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Posted: March 27, 2004

Triathlon: Athletes Have Many Options To Consider For 'Downtime' From Training

By Sharon Donnelly, Triathlete
(Sharon Donnelly, a former Orleans resident who now calls Kingston home, represented Canada at the 2000 Sydney Olympics in women's triathlon. As she counts down toward the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, she shares her thoughts with Sun readers in a series of columns)

I often get asked questions relating to my "downtime."

I am not talking about stretching, massage or physiotherapy, as I consider those to be sport related. I am referring to activities that are not related at all.

We all want to know what athletes are doing when they are not eating, sleeping and doing their sport!

During this time of the year, down time is minimal since each day I am putting in up to 5-6 hours of training, 1-2 hours of stretching/core strength/stability work and 1-2 hours of administration work related to my sponsors, travel arrangements, training schedule, e-mail replies, and media. But during training camps and travelling, there is a little bit more time to do other non-triathlon related activities.

Here is a list of common non-sport activities I have observed:

1. The Recovery Snooze: It is the first activity with which all athletes will fill some of those non-training hours and it could be classified as "sport related," as it helps the body to recover from the hard training. However, I decided to describe it here anyways, as some athletes are able to do this activity anywhere and anytime without jeopardizing their night sleep. I am not one of those fortunate ones. I have to be very tired in order to have a good snooze and I must engage in this activity before the onset of the afternoon or else the nighttime sleep is a struggle!

2. Watching Bad TV: I must emphasize the "bad," since often this activity takes place during the hours in between training sessions or while eating. These are invariably during the soap opera, game show and Jerry Springer show timings. Athletes are often engaged in the nighttime sleep activity when the evening news and better TV shows come on.

3. Video Games: This, I believe, is more popular among male athletes I have observed. I don't have an explanation for this. I personally get frustrated and wound up when I attempt to play them, not exactly the perfect recovery activity! I cannot provide much more information on this, as I and my training partners do not partake in it.

4. Going to the Movies: This is a popular activity in summer months or at training camps that take place in hot climates. The benefits are two-fold: One is that athletes can go for the cheap matinee shows, since we may get a few hours off midday when the temperature is the hottest and not the best for training. The second is that the theatres are air conditioned -- a welcome relief from sweating at home on the couch or at the desk.

5. Shopping: This is more popular among female athletes that I have watched, but I refrain from this activity as I don't particularly enjoy it and am usually too tired from my daily training to walk around a mall shopping for clothes or other things! However, I thoroughly enjoy shopping for food and I seem to do it on a daily basis.

6. Internet surfing and e-mail: Okay, this is the bane of everyone, not just athletes! We all spend too much time sitting in front of a computer screen and feeling obliged to reply to every e-mail we receive. Of course, a lot of my work is done via computer as well. But when I am away from home at a training camp or racing, my usage drops dramatically, except I always try to check the online edition of the Ottawa Sun! When I return home, I get drawn back into the vortex of the internet thanks to Bell High Speed Sympatico (they sponsor Canadian National Team members with free service!). My daily goal is to minimize computer usage but I rarely achieve it -- okay maybe I am asking too much, considering that I'm in front of the computer now writing this story.

7. Listening to Music: Some athletes indulge solely in this activity, but I prefer to use it to help me with activity No. 1; to drown out activity No. 2; (not applicable to activities No. 3-5); and enhance activities No. 6 and 8. Of course, activity No. 6 is often required to do ideal selection and mixing of desired material.

8. Reading: This is the most popular activity among athletes and it is my personal favourite. Books, magazines and newspapers are relatively cheap or even free and can be acquired, carried and enjoyed anywhere. Internet and computers just don't have that capability -- yet. Often athletes will come to training camps armed with a few of these reading materials, then pass them around once completed. I have yet to witness a discussion of one of the books, but there are always numerous discussions about training methods or race results found in the sports magazines!

