30 November 2007

How To Avoid Over Training--Part One

This is a two part series from my buddy, Clas. He nuked himself more severely than any case than I have read about. He is sharing his experience so that you can learn from his year on the sidelines.

Over training is an occupational hazard for the highly motivated endurance athlete. In my opinion, elements of over training are an essential part of the process of elite ultraendurance performance. While deep overreaching is common, (and, at times, desirable), deep over training should always be avoided.

You'll miss your immune system when it is gone.

Now, That most of us are starting to make plans for next year. This could be a good time to tell you a little about how to avoid over training and what I've learned from my experience. Many of us are high achievers and don’t listen to what our bodies are telling us when we are training and racing, or not even in “normal” life.

First, I will tell you a little about what I have experienced since my health started to be run down during the fall 2006. In the end I will give you ideas how to avoid over training, so if you are busy you can just skip part one and wait for part two, but I think we can all benefit from hearing what can happened if you push too far.

Before I got shingles 1.5 years ago I had never had any serious illness that had been caused by training to hard. Of course there has been several times where I've been very tired but, my body and mind had always been able to recover from whatever I had pushed myself through.

And so it did when I first got shingles, as so it seemed. I had been training very hard in New Zealand for 3 months including a killer Epic Camp and slowly got myself over the edge. I could feel I was getting more and more fatigued but I had Ironman Arizona coming up in about a month, so I kept pushing. I thought my body could make it a few more weeks before I started my taper, but 2 weeks before the race I got shingles again and I had to cancel the race to focus on getting healthy.

I had never heard about shingles but I got some tips from the great New Zealand Ironman athlete Joanna Lawn who had suffered from shingles a year or so earlier. She told me to take it very, very easy for some time to let the body heal itself, which I did, at least for a few weeks, I then started to feel better and slowly started training. After about a month I was back into my regular training routine and I felt pretty strong so I looked up some new races to do. I had set a new Swedish Ironman distance record at Quelle Challenge in Roth the year before so I though I should go back there and break my own record. I first needed a “warm up race”, and went to UK and to race a ½ IM that was 2 weeks before Roth. I then went to Roth and had a great race considering the warm conditions, which I don’t care for. I was able to break my own record and finished in a time of 8:15. I was very happy with my race in Roth and by now I had totally forgotten that I had just gotten over a pretty serious illness.

The week after Roth Kristy arrived in Sweden and she was getting ready for Ironman UK that was about 7 weeks after Roth. So without taking any real rest I started to join her on her sessions and after a few weeks I felt pretty good again and decided that I was going to race Ironman UK as well. Again, I would first need a “warm up” race so we went to Denmark and did a ½ Ironman that was 2 weeks before Ironman UK.

When I raced in Denmark, I could feel that I started to get pretty fatigued again. I had an okay race but my body felt like stopping the entire time. However, Just as I had done earlier in life, I didn’t listen what I body was telling me. I had an Ironman coming up and I was going to do that race even though I was a little tired. I was confident that everything would be okay once I started tapering for real.

I was able to recover a little before Ironman UK, but during race week I could feel that something was going on in my body. I felt more stressed then normal and had a hard time focusing on things. I had an Ironman coming up, so I tried to ignore these signals. Why listen to my body now when I had never done that before?

I started the race which went okay, but I never felt good. But, that’s the thing with Ironman, if you are just good enough and keep moving, you will have an okay finish. I finished 2nd overall and was happy about that. One thing I can say for sure is that if I had been 100 % healthy, I would have won.

I hadn’t more than finished the race before I started to get a cold and fever. I felt completely horrible for the next day and night. The night before we were going to fly back to Sweden I got the first symptoms that this was heading towards something much worse then just a cold. My chest started to get bumps, my stress level was at its maximum, and my head was spinning. I’m glad Kristy was there to calm me down and after a few hours I was able to relax and fall a sleep.

We then flew back to Sweden and a week later I started training for Silverman, the Ironman distance race located just outside Las Vegas. I was going to do that race as a relay with the other Swedish pro triathletes Jonas Colting and Björn Andersson. Jonas was going to swim, Björn the bike, and I was going to run the marathon.

