I’m sorry folks. I know it’s been a loooong time. I’ve been having a bit of a writer’s block with this particular post.
“For the past week I’ve been working my way back to my training routines“. This was the line I used to start my previous post more than a month ago. Unfortunately the whole thing backfired. I fell right back in the abyss of sympathetic overtraining.
I promised to explain how I came to conclusion my problem was the overtraining syndrome and not something else. So here it is. First, let me re-list the various symptoms I had:
- The most obvious was the deteriorating performance. Short breaks improved the situation temporarily but the subsequent downfall got steeper and steeper. The time to exhaustion during maximal anaerobic efforts got shorter.
- I felt constanty a bit ill and had something that would be described as repeated upper respiratory infection. My throat was repeatedly a bit sore.
- I had constant difficulties in falling asleep. I’ve had a habbit of staying up quite late so I did not pay too much attention to it. Eventually this progressed to a state where I woke up at night in “full alert”. This was one of those signs that got me to stop all training.
- I was getting really short tempered, to a point I started to notice it myself and wonder what is going on. That was accompanied by increasing overall fatigue and tiredness. I through these were all results of poor sleep and being sick all the time.
- When sleep and psychological symtoms got better I noticed I had really sluggish digestion. My apetite was lower than normally and quite frankly I did not feel like eating as it made me feel like a baloon afterafterwards.
- At some point I started to test my hear rate in the moring shortly after waking up and a quick visit in the bathroom. I did not have a clear reference figures but I did not need that to understand my orthostatic heart rate, or to be precise the heartrate when standing was way too high. I read from someplace that this is a clear indication of the sympathetic side being overly active. I have been monitoring that for about a month now and have a pretty solid understanding of what different values mean with regards to my recovery.
- My own personal favor was the slowly worsening vertigo/dizziness.
If I show the above list to any health professional, well basically to anyone, I’m pretty sure the overtraining syndrome is probably the last “health issue” that comes to ones mind. Unless you have personal experience about it. That pretty much explains why the method behind my conclusion was elimination. Sounds easy, but is anything but. I was feeling like crap, yet several blood test indicated there was nothing wrong with me. Experts in sports medicine were equally puzzled, mainly because of the vertigo. That just did not fit in with the overtraining syndrome blueprint. To me this started to be pretty obvious and the overtraining syndrome was the only item remaining after all the other, more serious issues were ruled out.
There is a lot of material in the internet about the Overtraining syndrome. So instead of explaining what a difficult beast it is and how little we seem to know about it, I give you a few of sources to take a look. Sports Medicine has published an article “Overtraining in Elite Athletes“. Here’s the summary of the article. I have bolded the section that captures the essence of this episode I went through far better than I ever could:
“Overtraining is an imbalance between training and recovery. Short term overtraining or ‘over-reaching’ is reversible within days to weeks. Fatigue accompanied by a number of physical and psychological symptoms in the athlete is an indication of ‘staleness’ or ‘overtraining syndrome’. Staleness is a dysfunction of the neuroendocrine system, localised at hypothalamic level. Staleness may occur when physical and emotional stress exceeds the individual coping capacity. However, the precise mechanism has yet to be established. Clinically the syndrome can be divided into the sympathetic and parasympathetic types, based upon the predominance of sympathetic or parasympathetic activity, respectively. The syndrome and its clinical manifestation can be explained as a stress response. At present, no sensitive and specific tests are available to prevent or diagnose overtraining. The diagnosis is based on the medical history and the clinical presentation. Complete recovery may take weeks to months.”
As a small bit of additional detail I want to attach this picture of the autonomic nervous system. It gives a nice glance to the sympathetic nervous system of our body. As you see the sympathetic side controls a whole bunch key mechanisms, one being the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. When that group of glands go haywire you’re screwed for good.
Every good story has a happy ending. So does this, I think. As of today I feel I’m making good progress in my recovery. I’m taking it one day at a time, having a day off if I feel even a little bit iffy. And I’m making progress!
So, what have I learned from all of this?
- I know how to spot the warning signs of serious overreaching and how to react to them before I the problem reaches the state of overtraining.
- Hopefully I do not have a need for this, but I do know how to recover from the sympathetic form of overtraining. The answer is R&R. I had to stop training and put my thougths to something else. I tried spending quality time with the family, do easy outdoor activities like family hikes and easy walking. I kept my caloric intake at a high level. I learned a new habbit – going to bed before 10pm! In all I started putting things back into their proper perspective.
- I realized there’s a need for good list of reference values from the time everyting is ok and in good order to compare against: Thos would include resting and orthostatic heartrate, blood test results, maybe the MAP (maximal aerobic test) every now and then for performance base line. The logic behind the last is explained under the first links below.
- I through I was pretty good at it but turned out my hearing was clogged with competitive aspirations (this is probably the biggest challenge any highly motivated person will face): Listening to your body! Looking back I have realized mine was shouting at me. Someting inside me decided not to hear it out.
Oh, the vertigo! Yes, it is getting better too. I believe it started as an endocrine system dysfunction (adrenal glands) that in time lead to muscular tightness in the cervical area. I still have unbeliavably sore trigger points around my neck, which is really unusual. The scheduled physiotherapy should bring that problem under control.
Here are those couple of links I promised. I have plenty more if you’re interested.