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THE LONG ROAD BACK, Leib Dodell posted 7/12/01
Leib Dodell is a former team member that now lives in San Francisco. He is an attorney and freelance writer and often writes articles for INSIDE TRIATHLON. This is an article reprinted from the April 2001 issue.

It started out innocently enough. It had been a long season and I was totally burnt out, so I decided to take a couple weeks off, just to get my edge back. Never mind that I didn't have much of an "edge" to begin with. I still felt that a little break would help me get geared up to attack the upcoming season with new energy and enthusiasm.

But then a strange thing happened. It turned out to be kind of relaxing not to have to stress out about my workout every single day. Suddenly, I had a lot more free time. A lot fewer muscle spasms in the middle of the night. A whole lot less laundry.

Next thing I knew, those couple weeks had somehow managed to stretch into - I'm not kidding here - about 14 months. My "edge" was now burried under about 15 extra pounds of banana-nut muffins and Celeste Supreme frozen pizzas. Those muscle spasms had been replaced by spasms of guilt whenever anyone described me as a "triathlete".

So, a few weeks ago, I finally decided enough was enough. I made that critical, psychological first step toward getting back into serious training - I went to the store and stocked up on Advil. I figured I'd spend the first few days rebuilding my ibuprofen threshold. You've heard the importance of building a solid aerobic base before moving on to serious training? Well, if you've been dormant as long as I have, it's also important to build a strong anesthetic base of painkillers in your bloodstream before actually attempting to head back into the gym.

Since I've now made that important first step toward recovery, I thought that I would pass along some other tips in case some of you out there are facing a similar predicament. The first and most important piece of advice is not to panic. This is not because your situation does not warrant panic. It does. The reason you shouldn't panic is because your cardiovascular system is in such tenuous shape, it can't take that kind of strain. Scientists have shown that the rate of deterioration of a cardiovascular system is directly proportional to its original degree of fitness. In other words, the better shape you're in, the worse off you'll be once you stop working out. This, like lactose intolerance, is one of those perverse little tricks Mother Nature plays on us for trying to fight off the aging process by keeping in shape.

You should also try to avoid training with other people for as long as you possibly can. People are vicious. Remember all those people in your office and at your health club who pretended to be so impressed with you back when you were in racing shape? Well, secretly, they hated your guts. Like wild dogs, once they get a whiff of the fact that you're hideously out of shape, they will move in for the kill.

I know it's tempting to think that, even after a 14-month layoff, you're still in far better shape than the average health club member laboring away on an elliptical trainer. Trust me, you're not. Beware the aerobics people in particular - they're the most vicious of all. They will try to lure you innocently into the studio, telling you that a little aerobics workout will be a good stepping-stone. Then, once you've wandered in there like an aging, puffy Muhammad Ali wading into the ring for his last fight, they'll pound you senseless. And they'll never stop smiling.

My final piece of advice involves your racing bike, and my advice is simple: Leave it alone and buy a new one. My guess is that after 14 months of dormancy, your bike is now somewhere in the corner of the basement and is hosting so many exotic insects that federal law requires you to file an Envirnmental Impact Statement with the EPA before giving it an overhaul. It will be far easier to go to the bike shop and buy a new one, and that significant capital investment will be darn good motivation to actually get out and ride the thing. But, for the first couple of weeks at least, avoid those neighborhood kids riding to school on their banana seats, or they'll make you pay for it.