One of the hardest things about training for this Ironman has been listening. Listening to my body for signs of training fatigue, over training, and breakdown has always been important. It becomes much more important after 50. Rest and recovery have earned entire chapter in You Still Got It, Girl for good reason.
They key is to be sure when you’re over reaching it isn’t overtraining.
What’s training fatigue, specifically overtraining fatigue?
It probably isn’t coincidence that I just got off the phone with a client as I type the first paragraphs in this blog. Not recently, but not long enough ago it still stings she tried to run 13 miles. It wasn’t a part of her plan. Having never done, say more than 6 miles. There was no progression, no planned training, with alternating rest and high mileage weeks with recovery weeks.
That’s one example of acute overtraining fatigue.
Another example is chronic overdoing. A friend and fellow fitness instructor years ago used to teach many fitness classes and then would do her own daily 1-2 hour-long workouts too. She was working out 2-4 hours every day easily. Never losing an ounce, mind you. Even when you’re younger your body will backfire on that kind of treatment. Stress fractures, illness, moodiness are all common when you’re in that spot.
What is over reaching training fatigue?
Over reaching is planned. If you wanted to be able to run a 10K (6 miles) you might build up and do 7 easily. When you’re training for a triathlon there are all kinds of ways to apply training programs. Essentially in a training plan you have some peak for planned over reaching. You might guess I’m in the mess of it right now since it’s top of my mind. If you also guessed the highs feel higher and the lows feel lower. Essentially this weekend I’ve taken myself to over reaching camp. This is a high.
It means the long bike rides are really long. A 80-100 hundred mile rides (or the time equivalent on a trainer) become more frequent. Instead of happening once in a four-week period they’re three times a month. I’ve got one this weekend and had one last weekend. Long swims become the weekly norm. Both biking and swimming are easier on the body.
Running, for me at least, remains the least frequent high mileage since the risk of injury is great and the payoff not as high. The fitness to run can come from biking. The body has to be ready but too much running will just hurt everything else and cause breakdown. Training fatigue is a part of the package. As long as training rest increases it does’t lead to breakdown.
During the streak of weeks that include over reaching the weight training and yoga or core work take a slight back seat but they are still very present. They change. They’re no longer pure strength, or even power. Now the power needs to go into the workouts specific to finishing the race. The weights become lighter both by design and by necessity. At about this point I realize when I lift that the weight I used to do feels like too much. That’s a win. It tells me I’ve used that strength pulling in the pool and pedaling with resistance on the bike. The weights now become more about checking in with form, alignment, and remaining injury-free.
Training fatigue is peppered with recovery in over reach
During these big weeks of planned over reach you know you’re going to have a recovery week coming. You know after a tough few days you’ll have a few weekdays or travel that will be coming with minimal training. So it works. Listening to training fatigue and providing extra attention to nutrition, specifically protein, and sleep all help over reaching not become over training, too. Sometimes your body can’t wait until the planned day off. A wise woman training in midlife listens to that above all else.
However, now there’s a twist. In, it’s not even a twist. If we were talking ice cream (of course we’re not) it would not be a twist. It be more like one of those marble slab types of mashes where everything is kind of beat into the ice cream and you’ve chosen several things at once. It looks like a big mess stuffed into a waffle cone.
It’s not a problem with listening. It’s about knowing which voice I’m hearing. They’re all talking at once.
Contributing factors in training fatigue
First, there is plenty of evidence my hormones could play a fatigue factor. That’s providing a different kind of fatigue. I know thanks to signs of skin disruption, unpredictable periods, and from the unpredictable way my body is responding to long workouts. The workout can seem never hard enough and yet the need for recovery hits harder.
Then there’s the workflow of an entrepreneur. It’s nothing like that of someone signed up for payroll. Nothing ends. It’s not like I can keep in touch, get my work done and as long as I get tests written, graded and papers read, or meet my numbers it’s all going to OK. I have a lot of hats to wear. I run it all. I’m in it all every day. As business grows and I have the opportunity to help more people I have more opportunity to be distracted by other things that aren’t a direct fit too. I have to deal with training fatigue while I work in a business that is dedicated to customers who have needs, and they are the sole reason I exist.
