For the next two weeks I am living the hell that is university exams. I realize that this is a flagrant “first world problem“; however, in my privileged life, exams set the benchmark against which all shitty experiences are measured.
I’ve been accused of ramping up training when I’m stressed. Maybe it’s true. After a hard day’s training, the world is a simpler place. Life is condensed down to basic needs like eating, sleeping and Slowtwitch. Stressful thoughts are relegated to some dark corner of the mind and, for a fleeting period, it’s hakuna matata. But the worries inevitably return with a vengeance… often early in the morning… like 3:30am.
Lately I’ve settled into a strange routine. I wake up at 3:30am, train for a couple hours then go back to bed and sleep for a couple more hours. I also try to sneak a nap in the afternoon. Sometimes it feels surreal lacing up my running shoes while the party next door is still raging. But there are benefits: running laps around the hilltop cross-country course while the sun rises is pretty cool. There are also indications that segmented (or bi-modal) sleep is the natural pattern of human sleep. And for those of you who think that napping is slothful, check out this list of famous nap devotees.
When I’m stressed out, sleep is the first thing to suffer. I am envious of people who effortlessly fall asleep and sleep in late. I can’t remember the last time I was woken up by an alarm, or for that matter, after sunrise. I do everything right: computer off by 9:00pm, yoga and reading before bed. Nevertheless, sometimes my bedroom feels less like a peaceful refuge than an interrogation chamber where past events and present anxieties are endlessly replayed and deconstructed.
Everything is harder when you’re short on sleep. Every training session becomes a monumental undertaking, every lecture stretches to eternity, every little mishap seems like a calamity. Your perspective on life becomes distorted.
I can coast for about a week on crappy sleep before the wheels fall of the train. One experience in particular made appreciate this fact: Last November, school-related stress, awful sleep, a cold and a 150k week of running conspired to produce a pretty epic meltdown. In retrospect, the big training week was laughably inadvisable. The comments in my training log read something like “dead legs, low energy, bad, feel sick, exhausted, poor sleep, stressed…” How did I miss all the signs of an impending crash? I learned a lot from the experience and, hopefully, I won’t be foolish enough to repeat the same mistakes.
Thankfully, student life affords lots of napping opportunities. A 9-5 job would be a disaster for me. Perhaps you’ve noticed that I mention napping in practically every blog. Given my screwed up sleep schedule, I have become a master of the art of napping: cat naps and car naps, public naps and post-workout naps, lecture naps and library naps, you name it. Napping makes me a happier, friendlier and more productive person.
I almost forgot to mention one of my favourites: the pre-race nap. I love spreading out a garbage bag on the grass and dozing until warm-up time. Through my sunglasses, I have noticed people pointing and giggling as I lie spreadeagled on the grass. I dream that some wealthy triathlete will be so overcome with guilt at the sight of this wretched homeless boy that he will give me his new Cervelo P5. Or maybe I should try leaving my helmet out.