“Life is constantly a juggling act, too many balls and you are too busy worrying and do not enjoy the act of juggling itself, too few balls and you are bored”-Maria Michta
Everyone talks about a “post Olympic depression”, I can honestly tell you life has changed after the Olympics, changed as in everything is back to normal; well crazy, busy, chaotic normal that is. No more full-time athlete luxuries like sleep and long showers.
While I do not feel depressed there is a relief and my mind feels much more open and free. Only now reflecting back on how I was leading up to the Trials and even the Games themselves do I realize how consumed mentally I was. I can also now appreciate how mentally taxing and exhausting it is to be so mentally consumed by something. Literally everything I did, every decision I made I would ask myself how it would influence my racing performance and then ask myself what my competition was doing. While this mindset is great and allowed me to be the best I could possibly be come race day it can become detrimental after awhile.
While I have always strive to make smart and wise decisions so as to not negatively impact my training there was a gradual build up to this intense mindset that occurred over a 4 yr time span. The key to being successful in a post Olympic year is to regain a new balance between athletics and regular life. I can honestly say this has been extremely challenging. It’s much easier to have the mental mindset that training is my number one priority so all other social and work obligations seem menial and it’s easier to say no. Now my challenge is when to say yes and when to say no to social engagements. While I have definitely enjoyed increased opportunities to go out with friends, stay up all night, eat junk food etc it has impacted my ability to train fully. I had conceded to allow myself to “indulge” socially during my off period immediately after the Olympic Games, but now that training has resumed I was left trying to find that happy balance between a normal social life and training as an elite athlete.
In addition to balancing having a social life and maintaining the ability to train I also had to juggle another aspect of my life into the equation: graduate school. Since my mind was no longer entirely consumed by training and seeing as the mind is a terrible thing to waste, I wasted no time in finding something else to be mentally preoccupied with: lab work.
My current priority in a post Olympic period is to focus on graduate school with the intention of graduating in the next 1-1.5 years. When I came back to lab I had to start everything back up again, this entailed thawing my cell stocks, growing up virus, making new solutions, etc. In a way this was great because it forced me to ease back into the routine of lab. It wasn’t until the end of September beginning of October that I really felt I was working full time (10+ hrs a day) and actually conducting experiments to collect data. At first it was frustrating not to be able to pick up exactly where I left off and instead forced to re-prep and start up again but actually it was a blessing in disguise. I would not have been mentally ready to jump back into lab and science for that matter full blast after having been away for 6 months.
Once I was working full swing again in the lab I found that I was quickly becoming caught up in lab work and not doing a good job a balancing lab work with training. I would routinely find myself prioritizing experiments over training. It wasn’t necessarily that I intended to choose science over training its just the way it kept working out night after night. I was quickly learning that if I didn’t start prioritizing my training and setting aside defined periods of the day to workout that when the day was done and over I was mentally exhausted and ready for bed, despite having not done my second workout or even worse not trained at all. This would happen when I would decide to go into lab early around 7:30 or 8 am to prep an experiment before training. Then I would get caught up in my work, or decide to do just one more thing before walking out the door to train. Then before I knew it I was starving and too weak to train, so I would have to eat and resign myself to train on the elliptical or bike in the evening after work. By the time work was done that day it would be after 9 or 10 pm and I would opt to eat dinner and go to bed early. Now I can understand why so many adults become out of shape when they are busy. You really are rarely too busy to train (especially for an average person who only requires 20-30 min of cardio). The problem is, if you don’t prioritize working out it is too easy to keep putting off.