It becomes hard to assess what’s causes training fatigue. I try to reflect on the last five times I’ve been here. What is the difference? Is it the hormones causing skin disruptions? Or is it the travel 4 times in less than a month? Is it the change in time zones and finding creative ways to locate healthy meals that takes extra effort? Is it the first book deadline or the second? Or the paperback issues layout after those were done? Is it the website modifications that needed my attention for corrections? Could it be the project management for those things with a team of 5-6 other people at various times to pull it all together? Or is it really the training?
Fatigue from pace of life
We all have a list of our own things. To hope that we don’t is to wish all the meaningful things in life away. It’s like saying you don’t have time to eat well or exercise because you have a family, a full time job, and laundry. That’s just a message you tell yourself. Too many of us collectively pretend that some day we may have a butler, maid, or chef or will be retired and do it them.
We pretend that someone else who makes time for exercise has it “easier” because of something we make up in our heads. Often we pretend that someone who makes time for an event like I am has more time, money, and freedom. When you know the stories of Ironman you know that’s a lie. Many of the participants are indeed educated. Many are professionals. Many are business people. We are certainly no less busy than anyone else to begin with. We are goal getters.
A big part of a personal goal like an Ironman is to figure out who you are during the training. Whatever little parts of you that you’ve been ignoring will surface. I find that joyous little girl out there who liked to play outside all day. I find the kind of shower at the end of the day that takes stress down the drain with it and leaves you feeling completely ready for a good sleep. I find the problem solver that I need to be and resist (can’t it just go right??). “Are you kidding me?” out there that is all I have to say when in the last hour of a long ride the wind picks up or the cloud cover disappears.
Training plans adjusted
I find that while I’m listening this time around I’m a little more impatient. I’d love to squelch the voices in my head and do my training plan to the letter. I know I can’t. I have to count the 15 days of workshops and travel this week. I have to count the five 14-hour days that happened to complete some current projects. It’s all a part of the training.
I have to count it because from starting line to finish line that kind of training will help me. It will make a day away from a keyboard and a week without constant internet access seem like a vacation. It will remind me that it’s good to be alive, to choose to be in the race and not on the curb.
I use segments of my race to focus on gratitude for the people and events in my life. When you focus on high frequency feelings like gratitude and love you increase your own frequency. That gives you energy. In my first marathon, a friend of mine had written 27 items to focus on, one for every mile including the last .2. It was no coincidence she was a winning women’s college gymnastics coach.
More than twenty years later I still do that.
There’s a saying another friend of mine – the Bone Broth Dr., Kellyann Petrucci uses. “Do stuff scared.” Ironman doesn’t scare me any more. I’ll venture to say it might have once. But today? No. There’s far scarier things. Losing someone far too young is scary. Surviving after it is terrifying. Feeling helpless to comfort others is horrific. Having to say terrible words. Having to watch and feel the terrible pain of loss. Fear you won’t feel it. Knowing that can happen in seconds to any of us even when we’re not risk-takers and not taking a risk. Being reminded how precious life is and how much I take it for granted. That I might be taking life for granted, that I might not being living it fully: that scares me. Terrifies me. A 35-year old lived more in his time here than so many do in twice that long. I don’t plan to be one of them.
To do stuff scared I’ll add, do stuff tired. Who hasn’t done things tired that turned out to be some of the most important things in life? Bringing children into the world, then caring for them, most of that happens tired. “Working tirelessly” are words used to describe people when they’re given recognition. I doubt they’re true words. Work is tiring. Real work makes you tired. We’re supposed to get tired. Then rest. Then repeat.
There’s a difference between the fatigue caused by life stress and the training fatigue from the simplicity of stress working your body to fatigue – when you love it. It’s the “good tired.” It [stress] does all count; your body deals with it all the same. But there’s one difference. One accumulates and causes disease. One washes the other away: as long as you listen to the total load along the way. Things can bend but only so much in one direction.
During an endurance race the mind has to be conditioned to do things tired. That has to be the norm.
My job is to finish these last six weeks strong, while tired, with my ears (and heart) open.
*For some women the signs of overtraining and too much stress occur when digestion isn’t optimal. It could be insomnia, mood swings, anxiety, or injury. Frequent or chronic illness, and tension are also signs of over training. Even if any of those conditions have existed for years they have to be considered in the total picture.
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