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The Duel Trail Race

When Too Much is Enough Already

I finished my last 100 mile race in June of 2012. There were times I would bounce back in a week and get back in training after any race, a 100 miler including. I would race every other weekend on a level that required a push and competitive zest, and then get right back into training in-between. That went on for just a touch over 12 years…

My last hundred was odd. I didn’t really feel I gave it all I had, despite the bad conditions and a good outcome (a win and a course record). I felt that I was on cue with my body for 70 miles of it, and then actually slogging along (due to mental games, not necessarily problems in energy level). And yet as the days went by after the finish, I was still puffed up, sluggish, achy and simply blah…

Not feeling it. / Photo credit: GermanGirl @ http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1141272

As ultrarunners, we are driven creatures. We are certainly, as a generalization, an obsessive type. We want more miles, more hills, more struggles. We get overwhelmed by FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and sign up for anything that comes in our sight and doesn’t cross family obligations (and often does). As a female ultra runner, I bet many of us also have those “identity” thoughts of being afraid to stop exercising so that, God forbid, we gain a pound or a few (guys seem to have less problems with that nagging idea).

I never take more than two days off even after a long and/or hard race. I am also a creature of habit, and routine suits me, so stopping my daily run and/or gym visit is almost death defying. And so I go on.

After that 100 miler last summer, despite “not feeling it”, I pushed and worked for the next three months, through the Texas summer, often on a treadmill when the intensity of a workout called for it, and slowly ramped up my long run and weekly miles where I thought I absolutely have to be.

And then something cracked. At first, I thought it’s because I suddenly developed a pollen allergy – everybody in Austin gets asthma eventually, so what I never had it before! That got sorted in a week – and I had begun a little cleaning of my eating (I normally eat healthy, with little processed food, don’t go out and cook from scratch, but this time it was more of an elimination diet to figure out my IBS and colitis symptoms). Taking out any form of simple sugar (no jam, no rice, no white potato) left me “running” on low energy, so I backed off the training, thinking health is more important. Then another month comes, and there are some stresses in life – and I “excuse” my lack of strength and will to push due to that bump. And yet as all eventually resolves, my running is still blah…

And because my running is such a huge part of my life, my mental state is blah as well. What’s going on and where did I go wrong?

It took me another month of trying to fight it to finally give in to the thought that something must be wrong and I better check it with a doctor. How do you show up and say, “I ran a 100 mile race in the mountains and feel a little blah. Not too bad, I can still run a daily-six and weekend-10, but my pace is a bit slower, and I feel that even at that pace I need to work a little harder. I sleep poorly and can’t get rid of my belly fat”? I mean, a normal doctor will look at you like you are an idiot, and he would be right.

I lucked out and my doctor didn’t freak out. He ran some blood tests and came up with a number of indicators – I am in adrenal fatigue. And then things began to make sense… It finally caught up to me.

Everybody knows of Scott Jurek, and I hope everyone heard by now that he takes two full months off running – not racing, but running at all. He takes four weeks of running not a single step and doing lots of yoga and pilates, and then another four weeks of gently re-introducing hiking/gentle running into his life at a level of 25% regular level. There is a reason behind it.

There is a reason it makes sense to have down-time in November/December as he does, when the season around the country for racing winds down, and the all-around family holidays with a lot of food coming into view. You finally stop being selfish (and stupid), sit down, give your muscles – AND your endocrine system – some rest, spend time with your significant other/kids/pets, visit with friends and further-away relatives and eat your heart out.

You recover.

Enter Texas. With our weather (9 months of summer and something else), anything between the beginning of March to late November guarantees high temperatures (at least over 80F and four months bordering and over 100F) and insane humidity to boot. So, “our” racing season, as well as peak training season, is December-April. That’s how the races stack up here, from Tejas Trails to Endurance Buzz Adventures, to every other company that puts them on. As May passes by, we should be in “our” recovery, but we are jealous of all the others who are finally waking up THEIR legs and going to Colorado, Utah, Pacific North West, and everything left of the Rockies. This region of the country begins to slow down sometime in October – just in time for our NEXT season to begin!

