Overtraining Syndrome – A Tiny Bit Of Hell On Earth

Nothing like a mixed theme title for this post combining athletic and religious terminology. Other than my countdown post a few days back, I have completely neglected one of my passions on this blog, that being my strange love for triathlon. I would like to explain what I have gone through in the last 2 years, not to brag at all but to get it logged for myself and to hopefully help anyone who may be searching for answers to this. By my use of the word “hell” I do not mean to demean any of the people who really are going through hell working in sweatshops, dying of starvation, suffering in ethnic cleansing, etc. I am fully aware that my situation here in the US dealing with overtraining for triathlons is actually probably heaven on earth to much of the world. So I used “tiny bit.” Read on if you are interested.

I finally decided to push for an Ironman length triathlon in Jan 2007. I had been doing tri’s for about 2 years and had done a couple of 70.3’s (Half Ironman). I had a plan to workup to the Ironman with a series of gradually more difficult races. I started training in earnest in Jan 2007. In April of 2007 I did a sprint distance event in Emporia, KS. Then in June I competed in the Buffalo Springs Lake 70.3 in Lubbock, TX. August brought the Pikes Peak Marathon. After this grueling 7.5 hour race I took a week completely off but then was back to reduced training schedule through September. In October of 2007 I began my 30 week training plan which led to my Ironman race in April 2008 in Phoenix, AZ. It took me 15.5 hours to complete this race, but my goal was to just finish, and I did, so I was and remain very happy about it. I took about 2 weeks off after this race and then was back to a reduced training schedule that gradually led into the Buffalo Springs event again in June of 2008. I took about a week off and then was back preparing for the Pikes Peak Marathon in August. About 3 weeks before the Pikes Peak race I had a sudden change in my performance, mental state, emotional state, and physical state. I cut back a bit but pushed through to the race. I felt terrible the week leading up to the race and underperformed during this race for the first time since I have been doing endurance racing. The weather was horrible, the worst blizzard I have ever been in on top of a 14er, and I logged my first DNF of any race that I have entered. It was time to figure out what was going on.

My symptoms….could not get enough sleep, felt tired continually, dreaded my training workouts whereas I had previously looked forward to them, either voraciously hungry or not hungry at all, no interest in sex, feeling down most of the time, easily crying, easily angered, frustrated all the time, inability to run or ride at levels that were previously easy, muscle soreness which I almost never had even after my hardest workouts, lack of interest in friends. I think that about covers much of it, but I am sure that I left a little bit out.

I did quite a bit of research on “overtraining syndrome” and concluded that I likely was suffering from it. Looking back, I had been training for about 20 months without much of a break. That 20 months also included 5 rather extreme endurance races. And I probably didn’t take enough time to rest after any of those 5 races. So, while I was concerned that many of my symptoms may just be plain old depression (do not mean to make light of depression in any way with those words as I understand how dark depression can be to those who suffer from it), I thought I had good grounds for overtraining syndrome. One of my sports med doctor friends whom I cornered thought much the same. Unfortunately, the only real way to diagnose it is to rest and see what happens. That is a scary thing to someone who has been used to working out a minimum of 12 hours per week. But things were not getting better at all on their own so I really had no choice.

So I decided to commit to 2 months of cutting back. For two weeks I did no workouts at all other than just walking. After that, I stayed out of the pool altogether. No swim workouts. Logistically it was just easier to cut these out than run or bike workouts. I then reduced to bike and run workouts of no more than an hour and at paces and efforts that were far below what I was used to. I limited those workouts to about only 4 per week. I also occasionally traded running for an elipticalt machine. And after about a month I definitely noticed that I was feeling much better.

I think in early October I began to feel rested after waking up. While I was previously sleeping about 10 hours a night and waking up tired and then wanting to take a nap at lunch instead of eat, I began naturally waking up after about 8 hours of sleep feeling rather rested. My appetite patterns were leveling out. My mood dramatically improved as did my interest in sex. Rather than jump back to early into hard workouts, I committed to staying with the reduced schedule through October.

By November I would say that I felt pretty much back to normal. I started back into my strength and core routines and even have ramped up the intensity there. I also got back in the pool and found that I could swim a mile with relative ease. I have gotten back to 5 and 6 mile runs and 20 mile rides without any difficulty. And I have incorporated TaeKwonDo 3 days per week and am doing it with one of my sons. I have begun pushing the intensity a bit with some interval training one or two workouts per week too. And I feel really good.

The Sunday prior to Thanksgiving marks the one year count down to my next Ironman. My racing schedule for 2009 will look like this: Sprint tri in April, Kansas 70.3 in June, Redman 70.3 in OKC in September, Arizona Ironman in November. I haven’t decide if I am going to do the Pikes Peak Ascent in August (not the marathon) or an Olympic tri in the summer sometime. I maybe will see how I feel and decide later on that one.

