I started this post last week and never found time to finish it so I figured I’d leave what I wrote then and add to it…
Remember that time I said training was feeling easier than expected? Yeah, those were the days. Just as in races, when you can go from feeling in top of the world to the lowest lows in a matter of miles, I find the same thing can happen in training. I was cruising along, even being so bold (dumb?) as to tell a running buddy (Hi Inga!) that I could not believe how good I was feeling after a 24mi/8mi weekend. And I was, I really was feeling fantastic! But then came last Saturday. Oh, boy, last Saturday.
Looking back, it was easy to piece together what happened. Generally, when I have off days, they are a result of some combination of three things: poor fueling, not enough sleep or too much stress. I am good about eating – some would argue (perhaps myself included) that I am too robotic about it, not leaving enough wiggle room in my diet. But that is fodder for another day – in this case, I don’t think that was the issue. That leaves lack of sleep and stress, both of which have been present since my mileage has crept up. To be clear, by stress I don’t mean the “OMG, I am freaking OUT, my life is a disaster, I am a nervous wreck!” variety (though that sometimes can be the case as I do love me a good freakout – just ask Lil Sis). It is more of the variety of having a very long work week, with a lot going on. It was all good, enjoyable work, but a week that saw me dipping into overtime every night. I combined that with less sleep – which is my fault as I know I am far enough into training that it is time to get more disciplined about it. By this point, I need a solid 8.5-9 hours a night and I have been teetering in the 7 hour range.
Fast forward to Saturday’s run. I knew I was in trouble when it was 10:45a and I had not even started the 18-miler yet. That is very odd for me – I usually like to get up, eat and let my stomach settle for an hour or so, and get out the door. In winter, this usually translates to starting around 8:30-9ish. That morning, I was just sluggish and unmotivated. The cold, dreary day with 20+mph winds didn’t help either (side eye to Mother Nature). I finally got cracking and it was rough. But then it got better and from about miles 5-8, I thought, “oh, good, I just needed to get into my groove”. Hahahaha, not so fast there, Davis. By mile 10, it was no fun again and the last 2 miles felt like they could have been 200 miles. I finished the run and went home, where I got a hot bath and then promptly feel asleep for a few hours. A nap is never a good sign in my world.
And picking up the story now, a week after writing that bit…
I had no appetite but made myself eat the rest of the day and hit the sack at around 9 pm. I woke up 9 hours later feeling a ton better and had roped my running bud Alice into meeting me that morning to squeak out 10 mi. Thankfully, Alice’s bright spirit buoyed my bedraggled one and the run was far easier than I anticipated.
Over the last two weeks, I have played with fire. My body, and particularly the part known as “my legs”, is very tired. This point in a training cycle is like mi 16 of a marathon. You have gone so far but still have so much to go that it feels like it will never end. It is a delicate time, because I know I can’t necessarily trust what my brain is telling me, ie, “stop running! wouldn’t it feel good to just NOT get up and out? to stay cozy beneath the blankets? to laze around on a Sunday morning?”. The brain takes a conservative approach – by trying to convince a person she is more tired than she is, it can prevent her from actually going too far and over training. But for the body to adapt to higher mileage, it needs to be stressed (in a smart, thoughtful way – read more about that here) and pushed so that the physiological changes that will make it possible to endure the goal race occur.
But how to tell the difference between your brain’s version of tired and “real” tired? That is tricky and where experience comes into play. I know the warning signs to look for that, for me, signal over training. Two big ones are consistent lack of appetite and an inability to sleep easily, despite being bone tired. Neither of those have been a problem (lack of appetite occasionally happens to me the day of a long run but returns with ferocity that evening or the next day). And though my legs have a buzzing tiredness to them in general, they feel really good on the runs themselves (minus that ugly, ugly day two Saturdays ago). My pace has not slowed and this week, while in a recovery period where runs are shorter, I have even noticed a natural drop in those times.
So I feel confident that the tired legs are just the normal by-product of a long, hard training cycle and not something I need to be overly concerned about. I have upped my sleeping time, paid even closer attention to caloric intake and given myself a myriad of pep talks, which have resulted in a really good training week. I have also been making more plans for the trip (plane tix booked today!) which has increased the excitement factor and helped make it feel more real.
Coming up this weekend I have the grand daddy long run for this cycle, which I am equally excited for and nervous about (another good sign – feeling motivated!). I am hoping the insane number of Christmas cookies I plan to consume (for real – the holidays are a time of year I legit indulge) will fuel me to a satisfying Garmy beep at the end of the run. I have not yet heard of Christmas cookies = smart, quality training food, but I am nothing if not an experiment of one. Snickerdoodles in, 31 miles out!
What are your signs of over training?