Overtraining and Overreaching: Results Part 1

I’m going to take a quick break from the Categories of Weight Training series today and Friday, I’ll get back to the other series next week.  Now, some regular readers of the site may be wondering why I haven’t prattled self-indulgently about my own aerobic training or inline racing results.  This came up on the support forum and I might as well talk about it.  If nothing else, it allows me to give some more real-world insight into a topic I covered in massive detail in Overtraining and Over-reaching and all the Rest.

As readers with good memories will recall from Methods of Endurance Training: Results Part 4, I had travelled to Napa, California to race another half-marathon and despite cramping after a crash at the second turnaround, came close to my goal time and ‘won’ (inasmuch as there was little to no competition and even the announcer made a crack about me sandbagging when I got my medal; ha ha).  After the race I had a brutally long and boring drive back to LA, hung out with some friends and then got on a plane the following morning.

Initially my plan (i.e. what I should have done) had been to take another easy week, the same 5 day freshening periods that I used to good success while in Salt Lake city and then do another training build to my next planned race. Yes I’d tapered to the race but I’d been going full force for quite some time without a break and was due a break.  However, that got rapidly derailed.

Chi-Town, The Windy City

As it turned out there was what looked to be a fast race (on a fun course) in Chicago in about 7 weeks.  And there might actually be some real competition.  And I decided that, if I were going, I should do the full marathon distance.  And stop being a pansy and sign up for the pro class.

Because, bottom line, there’s no glory to be had if you’re not actually being tested against real competition.  I clearly had the speed to stay with the top guys, I just needed some more endurance to go the distance.  And with 7 weeks to go, that gave me time to do a good 6 week training cycle into another week taper.

So rather than do the intelligent thing (or what I would have suggested anyone else do) and take an easy week, I felt compelled to increase my training volume to get ready for Chicago.  My plan was to increase my easy aerobic volume (to a mind-withering 2 hours three times per week divided into 30 minutes running, an hour EFX And 30 minutes MORE running) along with building my skating distance up to 1.5 hours (which would be plenty of time/distance to cover the marathon).

The tempo runs would stay at the same hour they had been.  I had even planned some higher intensity interval stuff to be able to cover breaks and sprints in the final 3 weeks.  I had more than a sufficient base at that point.  The program looked beautiful on paper; they always do.

I got through the first week of training pretty well.  Felt good, got through all of my workouts.  And then the hammer came down.  That following Sunday, skating just felt horrible.  My legs were wrecked; worse than that I mentally didn’t have it.  Normally I can grind through the workout even if my legs feel bad; but I didn’t have it mentally.

I seem to recall being out maybe 20 minutes and calling it a day.  I don’t recall if I ran at all that day.  The next couple of workouts went equally poorly.  Suddenly, almost overnight my motivation was gone, my drive or even ability to train was also.  And it literally came on overnight.

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It Kept Getting Worse

Over the next several weeks, my training fell apart completely.  I’d get in a couple of workouts and then skip, unable to face training.  That helped a little bit and I skated and then my brain fell out of my head again.  I’d take a few days off or go real easy, get in one short skate and then I’d crater again.   I cut the intensity on everything back, didn’t help.  I took a 5 day complete training break but the problems started again when I came back.  I had fallen off the edge but good.

But it didn’t stop there. I am a bit prone to depression, my last serious one was in my 20’s after I finished my first book, it put me in the hole for nearly 3 years.  Most of mine tends to be seasonal mind you, winter rolls around and I get a bit dopey; spring hits and I feel fine.  It’s a sunlight thing and, of some interest, high dose Vitamin D helped a lot in my last winter in Salt Lake City.

But this was an oddity, middle of the summer, everything going stunningly and suddenly I was back moving through molasses.  This is hard to describe if you haven’t been there but every action just takes exhausting effort.  My normal jolly/obnoxious/sarcastic self was gone, I was just a complete lump of a human being.

I was a real bring-down to be around; I mean, you know it’s bad when you can’t even stand being around yourself.  And while having a strong social circle helps in depression, when you get like that (at least when I do), you tend to isolate yourself even more, making the problems worse.

