I have done a lot of reading on stress and recovery. In summary, I have read that you can only manage a certain amount stress. Typically your age, gender, fitness level, general health, and genetics (among other things) dictate just how much stress you can handle. This includes both physical and psychological stress. So, when psychological stress is high (for example: handling a big project at work, being in a tough academic program at school, dealing with an emotional situation) it means that you just can't handle a large amount of physical stress (high training volume or intensity). If you are constantly exceeding your, let's call it "stress threshold," you will eventually break down. If you are an athlete, this means you could be at risk of over-training and chronic fatigue. Keep in mind what I said earlier: that stress is both training stress AND non-training stress. So, if you are spending your off days overloading yourself with other chores, work, social outings this is NOT recovery. In summary:
TOTAL STRESS = PSYCHOLOGICAL STRESS + PHYSICAL STRESS
TOTAL STRESS > STRESS THRESHOLD leads to IMPAIRED RECOVERY
The aforementioned is the reason that I knew my training and competing as a triathlete would be compromised when I decided to go back to school. Other commitments, managing kid schedules and coaching were pretty time consuming already, but adding school to the mix would be a whole new challenge. The timing was actually good though, since I had to back off the training anyway to properly recover from my surgery. However, come July, when my knee was feeling good, I was pretty anxious to ramp up the training. I told Adam I could still fit in 20-30 hours of training and school pretty easily. As usual he reminded me that I was being over ambitious. As a coach myself, I knew he was right. Sure enough, once school started, I realized that getting in 15 hours of training with enough energy would be my max. And this didn't mean I just had to cut out my recovery sessions, it meant that I would have to cut some of my intensity sessions too.
Specifically, the most obvious effects of the stress associated with going back to school were:
1. Recovery from tough sessions was longer.
2. My ability to push myself was diminished.
3. Training was often the second most important thing on my mind.
However, I still managed a fairly successful triathlon season training like a "full-time working age group triathlete." So, how did I do it?
A weekday in the life of a student triathlete:
5am: Wake-up, coffee
5:30 - 7am: Workout #1 (Bike or Swim)
7 - 9am: Breakfast, prep time for school, sometimes kids, commuting
9am - 12pm: Class
12pm - 1:00pm: Run at lunch or study
1pm - 5pm (or 7pm): Class/commuting
5pm (or 7pm) to 9pm: Make dinner, sometimes kids' lunches, eat, clean, study
9 - 10pm: Relax. Stretch. Self-massage. Very important!
Obviously that didn't leave much time for social interaction during the week. Luckily, I am OK to save that for the weekends. Anyway, of the above, what I feel was the most important and KEY for those people with a busy work schedule:
1. Workout in the morning. This prevents things from coming up later in the day that might prevent a workout (and the stress associated with worrying about when to fit in the workout). This also leaves you re-charged. If I had a morning off I felt sluggish and less motivated for the rest of the day.
2. Workout at lunch if possible. This really helped to break up the day. I found it broke up the sitting around and left me more energized for my afternoons. It was also an escape from learning and working, which helped me de-stress.
3. Leave 1 hour or more of downtime before bed. If I went right from study mode or go-go-go mode into bed then my night of sleep was very restless. And I really do feel that this helped to diminish the overall stress that I would have otherwise experienced throughout the day. So, watch TV, read, self massage, stretch, cuddle...or whatever helps you relax.
Keep in mind that, if you are a night person, my schedule will NOT work for you. However, if you have a similar schedule then I hope that these tips help you.