You feel the pattern? Now you see why is it so easy to over-train and over-race your body and all its functions when living in Texas? We are built-in screw-ups! We need to be tied up to exercise restrain! Or, we need a plan…

So, here are the symptoms we need to watch for, and that means, for the sake of your own future – and the sanity of your loved ones – please take it seriously:

  • Persistent muscle soreness
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Reduced heart rate variability
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Increased incidence of injuries
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Mental breakdown

The effects of overtraining can be pointed down to a huge number of various body systems:

Physiological

  • Lymphocytopenia
  • Excessive weight loss
  • Excessive loss of body fat
  • Increased resting heart rate
  • Decreased muscular strength
  • Increased submaximal heart rate
  • Inability to complete workouts
  • Chronic muscle soreness
  • Fatigue
  • Increased incidence of injury
  • Depressed immune system
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Absence of menstruation
  • Frequent minor infections/colds
  • Insomnia
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Lower Testosterone Levels
  • Higher Cortisol Levels

Psychological

  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood Disturbance
  • Irritability
  • Loss of motivation
  • Loss of enthusiasm
  • Loss of competitive drive

Performance

  • Early onset of fatigue
  • Decreased aerobic capacity
  • Poor physical performance
  • Inability to complete workouts
  • Delayed recovery

A number of possible mechanisms for overtraining have been proposed:

  • Microtrauma to the muscles are created faster than the body can heal them.
  • Amino acids are used up faster than they are supplied in the diet. This is sometimes called “protein deficiency”.
  • The body becomes calorie-deficient and the rate of break down of muscle tissue increases.
  • Levels of cortisol (the “stress” hormone) are elevated for long periods of time.
  • The body spends more time in a catabolic state than an anabolic state (perhaps as a result of elevated cortisol levels).
  • Excessive strain to the nervous system during training.

The recovery process may take longer if you’re deep into it than if you become aware of symptoms and address early on.

Possible treatments include:

  • Allowing more time for the body to recover
    • Taking a break from training to allow time for recovery.
    • Reducing the volume and/or the intensity of the training.
    • Suitable periodization of training.
    • Splitting the training program so that different sets of muscles are worked on different days.
    • Increase sleep time.
    • Deep-tissue or sports massage of the affected muscles.
    • Self-massage or rub down of the affected muscles.
    • Cryotherapy and thermotherapy.
    • Temperature contrast therapy (contrast showers etc.).
  • Changing diet
    • Ensuring that calorie intake at least matches expenditure.
    • Ensuring total calories are from a suitable macronutrient ratio.
    • Addressing vitamin deficiencies with nutritional supplements.

Here are two links I found most useful – one describes in easy-to-understand English what you feel, and the other gives insight on two different forms:

And last, but not least – please, PLEASE, take your “fun runs” seriously as it DOES affects your health, and as often as the effect is positive, it is negative on the other end of the stick.

Happy miles!

- Olga King


Talk Overtraining

  • Have you experienced “overtraining”? If so, how would you describes its affect on you? What was your approach to resolving it?

Source: Overtraining. (2013, January 24). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:52, January 25, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Overtraining&oldid=534677583

Note: The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

About the author

Olga King Olga King (Varlamova) has picked up a second wind of running at the beginning of her fourth decade. With the success of being a self-proclaimed “freight train that never stops”, she has finished over 100 races at distances from the marathon and beyond. For more information on Olga, check out the About page where you can see some of her health and coaching related projects.

3 Responses to “When Too Much is Enough Already”

  1. on 25 Jan 2013 at 9:06 pm olga

    A little story for that doctor’s visit: the nurse takes my pulse and writes down number 52. I look at it and say: wait, it can’t be, it’s high. She looks back like I am an idiot and says: no, it’s lower than normal, you’re good. Well, “my” normal is resting 38! So, please be aware of YOUR normal.

  2. on 26 Jan 2013 at 6:16 am Tony M.

    Good points Olga. I was discussing some of that with friends last night. I am enjoying more “fun” runs these days and trying to let go of those “missing out” thoughts.

  3. on 30 Jan 2013 at 4:28 pm lori enlow

    Oooh I hear ya! Boy it is tough to rest and recover….esp when you feel “pretty good”. I took 2 weeks off no running (probably wiser to take 4 or more) after a month of waxing and waning energy, poor percieved performance, blahs, and of course the “why do I not feel like running?”. I’m back on track, but a little nervous hoping 2 weeks was REALLY enough! Fortunately, I have a coach that helps me keep me in check, I can be my own worst enemy and having someone (another ultra-runner) say, no you need to rest really does help.

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