It is a fine line. . . training. . . stress . . . racing. We use stress in training to achieve a new level of fitness. Stress to the body, presented in training cycles or training stimuli can strengthen the body and take your body to another level.
What causes training to go wrong? When is the “stress of life” more than our bodies can handle on top of training stress? Is this called Overtraining Syndrome? Is it simply stress? I am not going to be able to answer all of these questions, but I will share my experience from this past year of training and racing.
Age, to me, is not the death sentence to your dreams. Just because our bodies age and change, does not mean that we cannot pursue things that seem out of reach. Quite the contrary. As I age, I have bigger dreams and the means to run full speed after them. The trouble sometimes is that I also have to balance my life with my pursuit. Not only am I pursuing my dreams, but my family is pursuing theirs.
Stress. . . I struggled for months to figure out what was wrong with my hamstring. Begging my PT for answers, for help, for some magic. Then, 3 days before my 50K in Colorado, Dr. Price with Elite Orthopedics told me that I had a hip labral tear. The beginning of my race season, Pike’s Peak Ultra, a week from that appointment, with Kodiak 100, my “A” race for 2018, a month after Pike’s Peak.
My training was a struggle from July (2018) through September. I was training. I agonized a bit over running Pike’s Peak and Kodiak. I ended up taking one week off before Pike’s Peak and one week off before Kodiak. My hamstring was very inconsistent. There was nothing that made it a lot better. There was nothing that made it a lot worse.
Dr. Price suggested a cortisone shot and I decided to do it. I have never had a cortisone shot, and I think that it was a good decision. It helped my hamstring. I asked Dr. Price about racing and he said that as long as I was trained and prepared that I could go for it, and I did. I finished Pike’s Peak 50K. I DNF’d Kodiak 100 at mile 45.
Exercise itself is a form of stress, which triggers changes that make your body stronger. But the system breaks down if you are chronically stressed, as chronic stress impairs your body’s ability to respond to acute stress—such as exercise—because its resources are essentially used up. “Ten Ways Stress Can Mess With Your Workout”
Stress kills motivation. A 2014 study20 in Sports Medicine came to the same conclusion—stress is likely to thwart your efforts at being physically active. This phenomenon proved especially true for older adults and those newer to their fitness schedules. Not exercising when your stress level rises is particularly unfortunate, because exercise is such an excellent stress-reduction tool.“Ten Ways Stress Can Mess With Your Workout”
There are many signs and symptoms of stress, and everyone is different, so one sign or symptom described by one athlete may not be what another athlete experiences. Ray and Weise-Bjornstal (1999) described seven categories in which an athlete may experience stress. These categories are: affective, behavioral, biological/physiological, cognitive, imaginal, interpersonal, and sensory (Ray and Weise-Bjornstal, 260). Each category has its own signs and symptoms. Affective signs and symptoms include: anxiety, anger, guilt, depression, shame and feeling sorry for oneself. Behavioral signs and symptoms include: sleeping disturbances, restlessness, aggressive behavior, alcohol or drug abuse, sulking, crying, poor performance, absenteeism, and clenched fists. Biological or physiological signs and symptoms include muscle tension, increased heart rate, indigestion, stomach spasms, pain and headaches.
Cognitive signs and symptoms are frustration, worries, distortion, exaggeration, unrealistic performance expectations, self-defecting statements and self handicapping. The imaginal signs and symptoms include images of failure, images of reinjury, flashbacks of being injured, images of helplessness, and images of embarrassment. The interpersonal signs and symptoms include withdrawal, manipulation and argumentation. The last category, sensory, includes tension, nausea, cold sweat, clammy hands, pain and butterflies in the stomach (Ray and Weise-Bjornstal, 260). There are many signs and symptoms of stress, which are not all experienced by each person, and each person can experience a variety of signs and symptoms. -United States Sport’s Academy, “Stress and Anxiety in Athletes”
Sports performance is not simply a product of physiology (for example stress and fitness) and biomechanical (for example technique factors) but psychological factors also play a crucial role in determining performance. However, every athlete has a certain stress level that is needed to optimize his or her game. That bar depends on factors such as past experiences, coping responses and genetics. Stress during sports, as in anything else in life, may be acute, episodic or chronic. For the most part in sports, it is episodic, whether during a competitive match between friends, or a championship game. While acute stress may actually act as a challenge, if not harnessed, it can evolve to not only an episodic stressor that can affect one in the long term, but can also hamper one’s play. -Ashwani Bali, “Psychological Factors Affecting Sport’s Performance”
I went through a period of time where I felt like I was in constant “fight or flight” mode. EVERY problem, big or small, significant or minor, triggered a “fight or flight” response. It was exhausting.
It is difficult to differentiate between over training syndrome and (excessive) stress. If you look up the symptoms of each they are almost identical. Trying to maintain a high level of training PLUS saying “yes” to more things than I could handle, caused a significant stress response in me. I grew tired in the physical sense and the weary sense.
After my finish at Georgia Jewel 100. . . I was tired. It was time to r e s t, really rest. Take the time off that I rarely need to or want to. AND, I was actually looking forward to less. I sat on the bike and did some light strength training, mostly bodyweight exercises until the end of November. I did run on occasion.
It’s December. . . I hired a coach for Georgia Death Race (GDR). I started back with my strength coach. I am feeling rested. I am feeling good. My hamstring has been a complete NON ISSUE. I am still pinching myself about this. It just seemed like it would never change. I have been working hard running and my body is loving it.
Stress and overtraining are different for every athlete. Not always easy to define or determine. Pay attention to your body. Pay attention to your emotions. Pay attention to your mind.