Even if I have had these symptoms around Ironman UK I thought that just training for a marathon was going to be fine, I just needed to run a few hours every day. However, for about a month or so, I would train for a week, and then get a cold for a week, train for a week, sick for a week. After a few rounds of this I got a very bad throat infection and was put on a 10 day antibiotic cure. A few days into my treatment, my throat got better but now my body just went into some kind of hole. My mental energy went the same way, but I thought it might have been caused by the antibiotics. So, I just relaxed. It was nice to have an excuse for myself that it was okay to not be training.

When the treatment was over, I took a few more days off. Once I tried to get started again with some light training, my body would not respond. I took a few more days off, then tried again, but my body just didn’t want to get going. Phuuuuuu, I had a marathon coming up within a few months and needed to get going. I tried again but it didn’t work. As I’m sure you understand this ended up to be a very bad circle and I felt more and more stressed because I wasn't able to do the training I needed.

I finally got my act together and told Jonas and Björn that I just wasn’t going to make it to the race. There was a $100,000 reward to the first finishing team that also broke 8 hours. On this hilly course we thought that I would need to run close to 2:30 if we were going to finish in sub 8hrs. I wasn’t going to do that with a just few 20 min training runs that ended with me laying in bed for an hour trying to recover.

Now, I didn’t need to get in 2:30 marathon shape within the next month, which took a lot of pressure off me. Jonas and Björn were able to find a very good alternative for me, a retired Swedish pro triathlete that now had been focusing on just running for the last several years. I was very happy they found someone so I wouldn't feel like I had let the whole team down by pulling out.

I now could concentrate on getting myself healthy again. However, my energy levels didn’t get any better and my mental stress had just gotten worse. I went to the hospital and had all kinds of test done. I thought I must have some kind of serious infection or illness, but all the tests came back normal.

In the beginning of December 2006 I flew to San Francisco to spend some time with Kristy and to find someone that could help me build my health back. By now I had heard about something called chronic fatigued syndrome and read about over training. I seemed to have all the symptoms associated with this, which was sort of a relief. I now knew that I wasn’t suffering from something that was going to get treated just by taking a pill or two and that there wasn't much a regular doctor could do for me.

My body was very run down from all the hard physical training combined with all the mental stress. I felt as though I was not able to continue with my life as I had done for the last 10 years, or pretty much all my life. I have always lived a very active life, and now to think that I'm suffering from some kind of disease.

I knew that pro triathlete Matt Dixon had been suffering from deep over training a few years earlier and I had met Matt on some training rides in San Francisco. I contacted Matt and he helped me to get in touch with a doctor in the bay area that had helped him get his health back.

I've now been working with this Doctor, Dr. Morgan Camp, since February this year (2007). Dr. Camp makes sure that my body is getting everything it needs to heal with the aid of supplements and diet.

I wasn’t doing any exercise at all from January to June and couldn't even make it to the grocery store. My mind was all over the place. Throughout the Spring, my energy got better and better and in June, I went on my on a 10 min ride. My body responded pretty well ,so I slowly started to do some short, easy exercise gradually building a little each month all through July, August and September.

However, in late September, I could feel that I started to go downhill again and stopped training to give myself a little break again. Being at home and not training doesn’t really work either, so I went up to the local school where I worked as a sport teacher 5-6 years ago and asked if they needed some help.

I’m now working as an assistant and I found it pretty entertaining. I’m also taking a class in English so I can improve my grammar a little and I will continue to do this until Christmas. After this point in time I will then see where my health is and find the best place is to keep improving.

I wish I could travel to some exotic place and just focus on training but as long as my health is suspect I wouldn't be able to tolerate that much training. My mind like to keep busy so I think it would be a good idea to have a part time job, but we will see. I have learned that taking one day at a time is a pretty good way to take on life.

Only one thing is for sure in my life right now, that is, I will continue to do everything I can to come back to triathlon as soon but safe as possible. That sometimes means that I have to take a step away from the sport, putting less stress on my body and mind.

Before I move on with this article I want to say thanks to all the people who in some way helped or are helping me to get through this. I’m pretty sure that we all can learn something from this experience.

Stay tuned for part two.

Best Regards,