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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 19, 2001

Try & tri-again
Even the most dedicated trainers need downtime to stay healthy

Editor's note: Writers Vicki Viotti, a novice athlete, and Katherine Nichols, an experienced competitor, are training together for the Sept. 9 Niketown Na Wahine Sprint Triathlon. In this weekly column, they share insights from experts, other athletes and their own training regimen, aimed at helping readers push their own boundaries — physically and mentally.

By Katherine Nichols
Advertiser Staff Writer

You set the goal. You started training. You've been pushing yourself, running a little farther, adding workouts. But lately, setbacks threaten. Perhaps your knee is aching. Or you've been fighting a cold you can't quite shake. Yet you feel a day off is more than you can afford.

Any experienced coach will tell you that this is the time to be careful. Rest is one of the most essential components for staying healthy. The problem is, nobody can tell you how much time off is right for you. It's something only you can determine — often through trial and error.

"The most important thing is that people should listen to their bodies," said Jaco Van Delden, a physical therapist who recently qualified for the Ironman triathlon in Kona.

"I think people not so much overtrain as undersleep," said Van Delden. With the many other demands in life, he said, "You just dig a hole for yourself."

To make sure he gets to the starting line, Van Delden allows himself flexibility during his preparation. "If you have a run scheduled and you're feeling tired or achy, then you shouldn't run," he said. "If I feel exhausted in the beginning, I know I've got to take a day or two off."

Van Delden, 32, also warns against pushing yourself out the door, only to have your pace slow and your workout deteriorate. "You should complete every training session in good form."

One essential but often overlooked component of staying healthy is mental freshness. When you start feeling bored or physically fatigued, Van Delden recommends substituting regular training sessions with activities you enjoy. These may include gardening, walking with friends, surfing or hiking with the kids. Speaking from personal experience, he said, "You may train a lot better after that."

It's best to cut back or take days off before illness or injury dictate the respite. Barbara Steffens, owner of Great Strides, reduces her exercise by 50 percent for one week every month. If she suffers a two-week setback from illness, she allows four weeks to return to her full routine.

Darrel Lau, controller of Hawai'i Family Dental Centers and an experienced triathlete, advised Advertiser writer Vicki Viotti, who is preparing for the Na Wahine Sprint Triathlon, to approach her training "very conservatively."

"Listen to your body at all times," he wrote via e-mail. "Getting hurt, especially in the last month, will put your hopes into a tailspin. No matter what you do or want to do in your training, please don't over exert yourself."

For some people, just getting out the door is a battle. For others, the struggle lies in making it to the starting line in one piece.

As Lau and Van Delden suggested, exercise is only one component of comprehensive health. All activities — emotional, mental and physical — drain your energy in different ways. But the effects are cumulative. Stay fresh by experimenting outside your regimen, and by allowing yourself downtime.