By Dr Kate Gazzard
Dr Kate Gazzard is both a medical doctor and physiotherapist with 20 years of sports medicine experience. Amongst other roles, Kate is currently the Australian Medical Delegate for the International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Cup Triathlon in Australia and is the Medical Adviser for the Triathlon Australia Technical and Operational Risk Committee. She is also the sports physician responsible for Jan Frodeno when he is training in Australia. Kate is an accomplished athlete herself, having represented Australia in Kona, won the Perth Marathon (2004) and she still competes in ultra-marathons.
I have a new love in my life; my 16-week old border collie-kelpie, Boots. My husband is equally besotted with our busy little bundle of fur-joy. It’s been 15 years since I’ve had a puppy and I’d forgotten how much time and effort it takes training him to be a ‘good boy’. Just as important as the training is his ‘Free Dog’ time; when I undo the leash and say ‘Free Dog!’ and let him do as he pleases – be it run in the sand, jump through the waves, chase his own tail or curl up under the shade of a tree.
It got me thinking of the importance of ‘Free Dog’ time for triathletes (what a segway!) So many triathletes in my clinic come to me with overuse injuries that could easily have been prevented with appropriate load management. I’ll ask them when they last had a day off and they look at me bemused; ‘a day off…?’ NEVER! Quite often, it was the last time they were injured. In every other sport I’ve ever worked with, athletes will take a regular day off from structured training. But not triathletes. The ‘more is better’ mantra is so rampant and it’s just bonkers.
Here’s the rub:
STRESS + RECOVERY = ADAPTATION
REPEATED ADAPTATION = IMPROVED PERFORMANCE
STRESS + STRESS + STRESS = INJURY AND BURNOUT
It really is that simple.
Having regular ‘Free Dog’ time doesn’t mean sitting on the couch all day eating ice-cream and watching Netflix (though it jolly well can!). It just means taking a day each week or fortnight to listen to your body and do what you WANT to do. Unstructured. Spontaneous. Go for a body surf or a surf instead of swimming, take the kids for a push bike ride or the dog to the beach, walk to a waterfall, hire a SUP, do a yoga class, meditate or rest – just tune in and nourish the other parts of your life and let your body ADAPT to all your hard work. You’re not going to de-condition in a day or a weekend, I promise. In fact, you’ll be better than you were before. Double promise!
If you don’t get regular ‘Free Dog’ time in your program, be proactive and talk to your coach. A good coach will recognise the importance and adapt your program to suit your life, not a recipe they have formulated. I would suggest a day a week or each fortnight and at least two planned breaks of a couple of weeks each year.
As I always say to my patients – if you don’t take a regular, voluntary break from training, your body will take one for you and it just may be when you really don’t want it! These lovable little fur-balls certainly can teach us a lot. Embrace some ‘FREE DOG’ time in your schedule!