Monday, 2 April 2012

Overtraining, spotting it, and getting myself back on track.

OK, so I know the symptoms of over-training from reading the manuals and magazines, I even experienced a mild dose of it once before... so how could I end up chronically over-trained and not notice?

I think it was a lot down to how it started. I spend most of last year under a bit of a cloud of depression. This came to a head around November time, when I started suffering panic attacks - something I've not known since way back in high school. I developed insomnia and an extreme loss of appetite (I'd actually feel physically sick when I ate) so began to lose weight at a slightly alarming rate. It was therefore no surprise when training began to get difficult - with hindsight perhaps I should not have been pushing on through this, but on the other hand at the time it felt like climbing might be the only thing keeping me sane.

Just as the depression finally started lifting, I got a heavy cold. It only lasted a week, but after that the tail end just seemed to linger for about the next six. I'd be feeling back on my feet for a few days, then descend back into snivelly territory - not enough to force more time off work or training, but enough to make life uncomfortable. This was of course a good sign of over-training, but coming right on the back of the previous issues I didn't make the connection and carried on.

Right through this spell I found training hard. Both at the climbing gym, and my triathlon training. I found myself limited to 5km runs before I started feeling weak. One lunchtime I even bonked at 4km and had to down a couple of cans of coke and walk the rest back to the office. Again, classic signs of an over-trained state, but I was in the mindset to keep ploughing on against any adversity, so I just blamed the cold and did indeed carry on.

I don't know how long this might have lasted, but the hand injury from a weekend in Bleau forced me to take a break from climbing training at the beginning of March, and so take stock a bit. I took a rest from everything. No morning swims, no evening turbo sessions, just cycle commuting during the week, a single lunchtime 5km run, and climbing at the weekend.

After a couple of weeks of this regime, the lunchtime runs started to feel a bit easier. Last Monday, it felt like a breeze, so I went out for another on Thursday - half way round I felt so good I went off on a side-loop making the total distance about 9.5km and finished feeling strong. So I took two complete rest days (during which time I caught up on a lot of sleep), and yesterday went out to do a couple of laps of Wormwood Scrubs - the closest thing to getting out in the countryside within easy running distance. I strapped the Garmin on my wrist for the first time in ages, having decided to get a more accurate idea of where I'm at, and set a target of 10km in 50 minutes. A slow first kilometer or so to warm up put me well off the 5min/km target pace, but I soon started to catch back up. By 5km I was under, and was already thinking of adding an extra lap. I went through 10km in under 47min - a new PB - and finished up doing 13km in just over an hour. Once again, I actually felt quite strong at the finish - an amazing turnaround from where I was a few weeks ago.

So what's the lessons from this?

1) Mental health can affect physical performance too... if it ever starts happening again, ask for help before it starts to affect me physically, just as I would with any other health problem I didn't fully understand how to treat on my own, instead of telling myself to "get a grip".

2) Pay attention to what your body is telling you, you fucking muppet!! (me that is of course, not you, dear reader). Check resting heart rate regularly, and if that goes up (or performance goes down) take a break.

Training for climbing is hard. Training for long distance triathlon is hard. I have to realise I can't do both of them to the limit at the same time. Climbing is always going to be my main priority, so I need to scale back my triathlon ambitions a little bit. I still want to complete an ironman, but the crazy finishing time targets are going to have to go out the window.

On a more positive note, I actually still climbed quite hard at the start of this year - ticking several 7b+ in my first few outings on rock. If that was me in a state of chronic over-training surely there must be good things to come if I look after myself a bit more? Having only done trad lately, next week in Finale will probably be too soon to tell... but some hard multi-pitch sport climbing is on the agenda, and that should set me up nicely for a return to training and trying out some hard english sport routes when I get back.

And what better place to jump-start my sport climbing year than the Italian Riviera? :-)

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