Found on RunnersWorld.com and written by Jenny Hadfield
It is wise to reach out for guidance when things are out of balance. It is common to experience short bouts of fatigue during the season, especially after particularly long and demanding runs. When the symptoms last longer than that, though, it’s time to take a closer look at what may be contributing to your ongoing fatigue.
I have seen this in my athletes, and in most cases if you look at the following variables, you can identify the culprit and modify your plan to preserve your training season. The first step is becoming aware, so you’ve already been there, done that. Let’s move on the step two and see if any of these apply to you.
Progression load. It can be tempting to improve the progression rate or volume of your training when your goal is to improve, but if you do so without a proper base to support the load increase, it can drain you. When trying to improve time, it’s best to change volume and intensity workloads based on your training recipe and what’s worked in the past, as well as where you were fitness-wise when you began the marathon-training season.
For instance, if you ran a 3:50 marathon last year training on four days per week and two 20-mile long runs, you could improve that by adding in speed workouts and progressive cutback runs. Some try to add a lot more 20-milers or 20+ milers to the mix, thinking they’ll cover the distance more efficiently, but it can end up draining you. If you dramatically changed your training plan or added a lot more to your core plan, this may be causing your body to break down. The good news is it’s not too late, as you can revamp, modify and make more gradual improvements this season to allow your body time to adapt and get stronger.
The elements. It’s no secret that it’s harder to train in the heat, and the country has been in a heat wave the past few weeks. Training for long-distance events in extreme heat can suck the life out of you and require a lot more recovery. Take a look at when your symptoms started. If that timing correlates to the heat wave, your tiredness may be due to chronic dehydration, heat-related stress, and general fatigue from the greater demands of training in the heat. I’ve shared three ways to train safely in a heat wave here and nine tips for keeping your cool here.
Training by pace. My coaching philosophy is based on training by the body rather than by pace because when you listen to your body, you’re in the optimal training zone for the purpose of the day’s workout. Training is about doing strategically placed, purposeful workouts in a progression to apply just enough stress to the body that it adapts and gains fitness. Often the missing link in training plans is tailoring it to your body, your life, and your fitness.
If you’re training by a calculated pace based on a formula or a race you did four weeks ago, you’re likely to over- or under-train, as your body is never in the same place daily. It’s like guessing the winning lottery numbers. The body knows effort not pace. For example, a common mistake I see runners make with long runs is to base them on planned finish time or just bump them up faster than last year’s training pace because the goal is to improve. That’s fine until you start running in your anaerobic zone because of the heat, lack of sleep, or the fact that it’s early in the season, and your fitness doesn’t support the planned pace. You end up struggling to finish or completely wiped out when you do. If you continue on this trend you can accumulate too much stress and end up in a continual state of fatigue, unable to recover from the greater demands of training along the way. One sign that you’ve overdone it is if the fatigue doesn’t subside after a few weeks.
It’s actually easier if you let go of pace as a guide and run with the flow of your body and the purpose of the day’s workout. If your plan calls for a Tempo Run, the goal is to run at a sustained effort at—or slightly above—your threshold. That is not based on a pace but a metabolic system in your body. If you train by the purpose of the workout, your pace will vary throughout the season (that’s the fun part). Read How to Run a Tempo Run in the Heat. The goal is to train first by the purpose of the workout, and then by the body. Let your pace be the outcome of the workout. That way, you can have fun watching your body progress as you run longer, cover the miles more quickly, and become comfortable with how varied pace can be day to day and week to week.
Sleep, rest, fuel and life stress. When you’re asking your body to train hard for a marathon, all of the other variables need to be in balance to support your efforts. Elite athletes are known to sleep 10-12 hours a day, plus a nap! They treat sleep as a recovery tool and invest in it to perform at their best. When your body is lacking quality sleep, fatigue is the first symptom, followed by other negative consequences like hormone imbalance, which can dramatically affect your energy, health, and performance down the road. Your body will require more sleep when training for a marathon. Train like an elite runner, and invest in getting your Z’s.
Getting in enough complete rest days and easy running days is also key. I was shocked to learn that an elite runner friend of mine ran 8:30 pace for his easy recovery runs—that’s a whopping 3+ minutes slower than his harder running efforts. If you run your easy days too hard (which is very easy to do), you don’t recover and carry that fatigue forward to your next workout. Running with a slower friend and cross-training at easy-to-moderate efforts are great ways to assure you’re truly going easy enough and bridging the gap between your long and harder runs. Invest in at least one complete rest day weekly to balance the demands of expenditure with restoration. This is especially true for those that lead busy, hectic lives.
Lack of calories is a biggie when it comes to energy drain. Take an inventory of your expenditure by using a free log like Fitday.com, and make sure to refuel with enough calories via high-quality carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Everyone has a unique metabolic system, and what works for me may not work for you. This is why keeping a log for a month will help you tune into how much energy you need, identify the balance of ingredients (carbs, proteins, fats), and allow you to see whether your recipe is fueling you well. You can also experience the same energy drain if you’re not taking in what your body runs well on. For instance, some do well on a traditional higher carbohydrate diet (C-60%/ P-25%/F-15%), while others shine with a mixed diet and a more equal blend (C-40%/P-30%/F-30%). Keep track, tune into your body, and take note of your energy and emotions after you eat. It’s an easy and effective way to find out what kind of fuel your body prefers.
Whether you’re starting a new job, in the middle of a snarky divorce, or moving, life stress has an effect on your overall health and requires energy to navigate through it. As best you can, try to eliminate the drama and stress from your life. Sometimes just identifying what drains you is enough to motivate you to remove it from your life. If it’s inevitable stress, find other ways to reduce the toll on your body (sleep, down days, fewer running days, meditation). The idea is to remove the environmental stress to make room for the demands of your training.
Read the label. Take a look at the side effects of any medications you’re taking. Some list fatigue and other unfortunate side effects that, when blended with a demanding marathon training season, can suck the life out of you and your legs. It is also common for endurance athletes (especially women) to have low iron, folate, and other B vitamin levels which can have a profound effect on your energy levels and life performance overall. In many cases this can be resolved by a properly balanced diet and adequate caloric consumption. Some runners need to take additional supplements to achieve balance. The key is to know what you’re putting in your body, go with clean foods with few ingredients, and your body will reward you with improved health and energy.
Finally, you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish by tuning into your body and life. You may find it’s as simple as changing your focus from pace to effort or adding a few hundred more calories to your day. The great news is you identified the fatigue, reached out for help and guidance, and now have the tools to assess why you’re feeling this way. In many cases, with a few tweaks to your routine, you’ll be back up and running at 100% in a matter of days or weeks.