So this time I will not make certain mistakes that I made before. For one, this training season will only last one year. After the November Ironman I will likely take most of the remainder of 2009 off with just minimal workouts in late December. I will also religiously follow a schedule of 3 weeks of hard workouts followed by one week of cutting back and cycle that through the entire year. I will take enough time off after my lead-in races to get the rest I need to then begin preparation for the next race. And I will not add in much endurance work until Feb/March. Until then my focus will be on strength, especially core strength, losing a bit more weight, interval work, and rest.

So not any big revelations here. Just a post describing who I am and where I have been and to get something down about myself in the “online Journal” function of my blog. Maybe someone will read this who needs to learn from my experience. The right kind of pain results in tremendous gain.


11 responses to “Overtraining Syndrome – A Tiny Bit Of Hell On Earth

  1. Congratulations on having the self-awareness and balance to make these healthy choices. Blessings.

  2. Hey Doug

    Im curious, do you ever get any body work(massage) when you are in the midst of your training? I am a registered massage therapist and it has been my experience that the athletes that perform the best, know to include a rejuvination aspect to their training. I use my “Car analogy” to explain it.

    1. Fueling your car……eating well
    2. Driving your car……exercise
    3 Maintenance the car…Massage or some form of bodywork.

    Most people only do the first 2 steps. The outcomes are usually pretty obvious for them. The car eventually breaks down and needs extensive work done on it. Now if only they would learn to maitenance it more regularly.

  3. TFT. I have done a massage only once and that was way before I was into training like I am now. I do believe that it would be beneficial for me in my athletic pursuits. Most of the races I have done have massage therapy available before and after the race. I haven’t done it mostly because of time and money. Do you have any suggestions?

  4. Dude – your healthy – I soooooo admire you.

  5. Thanks for the admiration. I absolutely have the training thing down. I will confess though that I do not completely have the nutrition side down solid. I am getting much better and have made huge progress like cutting out Mountain Dew (which I now only consume as a luxury item on occasion). But I am getting there. I have just recently incorporated a 90 minute advanced yoga workout into my training routine. It is the first time I have ever done yoga in my life, and it is definitely challenging but I love what it does for my body and my mind. Plus, I got a cool cork yoga block.

  6. Well Doug, if you werent going to Hell before you sure are now. Yoga, come on man, thats the Devils doing lol. ;)

  7. Yes, I know. We just pulled our kids out of a fundy Christian school and put them in our very high quality neighborhood school. One of the ridiculous things that their teacher told them was that yoga was a tool of the devil and that it was a way to let evil spirits inside of you. What a load of crap. They are doing much better now and learning more quickly in the neighborhood school by the way.

  8. Doug……..Wow, The more I read from you, the more Im impressed. It seems like you have an awesome wife who truly has joined you in the Journey of life. Big changes require big courage. Sounds like you guys have that in spades.

    As far as using massage(bodywork), firstly it aids in recuperation. It directly affects your circulatory system and Lymphatic system aiding in the removal of toxins. Hands on is also amazing for musculo/tendon attachments in that it can break down any adhesions due to strains. And a bonus of massage is that it has calming(destressing) qualities, and by the sounds of all the change going on in your world, that would be a welcome relief. You should shop around and find a therapist that has experience dealing with athletes and treatment style massage. Hey maybe buy one for your wife this christmas, Im sure she could use it too. :)


  9. John. Yes. I truly have an awesome wife. We are on this journey together and at times have been the only person the other had to cling to when many of our prior fundy friends have ridiculed us and told us we are wrong. And also yes, we have been on a journey of radical change in our lives over the last 2-3 years that has led us away from fundamentalism and fakeness and into a search for truth, a deeper understanding of God, and an entire new set of relationships. A lot of my earlier posts talk in more detail about it if you care to check them out sometime.

    I would love to get into regular massages. What part of Canada are you from. Maybe we could meet in Billings, MT every couple weeks. LOL. Seriously, what would the frequency of a massage be? Weekly? Only after long workouts? And also, what is a fair price. I can’t see myself paying $100 per week for a massage.

  10. Doug

    Initially I would suggest about once per week for the first 4 to 5 weeks. If youre pretty healthy you will notice a positive change. After that maintenance massage is usually about every 4-6 weeks. I would suggest somewhat more frequently the harder you train and the closer you come to your competitions. And who knows, maybe will come to visit sometime in the new year. I’ll bring my table ;)
    As far as price goes I would suggest not much more than 70hr. but Im not sure of the price range in your area.

    We live in Ottawa Ontario, I think were about 13 or so hours from you.

  11. I live in Saskatchewan…and I am cool.

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