Tuesday, May 20, 2014

When You Dig Yourself into a Hole (part I)

Overtraining is a slow and silent killer. When most people think “injury” they think a physical ailment, but what happens when your engine gives out before your body?
You aren’t healthy and you enter into a secret psychological warfare with yourself. That’s what happens.

Pain is useful. It is a mechanism so your brain can recognize when you are doing something harmful to your body. Your hamstring isn’t hurting just to piss you off, it’s hurting to get through to your stubborn, goal-oriented mind that maybe, just maybe, it needs a rest day.

The issue with overtraining is that you don’t have these clear-cut, painful warning signs to ignore. You, instead, have signs that make you question your own mental strength.

Luckily, I am going to give you my list of clear-cut warning signs.

Progression of overtraining:

1.     Easy runs feel hard
Do not force easy runs. The “if my easy runs are faster, then it means I’m really fit and my hard workouts should be faster too” training philosophy is just plain crazy.

Solution: Slow down

2.     You have a stank attitude for a few days.
As a crazy runner, you will probably be inclined to give yourself the Don’t-be-a-baby-and-game-up talk. This is noble. If you do this for more than 3 days in a row, you go from being noble to being a fool. Those hormones that control recovery? They are the same hormones that control your mood. Being Mrs. stank pants is your brain and body working together convincing you to take the day off. 

Solution: Take the day off

3.     You can’t finish races.
Not that you just slow down, but that you slow down and your entire body locks up to the point where grandmas could pass you.
This symptom mimics being out of shape. So that crazy person inside of you will try to convince you that more work is needed for a better finish. This perpetuates the overtraining.

Solution: Take a few days of slow running with strides until your legs don’t feel like they weigh a million pounds.

4.     Your workouts become spotty.
Where you can’t fake races, you can fake workouts. Until you can’t.

That 60 second 400m repeat feels like a 53second 400m. I know it doesn’t make sense. You could cruise 60-second quarters all day one week, and 3 weeks later you regressed. WTF happened? You will probably work hard to convince yourself that you got out of shape while working out over the past 3 weeks. You didn’t. That doesn’t even make sense.

Solution: Take 2 days completely off and don’t even think about running. Just do it (Nike plug), trust me.

5.     You feel tired. All the time. And can’t sleep.
This is bad. You have ignored signs in your running life for so long that now your non-running life is out of whack. Your hormones are about to go into shit-hit-the-fan mode.

Solution: Sleep as much as you can. Cut out all caffeine.

6.     You don’t have an appetite.
Your body trying hard to shut you down.

Solution: Make yourself eat as much as possible. Bump up the calories. Over sleeping and eating will hopefully trigger your stressed-out-of-its-mind mind that it is not in a state of warfare.

7.     Complete apathy.
I have never been depressed, but I assume it is something like being this over trained. At this level you don’t even realize or care that your running has gone to pieces. George Clooney could sucker punch you and you would have no emotional response.

Solution: You, my friend, need a mini retirement from running. You are in a deep hole and time is the only thing to fill it.

Sometimes resting is harder than training harder. Be smart, my friend. 

I know this because I have experienced it first hand in 2011 and 2012. Because I am an idiot. It is not something to mess around with. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Dealing with Post Race Depression

Most of the time when I tell people I’m a profesh track athlete, I get a blank stare where people attempt to comprehend what that even means. But every once and a while I get a knowledgeable track athlete that has been waiting for this moment. The moment where they can word vomit a whole slew of questions that they have carefully constructed at long runs and cool downs and post race parties. Questions they think that I, as a professional, have the secret answers to.

The most common question when I get bombarded by questions:

In honor of my epic blow at Mt. SAC relays, I thought I’d share:
How do professionals cope with a bad race?

We don’t. We quit.


Here’s how the bad race usually plays out: Usually it starts way before the gun goes off. Like days before. It could be triggered by a bad practice, a not-feeling-so-go-for-whatever-reason couple of days, or nerves.
Or sometimes the bad race starts at the warm up. You don’t feel so hot and over analyze it, and BOOM, you are stuck in a negativity cloud waiting to demolish all dreams of a good race.
And sometimes, like for me that Friday, the bad race starts 100m in to the race.

I waltzed on that track like I would coast to a PR. Practices had been going great. My mileage is up. I was feeling good. And I had completely forgotten about the pain that accompanies the 1500m. I totally thought I would PR without pushing myself. I thought that because I am probably an idiot.

At 300m I came through in a pretty slow split and didn’t feel stellar. There is one thing you shouldn’t do when that happens: Hit the panic switch. So I hit the panic switch. If the 1st 300m feel shitty, imagine how shitty the last 300m will feel! This is the kind of logic that leads you straight to the last place with your tail between your legs.

After a bad race, you enter what I call post-race depression. PRD is terrifying because:

A.     You feel like you aren’t worthy of being a human. I am not sure why for a short time after a race you define your entire identity as a number, but you do. Sometimes that number is 1.58 which is code for: YOU ARE TOTALLY BAD ASS! And sometimes it’s 4.22, which is code for: YOU DON’T EVEN DESERVE TO BE HERE!
B.     If you aren’t careful you can end up in the endless-bad-race-negativity-loop. 


 So the easiest way not to have a bad race: Don’t have a bad race. There, simple. But unfortunately, completely unrealistic.
Here are my steps in preventing the endless-bad-race-negativity-loop.

1.     Long cool down.
Cool down until your emotions subside. I use headphones so  people won’t talk to me. And sunglasses so people can’t tell I’m teary eyed. This is my time to be embarrassed and have some self-pity. But this is my only time to do so.

2.     Short term memory.
This is easier said than done. Don’t let your CD skip reliving the nightmare. It’s not going to change regardless of how many times you replay it. In fact. You will only feel worse about yourself.

3.     Go eat dinner with your team.
And get dessert. I, too, wanted to clam up in shame and embarrassment and punish myself by going to bed with no dinner and no socializing. This makes you feel sorry for yourself and makes you have a bad association with racing. Don’t do it.

4.     Joke about it.
Not all the time, maybe just once, and MAKE SURE it is in a light hearted kind of way, instead of an I’m-a-crappy-runner kind of way. Like I found the Flotrack gang and acted offended at why they didn’t want my interview!

5.     Sit down with coach and go over what you should potentially change for next time. Don’t dwell, just hit the major mistakes and possible means of improvement.

Remember, nothing is unfixable. So be pumped you have something to improve on.

And people only remember you by your best races, not your epic blow ups. I’m still a pretty damn good runner. And you probably are too, so remember those good times (literally).