I am sure there are many other activities that athletes participate in during their off time, but I just wanted to focus on non-sport related ones and those I had observed in my years training and racing on the World Cup circuit. Of all of these activities, I prefer reading the most. I don't get to partake in this as much when I am in my home, but when I get ready to leave for training camps or racing, the first thing I do is sort out which books I will bring with me!

I have always been a bookworm and as a youngster riding the Toronto subway to swim practice every afternoon, I would often miss my stop because I was so engrossed in my book! I even admit that I played "hooky" from the odd swim practice and went to the Toronto library instead.

Here's a few reasons why reading is beneficial to me:

1. Diversion: Prior to races, my nerves increase while my time training decreases (since I am resting up more). Any of the other activities listed above do not help to keep my mind off the ever increasing amounts of butterflies. Only reading a good book will give me the necessary distraction to give my body the rest it needs.

2. Mental Preparation: I choose certain books that will give me motivation and strength. I often read these more than once and do so before big events to give me a familiar positive boost.

3. Education: I classify my books into three categories:

a. Sports Related: These are specific to learning about training methods, diet, mental preparation, and biographies of sports legends in my field. These books can be as simple as a bike magazine or as detailed as scientific journals related to sport;

b. Literature: These are more difficult, well-known classic books that I enjoy reading to keep my mind fresh. It has been some time since I have been in a classroom and I never thought I would be saying I missed it, but I do miss working my mind, and reading great literature fills that void.

c. Easy/Junk: These are very beneficial to my race preparation as they are easy to read with fast-moving plots. These are the types of books I prefer to use when I want to escape the nerves and relax.

There are so many activities to become involved in, but as athletes we tend to choose more relaxing ones to give our bodies a break. When we retire from full-time sports and work in other ventures, no doubt sport activities will turn into one of our "relaxing and escape" activities!

But I firmly believe that above all, sport and reading go hand in hand. That is why I am so happy to support a new program just started in Toronto and supported by Brooks Canada.

The charity is called KidsFest Canada and one of its programs, the Running and Reading Club, was just launched in January 2004 by Brooks Canada and Sylvia Ruegger (who competed in the first women's marathon at the 1984 Olympics and still holds the Canadian marathon record at 2:28.36). She saw a great need for organized activity and literacy in some of the area's most needy public schools.

Her hope is to get kids hooked on simple activities like running and jumping, while learning and enjoying books. KidsFest Canada is committed to helping Canadian children who live in poverty succeed in school and in life. You can learn more about this great charity and its wonderful running and reading club program on the website: Or you can call (905) 319-1885.

There are numerous clubs running already with more planned for Fall 2004. I am really excited about this program and will be helping Sylvia to expand it to cities across Canada!

Finally, I will finish this Athens Diary submission with a list of some of my favourite books:

Motivational/Sports Related:

Heroes in Our Midst -- Stories from Canadian athletes (including one from me!).

It's Not About the Bike -- Lance Armstrong & Sally Jenkins.

In Pursuit of Excellence -- Terry Orlick.

The Power of One -- Bryce Courtenay.

Hearts of Gold -- to be released summer 2004 (I know it will be good!).

The Lore of Running -- Tim Noakes.

The Art of Happiness -- The Dalai Lama.

Literature (so numerous, but these I still keep on the shelf):

Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit -- J.R.R. Tolkien.

Call it Sleep -- Henry Roth.

War and Peace -- Leo Tolstoy.

Crime and Punishment -- Fyodor Dostoevsky..

100 Years of Solitude -- Gabriel Garcia Marquez.


French/English dictionary -- always helpful in finding that unknown word.

Looneyspoons cookbook -- my favourite cooking resource.

The Ottawa Sun newspaper -- another favourite!

Once again, thank you for reading, and I encourage you to read something from this list (well, you already have - you are reading the Ottawa Sun!)

I look forward to sending another update soon.

This article appeared originally in Sharon Donnelly's Ottawa Sun Column, "Road To Athens"

Visit Sharon's website at .

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