Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mistakes Happen: Lessons of Life

The trails of our lives do not nearly pass beneath our feet with ease. Each step, each forward motion is an effort to maintain stability, an awkward combination of neurologic feedback patterns working with critical awareness of not only the ground beneath you but the air around you, the temperature, the lighting, everything is noted with precision. 

Running to any runner is simply an expression of their own livelihood. It makes us feel whole, satisfied and provides a setting for calm; Something that most of us struggle to find in our daily routines. What happens when the calm becomes chaotic? As if everything that used to make sense during those "personal moments" is now simply a blur of mass confusion. You no longer feel as though you're expressing yourself, but instead you begin to feel you are dragging yourself onward.

Every day, every run the mind searches for its sense of calm, but its no longer there. You begin consciously trying to recreate the pleasures that had always come to you effortlessly. Scanning the trees or the building, the people's faces, anything that used to help make you feel one with the world around you, but alas no connection forms. Emotionally, there is nothing between you and your stride. The run has become empty.


I haven't written in a while, most often my yearning to write is inspired by my running, but my running has , hmm....taken a vacation. It'll be back. Long Story Short: I have Overtraining syndrome. This is not something that comes on quickly, it takes months of overdoing it. I probably starting overreaching in June 2012. I ran "Running with the Devil" up in NJ and although I took a solid 4 days off, I started running before I could even comfortably walk. This wouldn't sound extreme to most of the runners I know, however I knew I felt bad, but I wanted to stick to my plan.

If there's anything I've learned, but continually struggle to practice is that as an endurance athlete you should NEVER hold yourself to your plan at the cost of your health or life enjoyment.

Not long after this race everything started to head downhill (running wise). I began noticing a shift in my life. I was no longer playful (I'm a tree climber- a really big kid, you know the one that runs and jumps over park benches for no good reason?) I was in too much constant pain and fatigue to play. I recall walking solemnly along the "Alice in Wonderland" type garden I visited with my family  when I  suddenly became fully aware of the fact that I was becoming "Ill."

After this realization I cut back my training hours, I stopped doing all the extra stuff I had been before. I was just running with some mild yoga for stability and flexibility.  And this lasted a couple weeks, and then I decided to peak my mileage. I ran my first string of 80+ mile weeks and although I was fatigued, and always in pain, my pride felt good.

Meanwhile I was starting a relationship, which meant my sleep patterns, eating patterns, and drinking patterns were changing. There was a lot of misbalance and I struggled to keep it together. I'd have a good week, then a bad week and so forth. At the end of August I ran Cheat Mountain 50 miler and I there was a massive shift in my emotional self around mile 35. It was like everything changed within 10 miles. All of sudden I no longer knew what I was doing. I had a great race, for which I was quite proud, but something internally was going awry. With only one month until my first 100 mile run and other commitments prior to it as well as following it I decided to just keep moving, excepting the emotional glitch in my running as simply a glitch.

September, my anxiety was out of this world, I was basically on an extended taper and I wasn't handling my job, my relationship or much of anything that well anymore, but I was determined to keep it together and run the 100 miler. And So I did, and struggled 90% of the race, but I finished, and certainly not poorly either, despite my personal disappointment- which I couldn't even seem to clearly comprehend. I knew it wasn't what I could do with my mental capacity for achievement, but I had to admit that given where I was at, the race had gone just fine.

Post-Bear 100 miler, I took 7 days off to the minute. I went out for my first run, picked a new area and explored, I felt ... okay... not great but okay. I went with it and headed into Baltimore marathon the following weekend and stupidly ran the same race I had the year before, went out hard and didn't quit,  shaving nearly 4 minutes off my original (2011) time. Great! except for the impact on my mind and body. It was now common to have some mild chest discomfort during my runs. They made me uncomfortable but didn't progress so I was aware, but unconcerned.

I took another 7 days off, this time not so ready to come back, but again I did, and then stumbled through Marine Corps Marathon, making the finish line with nothing left to give. All I wanted was to go home. I felt like I had let down SFHW and myself, but at least I had done what I said I would and completed the run.

I took another 7 days off, and then simply dabbled with running, I knew I needed a break. I slowly increased again prepping for Stone Mill 50 miler which I knew I would struggle through because I wasn't feeling well at all on my runs even after taking time and cutting back my training hours to nearly 5hrs per week from my original 18+hrs the year prior. Stone Mill came and again,  a decent showing for the race and I even had some fun. I thought maybe this was good, maybe I was coming back.

But no. I was progressively getting slower, more fatigued, my mental capacity was failing. I was so stressed out I was now taking xanax at least once a day and beginning to pray for some sort for 'anything' that might get my life back on track.

I didn't just lose motivation,  I had no passion, for anything, I was clinically depressed, and I knew it. I tried to force my way through and then eventually collapsed over and over. It became a weekly event for me to totally crumble into tears and irrational fears. I had totally lost myself or I felt like I had.

2013!! Happy New Year!! I had pushed a couple long runs....pushed hard.... I had no desire for any of it but everything you read about low motivation is to simply give yourself a day and then get back in the game. I tried, again and again and again. I wasn't in the game. Next thing I know I'm sleeping in 10+ hour stretches and/ or struggling to sleep at all. I am well aware of the symptoms of overtraining, but not sleeping is normal for me, but hypersomnia is a problem. I started to get very scared. My pace crumbled. I hadn't paid too much attention to my pace for the last couple months because I didn't want to push myself, but my once 7:40 pace long runs were now 10:40 pace and struggling sometimes reaching to 11:20 pace. I just couldn't go anymore.

The final straw came last weekend, after running a fun run, 5 mile trail loops and experiencing some serious palpitations and horribly weakened cardiovascular recovery. I decided I needed to be careful, but no necessarily stop. So I ran 10 miles the following day (after completing 31 the day before). Took a rest day then ran 12 miles on Tuesday. I was okay, sort of, I was almost unfunctional; I was THAT fatigued. I continued to become anxious and my memory was poor, I was making a lot of little mistakes throughout the day.  I pushed for a 6 mile run on Wednesday which took me almost 70 minutes and I felt terrible. Once home I was nearly ready to collapse. I felt so DONE, I was almost afraid to drive to work.

I haven't run since then. Its time to Stop. Even now 3 days into rest time, my heart feels weak, the fatigue is beginning to improve but I feel washed up.

Welcome to being Over trained to the point of physiologic breakdown. BUMMER! I trusted myself to know better, but it was almost like the self-injurious part of my brain became stronger and stronger. I was determined to force myself through. I put so much pressure on myself to just make myself get better. Well, sometimes you need to just stop forcing, some things are outside of your control.

So 24hrs after the above post was written, 4 days into recovery I was able to successfully practice yoga without my heart rate soaring from a chattarunga. Improvement, slow but surely. Having written this piece yesterday I was saddened to see how long I was truly aware of my health and continued to ignore the screaming sounds of my body and mind suffering. I literally thought I was losing my mind again, but now already, I feel so much less anxiety. A nice tired serenity has swept over me, I haven't felt so at peace with myself in a long time.

And Recovery will continue, so that I can come back smarter and stronger as soon as my body and mind are ready.