My sleep was off, my appetite was atrocious, I did the standard self-medication with obscene amounts of carbs thing.  Which coupled with low levels of training did very little for my body composition.  Well, that’s not true, it did a lot for it; just nothing good.  I had been lean and fit when I got to Austin, now it was all going away.

I couldn’t do anything else either.  Very astute readers may have noticed that my obsessively regular site updates fell off to nearly nothing over this summer.  Now you know why.  My brain simply wasn’t working; I couldn’t write, didn’t want to read anything, couldn’t do anything but sit around and do nothing.

I hoped that it was simply something organic and easy to fix, got some blood work and nothing.  Saw a doc and he suggested St. John’s Wort and less training; another doc gave me real meds.  I hoped it would simply go away and I’d be back to fighting form.  Because I didn’t want to come to terms with the fact that I was back into the hole of depression.  And every time I went out and tried to skate it was just an awful experience.  It became that horrible negative feedback loop and eventually I just stopped trying.

After a few weeks of doing pretty much nothing, I did finally force myself to do some light aerobic training, it invariably made me feel better.  Research supports this, mind you; regular exercise helps with depression. Unfortunately, when you feel that shitty, the last thing you want to go do is exercise.  But I forced myself to do it.

Time passed, with races I’d wanted to do passing with them.  A race I’d considered in the UK went by; it looked fun because it was to be held on an actual automobile race course.  The 10k in Atlanta I’d been wanting to do for YEARS came and went, at that point I couldn’t even face trying to skate.   I hadn’t been on them for weeks; it was pathetic, the one thing I truly loved doing and I couldn’t do it.

The simple thought of having to concentrate that hard on anything was just too much since I was busy ruminating on my depression.  This may require some explanation.  When you already live in your head a bit (as I do), one thing that tends to increase with depression is rumination; you spend all of your time worrying and thinking about your problems.

I even read a rather turgid paper suggesting that this is adaptive; everything else in your life gets put on hold so you can figure out a solution to the problem by doing nothing but thinking about it all the time.  This does wonderful things for sleep when the first thing that happens when you close your eyes is that your brain goes full force trying to figure out how to solve the problems of your life.

But skating requires a lot of concentration; my technique isn’t nearly automated and I still have to think about details when I skate.  The mere thought of doing that when my brain was tied up with figuring out the other problems of my life filled me with anxiety.

Between worrying about carve and hip drop, and pavement, and rocks, and traffic and corners, I just couldn’t do it.  I considered getting a bike but even the thought of doing that outdoors filled me with dread.  I just couldn’t concentrate that hard.  What I could do is get on the EFX and put myself on autopilot for an hour.  So that’s what I did.  Thank god for reruns of Bones.

Eventually, the girls dragged me back into the weight room, just so I wouldn’t sit around my apartment and brood the whole time.  Which made me feel even worse; I hadn’t lifted in nearly a year.  The soreness was extreme and what little strength I had had was gone.  So I was sore, depressed, unhappy and weak as piss.

The joy I used to get out of lifting weights was gone but good.  Another casualty of the Salt Lake City experience where lifting became simply a means to an end.  But I kept going because it got me out of the house which was good mentally for me.  As I started to regain some strength it wasn’t quite as bad but I still wasn’t enjoying it.

Another, part of the problem was that my days are fairly quiet and empty without training to fill them up.  I started doing some volunteering including time at the Austin Humane Society.  Not only did this get me out of the house, it got me outside and interacting with the puppies was good for me psychologically.

At this point, I had simply given up on even trying to skate.  I sort of wanted to but I think part of me thought that if I went out and it went badly, then I’d have to accept that the season was over. That maybe my skating career was over…again.  So I just avoided it completely.  I used soreness and fatigue from lifting as an excuse.  But basically I was keeping myself in this place of not knowing (which was a further stress) because I was afraid of what would happen if I tried.

So why am I babbling about this now?  Tune in Friday to find out.

Read Overtraining and Overreaching: Results Part 2.

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