What the first few months have looked like after I completely burnt out and formally had to take a complete break from training (click here for what’s been going on).
Now I’m not sick or sleeping 12-16hr/day any more but how do I go from here to racing again? That is a very good question! I wish there was playbook with step-by-step instructions on how this whole recovery thing would go. But there’s not and from everything I’ve read it seems to be somewhat different for each person so here what seems to be working for me:
- Remain true to what my body intuitively tell me
- Seek out experts to help me in areas I need it
- Focus my attention to other areas of my life
My body is smart, I just have to listen
I have never been an athlete who pushes through injury, I knows that pushing through an injury just causes more problems in the long run! Guess it’s the same when you push through too much fatigue for too long with not enough breaks!
At first this was hard because all my body wanted was rest, rest and more rest which of course made me feel like a lazy bum! After those first few brutal weeks, I was amazed at how I actually started to crave movement again. Key word: movement, not exercise, and definitely not training! The challenge was figuring out what I could do that felt good and left me feeling more energized afterward and not needing a nap. It took a few days of running 3 miles or spinning on the roller for 45 min and trying to do a half hour of really light strength training in the same day to realize that was too much at this point. I still great really frustrated trying to explain this to other athletes who haven’t experienced overtraining or hormone imbalances, it’s not like I couldn’t physically do the activity in the moment, it was the fact I was an unproductive zombie for the rest of the day or days afterward. Eventually I resigned myself to walking.
Ya I’m a “walker” now… haha get it… my last name’s walker… my father-in-law would totally approve that pun! For the month of March I actually count walking as “training”… this has been a humbling experience let me tell you! I figured out I could walk for about 20 min and finish feeling like I had more energy then when I started, so that became my baseline. Ha pretty pathetic but on the positive it was a long time since I felt that good and had energy at the end of a “workout”. How workouts should feel for the most part…and yes I’m aware I just called a 20min walk my workout but that’s where I was at if I was truly being honest.
I think being forced to walk has been a blessing, I’ll probably write another post on all the benefits I’ve found from walking but the main thing was that I was going slow enough I started to be aware of more subtle cues my body would give me of when I started to be at a point where I felt the deep fatigue start to set in. I call that the payback effect, if I do too much, either movement or just in general life busy-ness I’m regress a bit and end up with that debilitating fatigue again for a few days. Ever since I’ve been able to know the feeling of when to stop, the recovery process seems to have been going quicker (not quick!) because I don’t have to spend a few days recovering from over doing it. So I walk, listen to podcasts or just look around at all the things I’ve never noticed when I’m running!
Movement vs training
April/May I’ve been using up to an hour of “movement” a day as a guideline and am feeling really good doing it. That is always the goal; to finish and have more energy then I started. I also realized what I could do was going to vary greatly day to day for a while. March was mostly just walking, now I’ve been throwing in a 20-30min swim once a week and a couple 30-45min bike rides either on my road bike or on my hybrid just toodling around the neighborhood. I like using my HR monitor and try to keep my HR around 120-140bpm, in other words, really, really, reeeeeeeeeallly easy… It’s amazing what you actually see when you aren’t staring at your power meter!
On walking days, I’ve been spending that last 15-20min doing different movement prep and running drills (think dynamic warm-up type movements) with lots of walking and resting between. When else do you have time to take off your shoes and let your feet/body develop more mobility and functional movement patterns? Often I walk with my husband after dinner and still some days I feel tired so I opt to read a book instead that day and don’t sweat it!
Pilates to the rescue…again!
One of the positives, yes I have started to find a few more of these, has been that I’ve been able to take a few more Pilates classes from my fellow colleagues at Pilates Manitoba! It was been great to have other instructors look at my body and to take time to correct all the little imbalances that sometimes get pushed to the side when I’m in the full swing of training. I love the whole mind-body-connection, the breathe work, the way I feel taller and stand with better posture after I leave (mmmhm maybe a post here is need at some point too). I’ve also been able to explore some of the other modalities the studio has to offer like the MELT Method. It’s fun to go back to basics, enjoy the easier exercises, just follow along for a change instead of everything having a specific purpose.
Just in the past two weeks, I have been adding in a half hour-ish of strength training twice per week again keeping everything really light with lots of rest. My rule at the moment is that I need to feel better at the end then when I started, if I start getting tired I stop, laugh at myself for how lame that is for a moment and then move on with my day! I found that although I knew I needed all the rest, my body was getting more little aches and pains from not moving so I’m so thankful I’m back to a place that I can just enjoy moving my body and not being exhausted from it.
Bring on the experts!
In addition to working with a great doctor, which I spoke about in my last post, I’ve been seeing a traditional Chinese Acupuncturist. I’ve seen the same practitioner in the past and always had good results with her. She has helped in the past both with menstrual disturbances and chronic shin splits. I don’t understand exactly how traditional Chinese medicine looks at the body but it has been around for a long, long time so obviously there’s something to it, it certainly works for me! Even thought I’m often more tired immediately after the treatment I steadily, slowly noticed an increase in energy between treatments and it also has been helping to regulate my cycle, although a few more months will tell the whole tale. An added bonus is that, she’s also been about to address some chronic upper back stiffness. I might also benefit from the fact that when I go see her I get to have an hour and a half nap and not feel a single bit guilty about it!
Focus on other areas in Life
This one has a been a bit challenging because I knew my body still needed so much sleep and rest so I didn’t just want to fill the hours and hours normally spent training with something else that would take lots of energy and not let me recovery. So to start I ordered a whack of books I’ve been wanting to read off Amazon! So instead of getting up and going to the pool, I got up and read… instead of coming home from work and hoping on my bike, I came home and read… read about triathlon training, about female physiology, about nutrition, about cooking, about meditation…
By far the most influential book I’ve read in the past few months was ROAR by Stacey Sims which I’d highly recommend for any high-level female athlete. I love how based in science it is and really helped me understand some of the places I may have gone wrong that lead me down this path, ie. not enough overall recovery time and definitely not enough food! I’m sure I will talk about this book more because it has been a fabulous resource.
It’s also been a good excuse to spend lots of time cooking and baking! Something that usually becomes a chore when you’re training lots but right now with some extra time on my hands, I sure enjoy it! Throw in planning a bridal shower for my future sister-in-law, baking a whack of cakes for different occassions and OF COURSE, it’s been great to spend time with Jeremy doing other things then just riding or running together. Breaking news we’ve actually had time to use some gift cards we’ve had for ages and go out for some nice dinners! It’s nice to be able to go out with friends and not be super picky about getting to bed by 9 o’clock. I’m looking forward to some very different weekends at the cabin where I might just sleep in past 6:00AM!!
Life is good, just different… but lets be serious, life is totally better on a bike!