Saturday, February 6, 2010

Overtraining in hindsight

I'm finally prepared to admit that I was experiencing symptoms of overtraining in January. I knew something was wrong and off, but I was reluctant to recognize it as overtraining because my training load/time/intensity had not gone up. If anything it had backed off a bit. So to call it "overtraining" seemed like a major cop-out, an excuse, a weakness, a miscalculation. When it was suggested by coach and trainer that I was flirting with overtraining, I brushed it off, until I heard it described by an elite athlete on one of those triathlon podcasts! As he described the experience, I finally tied it all together and understood that it's a multivariable formula, and training hours are only part of the equation. And if HE could admit to it, so could I. I had to stop looking at it like a fault on my part, and recognize it as a learning experience and a situation to be managed.

My general stress level had gone up with the holidays, not knowing if my husband would be employed after the New Year, the end of one semester, the planning of another, preparing to chair a major conference in February, plus all the general family-kid-house-pet stuff we all have. And admittedly, I didn't take the downtime I should have after the marathon.

So as a result I had:
  • anxiety attacks - I'd often have these after starting a workout with a big HR spike
  • trouble sleeping, waking up panicking and sweating (not a good feeling)
  • loss of confidence
  • heavy, sore legs that became the weak link in my runs
  • moodiness and over-reactions
  • loss of speed/performance
  • soreness lasting longer than usual, sometimes full body soreness
  • series of injuries
I'm realizing we each have a finite quantity of "coping powers" that are apportioned among physical, mental, and spiritual stresses. We fill up the tanks with rest, sleep, healthy eating, good relationships, and general life balance. We drain the tanks with workouts, stress, injury, worry, illness, anxiety, sleep deprivation, and unhealthy choices. I was draining the tank far faster than I could refill it.

I thought for a while that if I worked harder and focused more, I'd get over the hump. In an email Jim warned that he could "see the writing on the wall" and I heard the same message from Jake. I had to get things back on track.

The real fix was to get my stress level back down. I focused on eating and sleeping better, knocking things off the to-do list, and backed running off from 4 days to 3. Things smoothed out, stress levels have fallen, and I'm refilling the tanks again. I'm taking rest/off days with less fuss than before, having fun on no-pressure runs, and trying to maintain a better balance in my life. Just as I sensed something was wrong before, I know things are headed back in the right direction. I am mindful that this delicate balance is something I need to consciously and constantly reassess, fine-tune, protect and preserve. I need to keep the tanks topped off, and recognize when they are getting low and make the needed adjustments.

Maybe if we called it "under-recuperating" rather than "over-training" it would be an easier diagnosis to accept. Us type-A personalities can get more excited about working harder to recuperate than working less hard to train!