Overtraining: The Near Disaster

August 26, 2017 Ian Murray No comments exist
So, I am not new to the sport of triathlon.  I’m not new to high-volume training.  I’ve been doing this for nearly 15 years, and yet I still wage the constant battle of managing my training, my recovery, my work, and my family life.  Training for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships has been no different.  In fact, my race schedule for this year has made it so that I am actually using Worlds as a tune-up for my A priority race of the fall, Miami Man in November.

The Build
After returning from St. Croix having qualified for this year’s Worlds at the last edition of the St. Croix 70.3, I was raring to get back to training.  I took a few days off to recover, trying to enjoy a brief period of time with a social life.  You see, my wife would soon be departing to visit her mom for almost seven weeks.  So, I was going to use that time to train like a crazy person.  I let my Cumulative Training Load (CTL) drop from a high of 108 coming out of St. Croix down to 93.  For those who have no idea or do not care about CTL numbers, basically, I cut my training back pretty significantly for two weeks or so.  Although, I probably could have gotten away with a little more rest.  But, hey, I’m not good at executing rest very well.
Once I returned from a conference in late May to an empty house, I got to work.  The first four weeks were 11 hours, 11 hours, 14 hours, and 15 hours of training.  I pretty much worked and trained.  That was it.  Even my recovery week following that build block was almost ten hours.  After my “easy” week, I hit it hard again, 14, 16, and 17-hour weeks.
By this point, you should be asking yourself, “Is this guy nuts or trying to kill himself?”  Valid question.  I have done much bigger weeks in the past while training for Ironman-distance races, but those always came after a significant build time and involved five and six-hour rides at a moderate pace each weekend.  This was different.  Sure, I had a three-hour ride every Saturday, but that was the only really long training session.  Everything else was 60 to 90 minutes.  That meant that I was doing a lot of training events each week, at least two per day.
I knew this was a lot of training load.  I even took three days of vacation to stay at home and train.  Before you judge me, I was not able to travel, as the days off were ones that had to be taken or lost.  I did it again later, but we’ll get there.  Anyway, I tried to give myself ample recovery.  I was in bed every night by 9 PM.  I ate right.  I cut out most alcohol.  I limited my TV time, and I took naps when possible.  It helped that the Tour de France was going on during the last block.  I watched the stages after finishing my training sessions on the weekend.
Oh, that’s the other thing.  I didn’t take any days off during the build blocks.  That’s right. 28 and 21 days in a row with no rest day.  Sure, some people do that all of the time.  I don’t generally recommend it to my athletes.  But, sometimes it’s “Do as I say, not as I do” with other people.  Everybody handles the load differently.
Recovery Week 2
The second recovery week was a well-planned affair.  I had to travel to Key West for work (I know, tough life), and the wife flew down to join me.  We planned to stay with friends for a long weekend stay once I finished my work duties.  First, I had to stop in Miami.  The wife carried on to Key West to meet up with friends, and I set out to accomplish some work.  Almost immediately, I felt off.  Hell, before I left the airport in Miami, I didn’t feel right.  No, my stomach was doing backward cheetah flips.  It had the potential to go bad, quickly.
Ever the good worker, though, I drove down to Homestead for a couple of meetings.  Besides, I couldn’t exactly check into my hotel, anyway.  I got to Homestead and stopped by the convenience store to pick up something for my stomach.  They only had some crappy cherry-flavored pepto chews, so I grabbed what was available and chewed one up.  I got back in the car and got ready to head in to the meeting.  Then, it hit me.
Suddenly, I felt like I had no energy, and I had a fever.  I quickly canceled my meeting and headed straight to the hotel.  When the receptionist at the Doral Residence Inn saw me, she quickly found an available room, and I headed straight for it. Fifteen hours of feverish sleep later, I drug myself out of bed.  I still felt rough, and I was definitely dehydrated.  However, I felt that I could fake my way through the morning of meetings.  I then headed to the airport to link up with the rest of the group for the two days of work in Key West.  I survived the trip and had another early night in bed, and by Wednesday I felt back to normal.
The rest of the week was relaxing with only light training.  My old bike shop, Eaton Bikes, loaned me a road bike, so I could get some training done (Thanks, Chris!) while in Key West, and I felt my body coming back around.  Adding in a little open water swimming and a couple of runs around the island during the week made me feel as good as new.  We flew back that Sunday morning, arriving late in the evening.  Little did I know that I had just made a pretty big mistake.
The Last Build
After the recovery week, I planned to jump right back in to hard training.  Two 15-hour weeks followed by a 17-hour week would cap off the final build before Worlds.  It wasn’t just the training time, though, that made this build challenging.  No, the intensity was starting to pick up, too.  Thus, the 15-hour weeks were much harder than the previous ones, and the 17-hour week would be a nightmare.  Fortunately, I would be off from work during the last week.  Like I said, I got right back at it.
