Over the last several weeks I have experienced diminished performance the likes of which I would not wish upon any runner. My legs have lacked pick-up and pace, I’ve been fatigued, my body unresponsive to any sort of finishing kick, what appeared to be diminished lung capacity, and, for those who know me this may be the worst indicator of them all, I have had nothing in the tank for crunching hills. It’s tragic really, I love hitting hills and pushing hard with a strong quick turnover and cadence, but not right now. Furthermore, I have NEVER just dropped out of a training run unless I was injured, but I almost, so very nearly, did that very thing recently and even toyed with the idea of throwing the towel in on Boston and running for a long while. Once those thoughts shot through my mind all I could think was, “YIKES!”
This is not a pity party, although it may seem like it a bit. This is more of an assessment of the situation and bringing to light the elements and symptoms of overtraining that I didn’t even know existed in a list format. This is an education at my own expense.
So what is overtraining syndrome? Paraphrasing here, it is when an athlete trains beyond the body’s ability to rest and recover. Ostensibly, it’s an imbalance in your training:resting ratio - you train so hard and so often that you don’t provide your body the time it needs to rest, recover and repair itself. The symptoms read like an athlete’s bad dream, but here is a list of them that seem to be agreed upon by a variety of sources:
- Sudden drop in performance
- Loss of motivation
- Persistent fatigue, even with rest
- Difficulty sleeping
- Irritability and an inability to concentrate
- Persistent mild leg soreness, fatigue and/or aches and pains
- Loss of enthusiasm for the sport and/or depression
- Decreased immunity
- A compulsive need to exercise (this one wasn’t across the board but fit)
After the initial shock, irritation, aggravation and outright rage dissipated it was then time to reassess the situation and see what I could do to salvage my ‘A’ race. First thing’s first, training was stepped down and more rest was added to the mix. In lieu of tempo runs I inserted swimming into the mix, which is something that I have not done in a lap format ever in my life. In fact, the only way I know how to swim at all really is from watching my Dad, beyond that I am just winging it.
The addition of the swimming has been welcomed and wonderful and I never thought that I would ever really like hitting the pool and doing laps, and yet, here I am doing it three days a week and thinking about adding a fourth. Swimming is amazing in how my running form and rhythm can be so easily translated and transferred into this other medium. When I run I am constantly taking into account the sound and count of my feet in conjunction with my breathing, which in the water translates into my hands entering the water with each stroke and my breathing. It’s amazing.
Now, with my weekly mileage reduced to just core workouts that I approach with purpose and focus, pushing myself and my body to recall why I am doing this and how it is going to feel when race day comes. Just a couple of these a week with a longer run at a reasonably comfortable pace should bring my mind and body back into alignment and I hope that this approach will illustrate what the pool work has meant to my cardio and lungs.
The time has come to test out the theoretical and see if I can bring myself back in reality and run a quality race that I can be happy with!