Burn out, over-trained, physical exhaustion….whatever you want to call it. It is something I am currently facing, and it is not cool. This year has been all over the show for me. I set a goal at the start of 2017 to run a substantial Marathon PB and it feels like everything to prevent me from doing that has happened.
When I chose to do the Gold Coast Marathon at the beginning of the year, it was because it was flat, it was fast, and it was a good time of year to run well before taking a rest and potentially building up for the Commonweatlh Games 2018. Every decision that was made from Jan - June was built on the fact I was working towards a Marathon PB. Yes I was over-working (at the time I was Brand Manager at Nike), my stress levels were maxed out 98% of the time, but I still managed to train like a professional. I was getting up at 5am every morning, completing a couple of hours training before coaching at 7am, heading to work from 9am-5pm and then finishing the day off with either a second run or a coaching session. This schedule had begun a few years ago and I was already in the swing of things, so why not carry on. My running was suffering, and now, as I look back, although I was not completing every run with purpose, I did complete every run, clocking up 130-160km a week. I can see now, that those back to back weeks of training take a substantial toll.
I followed my program to a tee, I clocked every km and every minute that was planned and would not miss a day of training, no matter how good or bad I felt. I was heading out on 3 hour runs in the middle of winter, all with the goal of getting across the finish line in a PB time. Three weeks out from race day I headed out on a 10km tempo with my coach. I got through the 10km feeling…okay, clocking a roughly 3.30’s split and was getting excited to start tappering towards the race. Two days after my tempo I fell ill. That night I was awake with a sore stomach and in the morning admitted to hospital with appendicitis. Straight out of surgery, I was adamant I would be back running in a couple of days and out on the race course in under three weeks. My surgeon thought I was joking. There was no way I would be running at all, let alone a marathon in three weeks. This tore me. I had trained so hard and sacrificed so much to this point. All my energy had been focused in on getting this PB time. And now, this non-running related illness, was causing me to stop.
I was in hospital for four days, recovered at home for another four days, then began trying to run again after 8. I was told to wait a couple of weeks at least, but my determination and “keen to prove people wrong” attitude had me hitting the streets in just over a week. As soon as I could, I was back in full training and even went to the GC to compete in the 10km race.
As an experienced athlete, I am always hungry for a goal. Without a goal in mind, I struggle to find motivation to train as hard as I do. So once I got back from the Gold Coast I decided to set my sights on a new marathon, the Melbourne Marathon in October. I jumped straight back in to high mileage mode, but this time I was not consumed by work. I left my job and decided to fully concentrate on the race. I believed that if I could focus all my energy on my running I would get to the start line feeling fresh and healthy. But I was wrong.
A huge 12 week build up was in front of me and I was determined to smash my training to get that PB that I had been working towards all year. My mileage was up, my sessions were hard, I was eating well, sleeping a lot and managing to do everything a professional athlete should do. But this didn’t seem to help. I wasn’t feeling fresh, I wasn’t feeling healthy. When I tried to push hard and run faster, my legs didn’t want to do it. I was tired ALL the time. I slept for 10 hours a night and then would still nap during the day. I was always hungry and never felt full.
I had hit the wall.
We talk about hitting the wall in a marathon, but we rarely talk about hitting the wall in LIFE. My life at the moment felt like a marathon. I began the year fresh, I went hard for the first 6 months, I had to have a pit stop in the middle of the year, I got back into the race, I tried to pick up the pace to peak again, and then I just hit the wall.
I can admit I have overtrained. It isn’t the fact I was raking in huge miles, my body is well conditioned for that, it is the fact I have been training so hard for so long that my body is telling me to take a break. I should have realized when I fell ill with appendicitis that my body was sending me a warning but I chose to ignore it and continue to push through. Now my body is saying ‘F you’.
Burnout can result in many symptoms, such as changes in enery levels and sleep, changes in eating, loss of concentration and feeling disconected. In athletes, burnout is obvious when your performance begins to become stale, you aren’t improving either of your strength and stamina, and you continiously get sick because your immune system is failing.
And the only way to get better is to rest.
As frustrating as this is for me because of my love of running, I do understand the importance of rest. I still have huge ambitions of becoming a professional marathon athlete and racing around the world, but the only way I am going to get there is if I prioritize my health first. I am taking three-four weeks out of my programme, I will be running with my athletes but not for myself. I am going to give myself some TLC. Being a coach I always talk to my athletes about listening to their body, so for now I am preching what I pray. My body is saying no, and my mind, well it is finally agreeing.
If you are keen to learn the science behind burn out, Shane will follow this post up with his take on over training...so keep ya eyes out.
Peace, love and running.