Week 1 was ok.  I got the workouts done, but it was hard.  Now, I know that it is supposed to be hard, but it was harder than usual.  Holding easy power on the bike became difficult.  I had no speed in my legs to run, and I just couldn’t get through the water quickly.  Everything just felt off.  But, I pushed through it.
During Week 2, everything continued downhill.  I got slower.  I couldn’t hit targets on the bike, run, or swim.  It was just bad.  I was still pushing, but it felt like I was dragging an anchor behind me.  Then, the incident happened.  What was the incident?  Well, I think that it saved my training for Worlds to be honest.  Had it not happened, I probably would have continued to push and completely destroyed myself.
The Incident
On Wednesday of Week 2, I jumped on my bike to head home to lead the ODZ SkillZ and DrillZ Ride.  At the same time, a friend from work was also departing on his bike.  Now, my friend is a commuter but not a strong cyclist, so I never have to push the pace to ride with him.  In fact, it’s the other way around on most days.  Usually, I drop him as soon as the road starts going up and ending up in a very easy spin, waiting on him.  On that Wednesday, though, everything that I thought I knew turned upside down.  Not only did I not drop him, I could barely hang with him.  He was chatting away, and I had to bear down to not get dropped.  My brain screamed at my legs.  My legs gave my brain the finger.  They were toast.  At that point I knew that I had crossed the line of overtraining.  I was beyond fatigued.  I needed a rest.
The Aftermath
After the big ego check, I took two days off.  Normally, I still do some kind of workout or ride my bike to work on “off days,” but not those two days.  I slept in.  I drove to work. I even took the elevator instead of the stairs.  In the end, it turned out great.  I was able to have my monster training week to round out my training block, but I almost derailed month of preparation.
The Post-Mortem
So, what happened?  I had taken a recovery week.  Seriously, I only did five hours of training that week in Key West.  Well, yeah, but that was only part of the story.  I had pushed myself so hard during the previous eight weeks that my immune system was likely compromised to some extent.  Thus, I came down hard with something that was probably very benign.  During that two-day period, I ate almost nothing, and despite sleeping a lot, I was not rested.  No, those long sleeps were interrupted by a nice little fever that would come and go, waking me completely drenched in sweat or freezing cold.  Therefore, even though I had reduced my training volume dramatically, my body was not recovered.  I should have given it a few days of the next week or even repeated the recovery week.
In the end, I got lucky that my ego would not allow for an easy ride up the hills leaving work.  No, I get a little joy out of dropping the other bike commuters, as I hammer up the hills on my mountain bike, wearing a backpack and a heavy chain to lock up the bike.  I probably have a good 25 pounds of extra stuff, so it is a challenge to drop the others on their road bikes or with no baggage.  Without that swift kick in the gut, I would have kept pushing through the end of the week, pushing me further into the fatigue whole and jeopardizing my race.
How could have I avoided it?  What did my numbers say?  Well, that’s the hard part.  According to the numbers, I should have been fine.  I was “rested” after the recovery week, and that was the problem.  I believed the numbers over what my body was telling me.  Yes, sometimes, you have to tell your body to shut it, but that is generally only on race day, as you tear yourself apart, mile by mile.  In this case, though, my body kept shouting, “Hey, dummy! What are you doing here?  We’re running on fumes!”  Thus, it is critically important that you understand all parts of the equation.  I wasn’t going beyond my capabilities on paper.  I was just not getting the rest I actually needed, and being sick during the recovery week doesn’t really count as recovery.
The Good News
After the two days of rest, I got back into training but kept it easy over the weekend.  Doing so allowed me to really go hard during the last week, and I feel ready.  Missing a couple of days did not hurt my overall preparation; whereas, my overtraining put everything at risk.  At the end of the day, you have to figure out what you body is telling you.  I have had many days where I did not want to get out of bed and do my workout, but I did.  The vast majority of the time, I feel great after 10 to 15 minutes and crush the workout.  Those few times where the sensations never arrive, though, are key days, too.  On those days, you just need to back off and go through the motions at an easy pace.  Besides, you’re not going to hit your workout targets anyway, so there’s no need to destroy yourself for no gain.
As you continue down the road to your next goal or event, just keep in touch with your body now and then.  Think of it like your mom.  You need to talk every week or two.  It doesn’t have to be a long talk, but just check in now and again.  That will help you keep everything on track.  On that note, it’s time for a nap!  Until next time, Ride On!

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