We don’t like to talk a lot about our mental health, but it’s definitely something we need to stop shying away from. I’m not a doctor (and I don’t even play one on TV) so please do your own research and reach out to a licensed professional if you suspect you suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) or have other issues or concerns.
It’s that time of year again; race season is drawing to a close, the weather is changing and that end of season depression might be kicking in. This is very normal--you’ve had a great year of racing, you met some of your goals and still have things you want to accomplish. But, it’s now time to hang up your cycling helmet, bundle up like it’s the arctic if you’re going to run outside or hit the indoor trainer or treadmill.
Since I’m not an expert, I consulted the Mayo Clinic’s website. Here’s what they have to say.
Signs and symptoms of SAD may include:
● Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
● Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
● Having low energy
● Having problems with sleeping
● Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
● Feeling sluggish or agitated
● Having difficulty concentrating
● Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
● Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD, sometimes called winter depression, may include:
● Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
● Weight gain
● Tiredness or low energy
Again, if you’re experiencing these symptoms, please take your health and wellness seriously and visit your physician.
Here are a few tips that help me through "the end of season blues":
● Take a little time off. It’s good for the body and soul. I’m a big fan of one to two weeks of NOTHING (yes, I said the dreaded word--NOTHING) at the end of your race season. Let your body recover. Sleep in. Enjoy some of your favorite foods that maybe you avoided during race season (hello ice cream, how are you my long lost friend!) Spend more time with your family and friends. They may wonder if something is wrong when you’re staying up past 8 pm, but they’ll love all that extra time with you.
● Once you do come back, don’t beat yourself up if you miss a workout. Listen to your body--sleep a little later if that’s what you need or do an easy spin instead of a run. Get out and do things that you didn’t have time for during race season--trail running, mountain biking, obstacle courses, Spartan races, Salsa dancing class. And definitely, keep those workouts unstructured for a few weeks. Enjoy your extra freedom!
● Don’t be afraid of the dreaded weight gain! It’s actually good for your body to put back on a little fat and a few pounds (did I mention ice cream!?!) You’ve put your body through a lot! Let it have a break. I promise you’ll lose all that weight the second you get back to regular training. Indulge a little--have that extra glass of wine, eat dessert every night, enjoy all those holiday treats.
● Keep it fun! Living in Utah, I spend a good portion of the year training indoors. I can either dread it or find ways to make it fun. There are a couple of local triathlon clubs that offer indoor winter cycling classes. These have been a lifesaver for me. Sweating and laughing with three or 30 of your closest friends is the best way to spend a dark, cold, early morning training session. Even when I’m not attending a class I get together with my friends--we’ve set up bike trainers in each other’s kitchens, basements or garages. Nothing makes time on the trainer pass faster than friends. Set-up treadmill dates so you always have company. Pick a few “guilty pleasure” shows (my current obsession--”Vampire Diaries”) to watch if you have to cycle or run solo.
And, remember you’re not alone. We’re all in this together. I’m confident many of your triathlon/running/cycling friends are experiencing the same emotions as you. Reach out! Contact your favorite Instagram pal and plan a race meet up next year. Grab your tri girls and meet up for a swim or a night on the town. Start planning your “A” race and goals for 2018. Because let’s be honest even in the off-season we’re still obsessing about what we can improve and how we can get faster.
Happy training! And if you live someplace warm, maybe invite me for a mini training camp!
Written by Melissa Stratton
Melissa Stratton is an avid triathlete and lover of donuts and ice cream. She had the privilege of crossing the finish line at the 70.3 World Championship race in Chattanooga this year. She is an RRCA certified running coach and will be completing her USAT Level 1 coaching certification in January 2018. If you want to follow her winter training, you can find her on Instagram @ironmel140.6