Laird Hamilton, who is often quoted by obstacle racers for his approach to fitness, included the following nugget of wisdom as his 6th Fitness Law.
“This is something I’m trying to learn: how to rest. Going full steam ahead all the time is not always the most productive approach, because then you’re always trying to play catch-up with recovery.” Laird Hamilton
Competitive people find it easy to turn Beast Mode on. It may even be a defining characteristic of competitors. If true, in an odd sort of way then, we are simply playing to natural tendencies; therefore, beast mode perhaps doesn’t take as much grit, resolution, and discipline as we sometime ascribe to it…? Most definitely, entering beast mode involves an extreme amount of mental and physical intensity and discomfort, but it takes a different and possibly even greater amount of discipline and mental toughness to turn Beast Mode “off”. Did you ever stop to consider why Beast Mode has an on and an off switch?
Unlike most professional sports, obstacle racing doesn’t have a solid off-season. There are races in some part of the country virtually every week of the year. I forced myself to enact my own OCR off season, temporarily flipping Beast Mode to the off position. It wasn’t easy and I didn’t make the decision lightly. It’s not because I’m tired of training or racing, but through diligent study and a keen awareness of my own body, I grudgingly accept the fact that an off season is necessary for me to become a better athlete. Obstacle racing and training takes a toll on the body. Extended racing periods without sufficient down time will turn those little nagging injuries into full-blown season wreckers. Do not attempt to prove this for yourself; just take my word for it. It’s almost impossible to address weaknesses, instabilities, flexibility issues, etc. in the middle of a full-blown racing season. Yet the aggressive and competitive obstacle racer types (like me) often have trouble lightening the load temporarily, even though it puts those sought-after performance gains in peril. We can easily sabotage our own athletic dreams by doing things that we ‘think’ are getting us better — calling it “toughness”, “discipline”, and “drive.”
Noted professional running coach, Steve Magness states it more eloquently and with much more credibility than me. “…Additionally, they really go after this hard work/pain = improvement and results idea. This is also known as the Rocky effect. But if you’ve been in the coaching business long enough you know that hard stupid work doesn’t get you anywhere. You can’t just do work that is painful just because it hurts and expect to get better.”
We balk at eating a piece of cake because of what the sugar and refined grains will do to our body, while simultaneously subjecting our knees, ankles, and shoulders to day after day after day of stress and inflammation — slowly, but steadily breaking down well-toned muscles and tendons until we encounter some ‘freak injury’. It’s counterintuitive. Sometimes, not all the time, not even most of the time, and not for an extremely long time, we should back off the pedal.
I will not attempt to define what an off season should be like because everyone is a little different with their genetic makeup, current fitness level, age, racing intensity, injury status, personal goals, etc… I’m forty-freaking-three years old, so admittedly, this is a bigger issue for me than it is for the Alec Blenises and Ella Kociubas of the world. What I’m doing is by no means a prescription for anyone else, but “resting” as an approach to athletic greatness is not only a science, but an individual art. An off season is simply a concentrated period of time in which the focus is on healing, correcting deficiencies, and mentally re-charging while avoiding the racing and training activities that prevent all of those. An off season does not have to be physically easy (see yoga and learning how to swim in my case), but it is about being disciplined to do the right things (or not do the wrong things).
If you struggle with the mental aspect of slowing down on occasion, let me leave you with this. Be disciplined. Be disciplined in training with intensity. Be disciplined with training correctly. Be disciplined with doing the right things for you….even if it means turning beast mode off.
Final Disclaimer: The intended audience for this post is the competitive obstacle racer, with heavy emphasis on competitive. This is not for the individual who has some physical or mental endeavor to prove to him/herself or others. If you have demons to slay, by all means, slay on slayer!