Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Crash Investigation

In the last week I have been receiving a ton of messages, ranging from "are you running the Dublin marathon" to "take at least 3 months off". My facebook page getting saturated by Dublin marathon posts last weekend wasn't a happy occasion for once, but what can you do.

I am really tired! I could not even watch a football game on Sunday without constantly falling asleep, and that is not a statement on the quality of the game. I find myself sitting in a kind of haze at times, and I'm sure my productivity in the office at the moment is not at its best. Running really isn't on at the moment, apart from not having any inclination anyway. When I can be bothered I do walk the dog, much to her delight, but that's as active as it gets at the moment.

Keep in mind that the following was written with the benefit of hindsight. It sounds obvious enough now but it wasn't so clear at the time.

Looking back, with a little bit of help, I can see that the problem started as early as March. The Tralee marathon was supposed to be a training run but I definitely ran it too hard. In some ways that is understandable, I unexpectedly found myself running in third place with a podium finish a real possibility, so there's not much regret about that one. The problem is, I never manged to get back into a fully recovered state. I'm pretty sure this cost me a sub-3 in Manchester, and then I really started piling it on - Limerick, Wings for Life and Lakes of Killarney on consecutive weekends, with the Wings for Life run particularly tough on a very hilly course on one of the hottest days of the year.

Maybe 2 years ago I would have gotten away with that. But this time also coincided with some hugely stressful times in my family and it all proved too much. I never fully appreciated how much stress from other areas of life can impact on your running performance, until now.

By then I had become somewhat aware of my lack of recovery (Killarney had felt quite tough for a 3:15) but instead of resting I added an even bigger ton of fatigue on top of it all by running the 100k in Donadea. It's easy to say so afterwards but it's no wonder Belfast did not go to plan.

Obviously, Belfast was the biggest fatigue factor of them all but instead of finally seeing sense and rest I actually had my shortest recovery after a 24 hours race ever, and I guess from here on the race in Albi was already as good as doomed. My coach never fully understood my need for recovery and the odd easy week or two she prescribed was never enough to dig myself out of that hole. Even though I knew that the last few miles in Dingle had felt much tougher than they should have, I never realised the full scale of the problem. Those tough back-to-back weekends just added another layer of fatigue and things got progressively worse. Running 4 hours in Tralee 4 weeks before Albi felt easy enough but I don't think I would have been able to run a 3:30 marathon that day, things had become so bad.

By the time I started the taper my system was so compromised that even 4 weeks of low easy mileage did nothing to improve my fitness because my recuperation ability was so out of wack by then.

As stupid as all those mistakes are, it is a really common pattern. A runner gets tired, the performances drop and instead of resting and recovering he/she starts training ever harder to make up for it, digging the hole ever deeper. Let this be a warning to you. I never had any of the typical overtraining symptoms but I could tell that something wasn't right.

With all that, where does that leave me now? On the sofa, basically, and probably asleep. I'll see when I start to feel like running again, which right now is absolutely not the case. After a few weeks I might hopefully feel like an easy jog is appropriate, and how my system reacts to that will tell me a lot, though the expectation is still that I will have at least 4 weeks of full rest. Eventually I might be able to do some sort of evaluation, but that's still a bit too far ahead right now.

I do hope that I will be able to come back from this and that I have learned that lesson.


  1. Very honest analysis there Thomas. You are a excellent ultra and marathon runner with tremendous mental and physical abilities. However I think it was plain to see you had run yourself into a hole and probably needed more recovery time between 24 hour races.I felt that was the case for quite a while. That said you would have kicked yourself if you hadn't attempted them and to be fair you did well above the ordinary. Take it for one who has found themselves in a overtraining situation dealing with family, work and running stressors it can take a toll. Best to as you say rest up and come back in your time and transition a slow nurtured return to your next target race be it a 5k, a 42 k or a 50K.

  2. Enjoy the rest, listen to your body, nobody else can tell you how YOU feel. Go easy on the cake and choclate, or don't, nothing like seeing that spare tyre develope to motivate you out the door!

  3. Good post Thomas. 4 weeks off sounds good to me, then see how you go before any serious plan starts.
    From personal experience, whole of life stress is a huge factor in how well one responds to training. I think what's happened with you this year shows how easy it is to slip over the edge into a downhill slide of overtraining. If only the body would show an immediate response so things can be adjusted! The downhill slope is ever so gradual but a car can build up a lot of momentum on a downhill slope!
    All the best.