Monday, February 1, 2016

Shift Work and Training

by Nick Mathers

In addition to my role as Endurance Corner’s content editor and site manager, my “regular” job is as a Registered Nurse on a busy transplant unit at a hospital in south Texas. As I transitioned from my previous corporate job to shift work, I searched the Internet for information on how best to manage an irregular schedule, but could not find much.

For anyone out there trying to balance endurance sport with long, stressful days and a potentially inconsistent schedule, I want to assure you that it can be done. Here is what I have learned.

While not everyone who works a shift will have the same experience as me, I think it will help frame my solutions by explaining the expectations of my job.

The traditional work week of Monday to Friday with Saturday and Sunday off does not exist for me. My regular work week is three to four 12- to 14-hour days in a Sunday to Saturday week, with the expectation of working four weekend days a month and extra shifts when our census is high. That is a typical hospital nursing schedule.

I am fortunate in that I can have a fairly flexible schedule, locked in a month or two out. That can afford me the opportunity to front load and back load work in a two-week period with a long "off" stretch in between if I want to plan for races or travel.

Major differences between a traditional desk job and what I do:

  • I am on my feet a majority of the day.

  • There are few opportunities for snack breaks, with most of my eating during the day concentrated in the early afternoon when I get a chance to eat lunch. I eat a small breakfast on my way to work from the gym, can usually snag 10 minutes for another small "second breakfast" mid-morning, lunch some time between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. and then nothing until I get home for dinner around 8:15 p.m. As such, I tend to load up at lunch.

I write the above not to complain, but to illustrate some of the constraints in planning and executing a training program. Here is what I have found works to keep consistency:

  • I take few "off" days and when I do, they are rarely on days I am working. Work itself is stressful, both physically and mentally, so attempting to recover with a day of work and no training is virtually impossible.

  • I train before work. My work day officially begins at 6:45 a.m., so that means an even earlier start with a 30- to 45-minute run, swim or lift that leaves me enough time to get to work. I used to believe that 30-minute workouts were a waste of time, but given the alternative of doing nothing, a short session always wins. The important thing is these workouts are not high intensity -- the "obvious" choice would be to load up the short session with "quality" work, but since I have no opportunity to recover at work, I cap the efforts at moderately hard, and usually just roll easy to steady.

  • I load bigger training together when I have a run of consecutive days off. That said, the day immediately following multiple stressful work days is not a big session.

  • I do not schedule bigger rides on the weekends. When I am off at the same time as my family, it does not make much sense to spend the day by myself on my bike. Instead, I spend my midweek waving to the retirees who are enjoying a Thursday morning ride at 10 a.m. out there with me.

The above is how I successfully PRed at all distances I raced this past year, without being sick and without injury. For me, consistency and flexibility were key to finding success. If you have been struggling with how to maintain a training balance with an irregular schedule, I hope these tips can help you figure out a strategy for achieving your triathlon goals.

Nick is Endurance Corner’s content editor. You can contact him via e-mail or follow him on Twitter @nick_mathers.

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