I’ve had a superlatively good training cycle over the few weeks. There’s no getting around it. It started off rocky and I had a moment or two where I spoke quiet words to myself about integrity, goals, and said terse things like “get your fucking shit together, Hood,” and things picked up rapidly from there. There have been a few annoyances here and there, but overall, up to and including Saturday, the last three weeks have been a series of personal records and achievements that I’ve been hoping to see for many, many months. Saturday’s squat session resulted in a goal I’ve had since I first started powerlifting (175kg/385.8lbs squat) achieved easily and I was over the moon.
(Video shown below because I’m pretty fucking proud of it)
That night as I chewed on steak, the words of Avi Silverberg spoke to me from the glass of rather good red wine. He said, and I could hear his dry and slightly sardonic voice clearly, “My thinking might be a bit fatalistic, but the longer the momentum continues, the more nervous I get that a crash is coming.” (taken from his FB post dated April 21, 2017)
I may have spilled the wine.
I had the sensation a crash was coming. Somewhere inside I knew I had reached as good as it was going to get for that cycle. I knew I couldn’t continue the momentum much longer. I actually texted my coach that minute to say I needed to back off the next week. I knew I needed a deload very soon. But I figured there’d be no harm in one more workout to finish off the week’s training on Sunday.
As it turns out, that wasn’t the hottest idea I’ve had in a while. My body didn’t move well, I was literally tripping over bars, glutes were on holiday somewhere cold, and my body and mind peeled apart rather spectacularly in a fizzle of tears and frustration. I got most of the work done but it was ugly as burnt toast. And I pushed myself a bit further into fatigue than was wise.
So I went home, had a hot bath and decided to give myself whatever time I needed to come back up from feeling mentally drained before training again. I ate good food and went to bed early, confident that sleep and time would do their magic and that the morning would be a brave new day.
Instead I spent the whole night having nightmares about my training plan for the week ahead, something that almost never happens to me. I’ve mastered the art of putting aside a workout or a meet until the moment of performance comes and not worrying about it. Lately I know that whether I do it or I modify it and I just don’t worry about it, but my mind was abuzz with cortisol.
I distinctly remember doing neutral grip pull-ups in my dreams and counting agonizingly slowly down from 15 as I held one isometric contraction after another, each followed by another torturous 10 seconds of eccentric. And I kept doing them over and over for what felt like hours. We got up and I squared my exhausted shoulders against the day ahead (I must have been doing those pull-up contractions in my sleep), slammed back assorted supplements including some rhodiola, astragalus, and Siberian ginseng, had an epsom salt bath, and firmly resolved not to train today. Instead I contacted clients and wrote some programs and focussed my thoughts on helping other people. Then I decided to get out of the house. My general cure for being caught up in my own head is to get out among other humans, so I left to run a few errands and grab a coffee in a sunny window downtown before work.
This turned out to be a Very Good Idea. I had a nice cup of coffee (and lemon tart) in front of me and was enjoying just sitting and relaxing when a friend spotted me across the room and wandered over for a chat.
He’s a runner, so I asked if he was running the Cape to Cabot Race which segued into a discussion of his most recent half marathon. He ran it a week or so ago but said, not mincing words, “I still feel like shit. Happens every damned time after a big race. My body feels sore but mostly I just feel tired and sad and low. I ran that race a full ten minutes faster than I expected to, with more in the tank!” I mentioned that it was the same sort of thing we feel after a big lifting event, a really fun and intense competition, or training cycle culminating in PRs. We shared recent triumphs and how amazing those felt.
He nodded, “Exactly. But you know the Buddhist joke about that, eh?”
“No, tell me.”
“First the enlightenment, then the laundry. It’s exactly like my post-race experience and your PR.”
I felt something clicking mentally.
This is a loose paraphrase of how he explained that:
“Monks spend days, weeks, months and years reaching enlightenment. For most of them, they don’t stay there. It’s a place they get to, think ‘wow! this is amazing’, like tourists who take a once-in-a-lifetime trip. They have a picture in their head of the place, but they can’t stay. The monks keep trying to come back again and again. Some manage to stay there longer and longer each time. But most eventually leave.
“After every great experience of ecstasy and enlightenment there’s a sudden slamming back into reality. Most people can’t live in that enlightened state continuously. It’s a place you visit. The place you live is the abode of mortals and mortals have mundane tasks like laundry and ordinary training of the sort that lets us get back to that wonderful place. But mostly we go back to dealing with everyday shit. You have to take that memory and experience of enlightenment and somehow figure out how to make it fit with your everyday life. You don’t lose it, you put it in context. And you accept that the laundry will feel like the hell of a downer after the experience of enlightenment. Or a big PR. It’s the contrast that knocks you flat. You just fell into the laundry unexpectedly soon.”
First the enlightenment, then the laundry.
The PR was amazing. So was the training cycle. I just hadn’t planned for how and when to mentally return to the laundry. I tried to hold on to the momentum of the training cycle for longer than was reasonable and wasn’t mentally prepared for a return to a quieter place. I need to allow myself to simply resettle and make sense of how the bits fit together.
Do the laundry. Learn to rest and reset in the mundane and accept the flow of returning to it.
Remember the good parts of the highs.
Let things stabilize as you come to find equilibrium between them.
Rebuild when ready.