so I do not regret my party times.
In order to find a balanced lifestyle that fits your life and character, I will show you how NOT to plan your days. The following, was me for many years up until recently. I grew up in a society where the highest effort supposedly leads to the best result. Nobody talks about taking a proper break, recharging or what not. Just keep pushing and pushing and you shall be happy and fulfilled - Rubbish!
An example of my typical day in September 2017:
04:45: Wake up after just 6 hours sleep, due to late work and pre-cook breakfast and lunch the night before. Throw down 2 coffees - luckily swim stuff already packed.
05:15: Bike to swimming - pool 30 min away, due to Masters swim club.
06:00 – 07:30: Hard swim session with Swim club, stuff in some breakfast oats, quickly bike to work in order to be on time.
08:00 – 17:00: Treat 16 – 18 Patients with a 15min nap in 30 min break due to exhaustion. I reached a point where I could take 5 min naps with lights on and I felt like I dreamed = deep sleep.
17:15: Bike home, mentally drained and not ready to have a challenging turbo trainer session. Hyped myself up regardless with podcasts and music.
18:00 – 20:00: Two hours hard intervals on indoor turbo trainer.
20:30: Eat dinner, mostly too little in terms of calories.
20:30 – 22:30: Too exhausted to sleep and feeling restless, watch an action series, which hyped me up and excited me instead of relaxed. (Instead of reading a book, which would have made me tired).
23:00: Off to bed and repeat.
So, that is the plan which can get you somewhere, but most definitely will make you feel empty over time. I try to learn something new everyday if I can. I looked at the world’s best performers, no matter the area of success, they all had a system in place. Most gave the impression it has to be this continuous never-ending grind and at some point, you get spit out the other end being a very strong, capable human being. Well, I tried that route for way too long, it did not work for me.
Being too hard on yourself
This is a point I am still working on daily. In general, I believe most triathletes (type A- characters) are too hard on themselves. Only when you talk to professionals in the sport, you notice that a relaxed, high focus on recovery approach is the way to go (Kienle, Sanders, Frodeno, Jan v. Berkel etc.). We always believe more is better. The harder the effort, the further we get. The more disciplined we are around the clock, we inevitably succeed big time. Australian professional triathlete Tim Reed, 2016 70.3 World Champion, actually said that the only thing he changed when training full time was that he had the time to recover. He did not increase his work load, stayed around 20-25 hours, but finally had the time to sit back and let it absorb.
The path to success
First of all, I believe this path is extremely individual. For Arnold Schwarzenegger, the extreme grind worked out well (in terms of objective success, we do not know what happened between the ears). We all know that one of the biggest indicators of success in sport is ‘consistency’.
I recently had the chance to have a peek at Daniela Ryfs training routine with the Trisutto Camp under Brett Sutton - a truly unique opportunity that I recommend to everyone interested in triathlon (all levels!). The sessions she does are challenging surely, but they are designed so she can do them day in and day out. Brett is not looking for a strong 3 months period and then crash and burn (been there, done that). He is interested in a 100 day or more period, where she can perform. That is when the real progress happens. Just imagine you could find a training load that you can maintain a year straight without any interruptions like sickness, too much fatigue etc. Don’t you think you would be a machine at the end of it? This mantra of his, is the reason he constantly has to save his athletes from themselves. He has to slow them down, tell them they do enough. Even at the highest professional level, everybody is still thinking the same as us - more is always better. We knew about it before of course, but I can say that despite knowing it, I still believed I needed to do more, harder efforts daily, to reach the next level. In the end, long distance endurance training is a journey with years of training until you get close to your potential. Patience!
Take away points to feel less overwhelmed and more balanced daily:
Make a weekly plan that you feel you can maintain for 100 days! This really helped me, because there are weeks that are so busy and we know that this is not maintainable for long.
Prioritize sleep, eating and drinking (water!) over training! I’ve actually made a pact with myself, that if I don’t hit the 8-hour mark per night and I have training early the next morning before work, that I must live with the consequence of a missed session instead of the sleep. That hurts so much, that I won’t repeat it – works for me.
Plan in, ‘Me-time’ every day. I recommend this either right after work or right before bed time. For me, this is a good book or just being with myself in nature or a relaxing environment. I highly recommend using the ‘airplane mode’ of your phone when you are training, or you are not on your phone (or you just want your peace - don’t worry, the world can live without reaching you for two hours). I try to limit being on my phone as much as possible, checking emails etc. – an idea from the book, the 4-hour Work Week by Tim Ferris, he checks his emails only twice a day, despite having a huge business.
Stay in the moment. When you are training, train and be 100% present. When you do not train, stay present at work, with your family and loved ones. What most people do, is still daydream about their last training session or what is coming up next. The past is done and the future is out of your direct control, just do what’s best in the moment and you will be alright.
I hope this helped and some might learn from my mistakes. Again, I do not mind mistakes but if I repeat them I certainly do!
Remember, we are looking for an enjoyable journey and not the destination.
All the best,