BY: RILEY COOKS, Heptathlete
For me, some of the hardest weeks in my training have been the week directly following a big competition- aka “recovery” weeks. Of course they’re not physically the hardest weeks in terms of training, typically consisting of light bike workouts, core, and a lot of stretching to help my body bounce back from the two days of competing I just put it through. What makes these weeks challenging is the mental strain and emotional drain that comes with finally finishing what I’ve spent months preparing for.
First comes the over analysis of everything I did right and wrong. If only I had done this... if only I had pushed a little harder here... I think these feelings are especially present for me as a multi event athlete, since there is always something left on the table. Even on my best days - those types of competitions where everyone congratulates you on a job well done - it’s so hard not to focus on what points I let slip away.
The over analysis is then followed by something every athlete is familiar with: negative self-talk. Will I be able to hit those marks again? What if I’ve peaked. Everyone else is getting better. I’m never going to be able to score what I know I’m capable of. Of course this makes me want to jump right back into training, to push my body to get better in all the areas I fell short. But I know I can’t. My body is exhausted and needs rest, and this makes staying positive even more challenging. I think my ability to keep my emotions and thoughts so in check leading up to a competition is partially responsible for these feelings. Once I’ve released all the physical energy I’ve been storing up, the emotional restraints come off with it. This has only increased as I’ve progressed in my career. The better I get, the more is at stake, and the more I stress over if I’ll ever be where I want to be.
Luckily, these emotions and the physical exhaustion of competition begins to subside, and then true recovery begins. I remember that a few years ago I thought I would never be capable of being where I am now. I remember to be thankful for my health, and that even small improvements mean I’m making progress. My soreness fades and I begin to catch my stride again, and I remember all the things my body is capable of thanks to years of determination in my training. I remember that nothing great happens overnight, and one competition - good or bad - doesn’t define who I am as an athlete.
This is what recovery looks like. Refocusing. Redefining my goals. Reanalyzing my competition to learn from every part of it. Allowing myself to be proud of my accomplishments so far. Remembering all the blood, sweat, and tears I’ve put in to get to this point, and embracing all that will come next. Good preparation is essential and is something we are taught early in our athletic careers. Mental and physical Recovery on the other hand can be very challenging. For me it has never been pretty and has always been harder to grasp than good preparation - but as I’ve grown as an athlete, I have learned that it is truly the first step in preparing for success in my next competition.