What does overtraining syndrome feel like?
I’ve overtrained ever since my daughter was born in September 2010. When she was just 6 weeks old and I was given the all clear, I began training for my first full marathon. I had less than 6 months, and so I trained like hell. Since then, I haven’t stopped. Literally.
I went off like a rocket at the beginning of 2014 and literally propelled myself into another running dimension. I began seeing results and times that I hadn’t dared to believe we’re possible for me. So, I wanted more of the good stuff. Like Hank from Breaking Bad, I’d dipped in to another world I wanted – needed – more of. Look at the progression from my Power of Ten progress graph. It’s like I was plugged in. Then look at it now. And carry on reading.
I’ve been stopped in my tracks.
So, what is overtraining syndrome and how does it feel? Well, here’s the view from where I’m at right here, right now.
Firstly, this doesn’t just happen overnight. I’ve been denying it, ignoring the signs, telling myself to ‘crack on’ just hoping (praying) that all the horrible little telltale symptoms would disappear.
Legs. My legs stopped recovering. It started happening around early summer last year. I’d just got a PB at Edinburgh Half marathon (1:30) the day after a cracking Parkrun, and my legs were tired. I knew they were spent, but I went and raced again the following weekend, and the one after that. My ego couldn’t say no, and so my legs were dragged along for the ride. They hated me for it – I knew that, but I did it anyway.
Training runs. They gradually became harder and harder as my legs protested more and more. Each time was a little bit more painful, each ‘steady run’ was a punishment for their misbehaving, “You don’t want to play? You bloody well will do. I’ll show you.” I abused them and I steamrollered through silly, stupid, pointless battles that caused yet more untold damage, just because I could.
Aching. The aches in my legs began hanging around long after the party was over. I’m not talking about feeling “just a bit sore” either. I’m talking about “Shit I feel like I’ve just run a marathon and it hurts to bend down to fasten my shoes, or walk up 5 stairs” soreness. It’s not normal, and it’s never gone away. It’s here now, in fact. When did I last run? 2 days ago, for only 30 minutes, and yet my legs would have you believe I finished the marathon an hour ago. I’m having to adapt to this permanent unwelcome guest – turned squatter – and accept that he’s still here. I don’t know how to evict him.
Malaise. Something just feels wrong. I know it, and it’s hard to explain. It feels like being trapped in a corner of my head, with nowhere to go. I don’t know how I feel, or what to do about it. It’s confusing, like being stuck in a revolving door but there is no outside. I’ve suffered from bouts of depression before in my life. This is the closest I’ve come to being there again in six years, maybe more.
Viruses. I’ve had shit loads of them. One after the other. Chest infection, cold, flu (that was a nasty bastard), and each time I’ve found myself getting more frustrated at my body for letting me down. Perhaps I was letting it down all along.
Panic. I’m panicking more. About stupid stuff: about my running (or where it’s gone) and other trivial, peripheral non-events. The other night, I didn’t sleep with worry. What about? I hear you ask. Well, about the prospect of a speed session on the treadmill early the next morning. Yup, honestly. It felt like I was waiting to be shot, I kid you not. Everything panicked me. Getting to the gym for 6.55am, taking all my stuff for work, not forgetting something, how will I carry all my 17 bags to the car? Stupid stuff. Not to mention the session itself. I was overwhelmed with fear. What if I just can’t do it? What if my legs won’t join in? (They didn’t.) So my sleep was disturbed, as my body surged with adrenalin for what? Nothing really. Nothing at all, in fact. (…and the session was crap, as predicted, probably for all of the above reasons.)
Sleeping. My sleep has been disturbed for months. I’ve struggled to switch off my unsettled mind, almost in a constant state of being ‘on alert’ for absolutely nothing at all to happen. As I’ve identified what’s going on, and I’m now taking steps to recover, this is – thankfully – beginning to improve. A good night’s sleep is now a mini-victory. But they all add up.
Breathing. I’m having to learn how to just breathe. No more, no less than that. Just breathe deeply and calmly, and not in a shallow, panicked, hyperventilated state. At times it feels ridiculous; at other times, strangely hypnotic. However, I’m told that it is the first step to piecing myself back together.
Where I go from here and how long my recovery will take – I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m currently in a little boat far out at sea, and I desperately need to find my way back to shore. Rather than battle against the tide, this time perhaps I’m best learning to let the ocean waves take me where they will. That way, I should at least have some energy left when I do finally get there.