I have always loved the fall season of training because during this period we focus on base training. Base training consists of higher mileage, with lower intensity. Coincidentally, during the fall is the National 30k Championship, which as of late, has been contested just north of the NYC in Rockland Lake State Park; thus an easy day trip for travel. Seeing as I was struggling to prioritize my training I decided to enter the National 30k. It’s much easier to train with a particular goal or race in mind. The 30k would be just perfect for this because it is too long of a race to muscle through and show up unprepared. I knew that the only way I would race was if I had done the proper amount of mileage so as not to take any risks with injury. I got ready in 4 weeks, in which each week Tim gradually increased my mileage. The longest walk I had done leading up to the race was 25k, with the second longest being 22k. While this was not ideal, it certainly would be sufficient enough to allow me to safely race. The 30k was more of a glorified workout than true all out race performance. In the end it served it’s ultimate purpose, providing me with a reason to prioritize my training. This was that little extra push that I needed to get up and out and train each morning.
My game plan going into the start was to walk with TEAMmates Molly, Alex, and Nirvana. Molly was doing 10k and the goal was for her to have people to walk with so she could mentally zone out and just let her body do what it was trained for, and that was PR’ing. I walked with Molly for about 6k before it was time to get back up with Nirvana and Alex so I wouldn’t have to race too much of the race alone. Molly did awesome and finished in_______, with a new 10k PR. It was great to be apart of her PR’ing performance. Nirvana was after a 20k PR (her first 20k race actually) and Alex was going for the 25k Jr National Record. Nirvana had to answer Mother Nature’s call before 10k, which left Alex and I racing together. Unfortunately around 4k I felt my own call from Mother Nature and by 16k I had to answer. I knew that this was a likely scenario as I had not been able to empty my system for over 24 hrs. But sometimes there is nothing more that can be done before you step on the starting line. Luckily they had a port-a-potty on the course and it was convenient to step right off and take care of business. I spent 1:45 in the bathroom and lost the ground I had made on my competitors. In fact Katie and Susan (2nd and 3rd respectively) had passed me. It’s always an interesting challenge transitioning from squatting to race walking, especially mid race. Fortunately or unfortunately, I have dealt with this before in training and knew not to panic because your first instinct is to sprint back up to the competition. Instead I eased back into race pace and then was on the prowl to regain the lead. While I would never choose to have to stop mid race to use the bathroom if it had to happen to me once this year this was the best race for it to happen during. It also provided me an opportunity to “race” rather than walking in no mans land, alone as I was previously doing after Alex dropped me. Alex went on to crush the American Junior 25k record, and did it with an impressive negative split. Nirvana finished well, with a solid first ever 20k performance. I went on to capture my third national title for 2012 and clinch 1st place in the race walk Grand Prix (which was very close this year!).
Additionally, fellow Walk USA teammates out on the course were fairing well as Brittany Collins finished her first ever 20k in an impressive____: and her former Connetquot High School teammate, also new Walk USA member, Monica walked an impressive 10k in____ and she is only a 10th grader!
After racing Joe and I were in search of some breakfast but thanks to the anticipated arrival of Hurricane Sandy a lot of shops were closing early, luckily we found some bagels. We decided that we should probably do some light food shopping just in case. Once we returned back to my apartment in the city it was time for a nice long shower. Then I hobbled into lab for an hour of work and was ready to eat again.
I had survived my first “race” back since London and was over my post-Olympic slump. I also survived super storm Sandy, a severe hurricane that hit the Monday after the 30k. Due to the storm I was forced to spend my recovery post-racing week inside cross training while central park was shut down. Where I live and work on the upper east side of Manhattan survived practically untouched. The same cannot be said of lower Manhattan where severe flooding caused a lot of damage. Long Island and NJ faired even worse and several areas were with out power for over 2 weeks straight, other places such as Long Beach and Breezy Point were completely destroyed. I am extremely thankful that my family was only minorly inconvenienced by loss of power. And if the hurricane was not enough a nor’easter the following week added to power losses, flooding, and missed days of school. I was forced inside on the elliptical again one extra day but nothing really to complain about. While I definitely enjoyed having Joey around extra because his school was closed I know it only means he will loose vacation time else where in the year.
Once Mother Nature had settled down and was done unleashing her wrath on the northeast I was back into full training mode. It feels good to be back into my normal training and lab work routine, and yes I even manage to see friends on the weekends.