Why listening to your body is triathlon’s fifth discipline; written by age-grouper Amy Kilpin and first published in Triathlon Plus magazine. You can follow Amy’s blog and read her latest column in Triathlon Plus magazine on sale now.


I had that common affliction recently: that moment when you suddenly realise your throat is sore, the onset of sneezing begins, and suddenly you feel your training programme is in jeopardy. Before you know it, a whole week of training has been missed and it can feel like the end of the world.

However, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I was quite relaxed about this. My coach enforced this laissez-faire attitude with: “There’s nothing you can do about it. Just rest and get some work done.”

Sure, for us day-jobbers it’s actually quite a relief to have something else to occupy you when you’re laid off from training. I can’t imagine how tough it would be as a professional athlete, unable to train and with nothing to do. But, then again, I am the type of person who needs to be productive nearly all the time.

Soon my cold was better and I was back in training. The only problem was, it didn’t feel right. I was still not doing much and then a mid-week family wedding scuppered even more of my training plans.

In reality it was actually quite refreshing to have a few days off and a couple of weeks of very little training. Because my season has been split into two halves this year, my coach and I just put it down as a little mid-season mini-break; it wasn’t like I had any races coming up so it actually worked out quite well. Sometimes, you’ve just got to accept things that you can’t control, because really, it’s not the end of the world.

Shortly afterwards, I was up in Yorkshire for a week. Right then: hills, everywhere. This will help get my legs back, I thought. Apparently not. The same thing happened; I just didn’t feel right.

We played it relatively safe that week until I felt “normal” again. The tough part of all this was that there were no discernible symptoms. Just a vague sense of “not feeling right”. I also know things are wrong when I lack motivation. I’d have one pretty good session and feel pleased that I was getting my form back – then it would be nullified by another rubbish session.

Inconsistency and a bit of lost mojo – it’s not a great feeling.

I was trying to avoid sounding pathetic when I told my coach that my training sessions “felt hard”. Well yes, obviously. Aren’t they supposed to be? But it ran deeper than just a tough session.

You know when you’re not on point. Or, as one of my Twitter pals pointed out quite profoundly, “When you know, you just know.”

So what do you do? Well you’ve got to ride it out and just be attuned to what your body is telling you. In the past, I’ve ignored stuff like this and pushed through, but it really doesn’t do you any favours in the long term. Carrying on in spite of fatigue, a suppressed immune system, or even a niggle will only have deeper repercussions later on. But it takes a certain level of maturity as an athlete to look at things that way. It’s all too easy to make knee-jerk reactions.

This, I have discovered, is all part of the learning curve in triathlon. It’s not the first time I have mentioned the mental aspect to training and racing, but this is from a whole different perspective.

Let’s face it – injuries and illnesses suck. But they happen to all of us and actually, it’s your coping strategy and your perspective that will get you through in the end.

Learning about your body and knowing when to back off, recognising when you’re not feeling on form, and dealing with it by appropriately adjusting your training and carefully monitoring how you feel are all essential components of this sport. Being able to cope with setbacks and come back even stronger is part and parcel of this game. After all, our health is the most important thing.

I’m hoping that some kind of reverse logic is at play here and this setback will have benefitted me more than if I had been healthy and carried on training normally. In theory, I could come back to tackle the second half of my season much fresher – in body and in mind.

Sometimes the body is just telling you to recover and take a step back, and believe me, it’s worth listening to.


For more of Amy’s words of wisdom, you can follow her blog.