On Wednesday, I described my own (very) recent experience with overtraining and depression that occurred this summer, in Overtraining and Overreaching: Results Part 1. Today I want to continue/finish up with that by looking a little bit at what I think happened and why I’m actually bothering to write about this now (I mean beyond simply wanting to prattle self-indulgently about myself).
As I mentioned in Overtraining and Overreaching: Results Part 1, one thing that tends to increase with depression is rumination: your brain starts going 90 miles an hour as you worry about your problems. And it does this not only constantly but basically to the exclusion of all else. Among other things I was worrying about at the time, one question was what exactly had happened to my skating and training and racing? That is, how had things gone from so good to so bad basically overnight?
Clearly I had ended up overtrained for some reason, the question was why. Admittedly, my training load was pretty high. 9 training units with several of them fairly hard and too many of them indoors (mainly out of habit) was gruelling, as much mentally as physically. But other than one day with a bit of lacking motivation, I had been adapting constantly to the load. I had no indication that it was too much under the conditions.
So there was little indication that it was too much in and of itself. Of course, as I discussed in detail in Overtraining, Overreaching and all the Rest, you can’t just look at the training load in isolation; other factors contribute.
In hindsight, clearly I should have taken an easy week after the Napa race. It’s been over a decade since I travelled for a race and that took more out of me than I realized. Whatever caused my cramping certainly didn’t help and the sheer fact is that racing a half-marathon in the heat is clearly a different physical stress than the short stuff I did on the ice. Or even the 10k’s I did when I was younger (age being another contributor to overall recovery).
As I discussed in How to Be Your Own Coach, upon even considering the Chicago race and what to do after Napa, I should have asked myself “What would you tell someone else to do?” and done that. But the Chicago race was just too inviting; a fun course, a fast course, some serious competition. I wanted to do it so, like most humans, I rationalized. That was my first mistake.
Increasing my volume in the first week back was a double dumbassed thing to do but with 6 weeks to get ready, I put myself under the gun. And with no indications of there being any problem whatsoever, didn’t see the problem with it. I had no reason to think that my training load per se was an issue.
The Rest of the Story
But even that wasn’t the entire story. When I had first gotten to Austin, there had been a number of very good things going on in my life. They don’t need detailing, just realize that everything was skippy as hell for those first 6 weeks or so. And one by one, along with my training, they all went away. Basically, upon returning from Napa everything that had been going well started going badly. It wasn’t just my training that went to hell; my whole life fell apart and did so more rapidly than I could have ever imagined.
Someone asked me in response to Overtraining and Overreaching: Results Part 1 “Did the overtraining cause the depression or did the depression cause the overtraining?” and my best answer is that my overall training load, coupled with everything going on in my life else predisposed me to the overtraining. And in some people, I’m one of them, overtraining causes depression. It was just that perfect confluence of events that all hit at the same time and put me in the hole.
Part of me, in my rumination over what had happened, wondered, if after the extreme focus and intensity I had put into Salt Lake City (as outlined in the No Regrets series), I should have taken the entire year easy. I had worked my absolute brains out for 5.5 years straight and might have been better off taking a full transition year to ease back into inline. I wondered if following skating with a hard run later in the day had simply been too much. I wondered about a lot of things but it didn’t ultimately matter at this point.
Basically, as I outlined in Overtraining, Over-reaching and all the Rest, you have to take into account overall life stress when you look at training load. The same training load that can be perfect or someone can thrive on may become too much if a whole bunch of other stresses are put onto their life. I went from my life being wonderful and awesome, where my training load was sustainable, to everything falling apart and it took me over the edge.
Put more succinctly: I don’t think it was a single factor that contributed to what happened. Rather, the combination of things is what happened.
And it led to a pretty dismal summer which I’ll talk about some more below.
What Did I Do?
Well, rested, I guess. Make no mistake, most of it wasn’t really by choice. The depression kept me from doing anything but the most moderate of training; after those few weeks where I did nothing, it was just maintenance/reduced intensity aerobic work. I couldn’t even think about skating, nor running; my brain was too tied up worrying to concentrate on anything for extended periods. So I was constrained to easy aerobic work on the EFX multiple times per week with the occasional brisk walk on the treadmill if my legs were trashed from the weight room. Or just a day off if I couldn’t face training at all.
Part of it was an attempt to keep my weight/fat in check, some of it was in the hopes that I’d get my head out of my butt and be able to return to skating without having completely lost my aerobic fitness. As I mentioned, after probably 4-6 weeks of moping around, the girls dragged me back into the weight room; I didn’t want to be there as I still thought of myself as ‘an endurance athlete’ and had lost my love for lifting.
But it force me out of the house and around other human beings so that I wouldn’t isolate myself so much. Along with other things I inserted into my day (various volunteering stuff), I found that the more I was out of the house (which had become synonymous with boredom and unhappiness), the better off I was mentally. Days where I had no real reason to leave the house, I often didn’t at all. I’d manage to kill the entire day from sunup to sundown and never even get dresssed.
My sleep has been bad for a couple of months and I’ve had little luck fixing it until the last few weeks. This is common in certain types of depression and something I had experienced severely in my 20’s, you stay up until all hours and then sleep all day and it becomes a vicious cycle.
And, trust me, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Zinc/magnesium did nothing, melatonin left me hungover the next day, valerian did little, I don’t like using Benadryl too much but sometimes it was necessary. Hot showers, good sleep hygeine, stopping caffeine earlier in the day, orgasm. Nothing worked.
