Following an event such as a birth, ultra, guiding season, or alpine epic, the body requires extended rest followed by a strategic re-immersion into the mental and physical stress of training. For most mountain athletes the transition period happens during November and early December given cycles of weather and optimal time for events. This should be a timely piece for you.
What constitutes an event? Great question! As the athlete grows over a series of years or decades (this does not happen quickly), what you once perceived as an event will become an intermediate training milestone. The best example I can think of is during my own training for my first hundred miler I ran a fifty miler and a thirty miler on back-to-back days - and my body did not perceive this sequence as an event. This is due, in part, to the way my body’s paradigm of work had shifted over years of ultra running and speed climbing and in part to how I conducted those long runs. The distance that once felt so taxing to me had become a simple training run. Sign up for coaching with me to learn more on these specifics as they are quite intricate.
When is best to begin training again? Short answer: it depends. I wrote a post for new moms on the infamous six-week wait and I advocate for a similar strategy when it comes to training again after any event or break from training. You are the best gauge of your body’s readiness to re-enter the stress (even if it is positive) of training. You can also begin to train at a time that you calculate back from your next big event - this time necessary for training will range from three to twelve months depending on the athlete, the event, and the amount of time you’ve been away from training. If you have not been sleeping well or have been under heavy amounts of life stress, you’re not rested and will not benefit from structured training.
Recreational period: Following every event I am a huge proponent of my athletes (and moms) taking time to train simply for joy and for mental wellbeing. These sessions will all occur at Zone 2 or lower, last for less than ninety minutes, and, if they involve a component of weight bearing, will not require the athlete to bear down (i.e. grunt, alter breath patterns, excessively engage the core). During this time, the athlete is well-advised to focus on nourishing foods but not going overboard or continuing to eat the volume they ate at the height of the peak period. Nutrition in this period of training is perhaps even more important than the training you conduct in motion. Instead of focusing time on gym or trail sessions, renew your commitment to your seated mindfulness practice and, heck, to your sleep.
Preparing for training: With as many overworked guides with thyroid imbalances as I’ve seen in my practice, as many new moms with iron deficiencies, as many alpinists with food allergies, you’d think it would be common knowledge among athletes to get their blood and food allergy testing done prior to engaging in another round of strategic training. It isn’t! Here’s what you’ll need: full bloodwork including thyroid panel and a food allergy test if your hematocrit/hemoglobin appear low or if you have digestive symptoms. These are vital markers for any athlete to have at their disposal as they indicate both your body’s readiness to begin training again as well as its ability to properly integrate said training.
Introducing structure: In the first month or two returning to structured training, the volume, compared to your peak in your last peak, will feel deceptively low. A few phenomena are at play here: First, your body has the nervous system capacity for two to three physiologic events per year and, second, following what it perceives as an event it requires time to recharge not only the musculoskeletal system but the nervous system. Don’t rush the first month or two back into structured training as this is a key time for your body to do its hypercompensation thing and to regain some strength you might have neglected in peak training for your endurance event.
There is a lot I have not touched on here as it pertains to re-entry into training such as re-testing your heart rate zones, structuring your mindfulness practice, and how to shift your athletic paradigm over time. I hope this article has been of use to you and, if you’re curious, sign up for coaching with me to fill in the blanks.