I’d start to get sleepy, start yawning my head off and as soon as I closed my eyes, my brain would start running full speed with worry about what was going on in my life and how to fix it. Which is made worse by the fact that depression makes even the smallest problems seem completely intractable.
Even my medication (a plain Jane SSRI), which tended to knock me on my ass first thing in the morning tended to make me wide awake at night. When I asked the pharmacist about it, she said “Hmm, that’s unusual.” Thanks, doc. So I ended up falling into that awful pattern where you stay up all night and then want to sleep all morning which keeps you awake at night.
Or worse yet I’d often be up until all hours and then still wake up at 9am and be exhausted all day. You’d think eventually that would catch up with me but it never seemed to; every night I’d be lying in bed wide awake worrying. I should have started drinking. I even considered getting a script for real sleep meds but was hoping desperately that I wouldn’t have to go that route.
So it was a pretty bad summer. My training was screwed, my sleep was awful, when I wasn’t busying myself with other things, I spent the entire time worrying and ruminating on what seemed like an overwhelming number of problems that seemed completely insoluble; I didn’t even know where to start with them so I was simply actionless. And even meds take a solid 4+ weeks to kick in.
But there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot else I could do at this point actively. I was just killing the days, not being able to do the training I enjoyed and not enjoying the training I was doing. It wasn’t a lot of fun but I felt like there wasn’t much I could do beyond that. Not actively anyhow.
I did the training I could do, did my volunteering gigs, tried not to go too crazy from boredom the rest of the time and just passed the time. People suggested I find other social activities; but between being interested in/enjoying almost nothing (anhedonia, look it up) and wanting to isolate myself, that didn’t appeal. I’ve never had a lot of interests beyond training and nutrition in the first place and even those bored me; I didn’t want to read papers or do anything. So I watched a lot of movies and read a lot of crappy books.
So it was just a matter of biding my time, hoping that I’d finally come back to some semblance of human function. Either the medication would finally kick in or something would actually change. Or I figured I’d just descend completely back to the awful place I’d been in my 20’s, years or more just existing until I got old and died (another thought that tends to recur when you’re in the hole).
There are a lot of experiences I can highly recommend in life; crushing depression is not one of them.
And Then it Changed
Finally, about 2 weeks ago, I started feeling more human. Some of the personal stuff that had been nagging at me, and that I’d put off dealing with all summer, got (more or less) resolved and that took a big mental strain off of me. I’ve noticed in the past that it takes me about 3 weeks or so to adapt to a change in my life, it’s been about 3 weeks since that. It was about the time for the medication to start kicking in and that probably contributed too. It certainly didn’t hurt.
I finally felt myself starting to feel human again. Or as close to it as I ever get. My sleep started to get a bit better; I was waking up easier in the morning although falling asleep at night was still hit or miss. I had gotten my diet more or less under control weeks before and didn’t feel like such a fat ass. I didn’t hate being in the weight room quite as much. The girls noticed signs that the old me was coming back and I could feel the change in my overall demeanor. And, as really attentive folks might notice, it was about 2 weeks ago that I got up my first real site update. Not a coincidence.
Back on Track?
Now, backing up, when I had originally drawn out my annual training plan, I had intended to do a late race (first week in November) in Houston as my final race with the intention of moving up to the full marathon. Yes, it made for a very long season given that my first race was in April (which was not part of my original plan) but so be it.
I had originally intended to finish with that and then transition and then start the next cycle of training. That was before it all went to hell and I had resigned myself to training half-assedly throughout the entire winter with some time in the weight room and boring non-goal oriented cardio training. I’m still not sure I can face another winter of indoor bike training but that’s really putting the cart before the horse at this point. I have to get to my transition point before I worry about that. And buy a bike.
So Why Am I Writing This Article?
Two Sundays ago, I thought to myself “Look, it’s 5 weeks to Houston, go try skating and see what happens. You still have time to get ready for the half marathon if you’ll just get over yourself.” I figured, at best it would go well and I could train up to the race; at worst, I’d know that the season was over and resign myself to the reality once and for all.
Yet for some reason I just couldn’t get myself out of the house. I used major low back fatigue and soreness from lifting as my excuse; I think I was still avoiding the potential reality that my skating was done. Better to just not know than get a negative result.
It didn’t help that I had gone back and read my own No Regrets series; I kept watching Youtube videos of inline skate races and thinking “Goddammit, you enjoy this. You’re actually good at this. Go get on your damn skates.” and I just couldn’t do it. Which did nothing for my already crushed self-esteem.
Finally, this past Sunday, I got fed up with my own bullshit. It took long enough but that’s what eventually gets me to act: when even I can’t stand myself or wallow in my own self-pity anymore. As it turned out, the previous Thursday my knee had been hurting so I took off from the weight room that Friday. And kept that Saturday aerobic work very easy.
That Sunday was going to be the freshest I was going to be; if I had any chance of skating and seeing if there were any chance to do Houston, this was the day to do it. It took hours for me to drag myself out of the house; the morning lethargy still hadn’t abated and I nearly didn’t go. But I just forced myself to do it, at worst it would be 10-20 minutes of misery but at least I’d know. And knowing is half the battle.
I was anxious driving to the easier of my two courses; I hadn’t been on my skates in something like 7 weeks and every skate before that had gone awfully. It’s hard not to drag that mental baggage into the workout and let it ruin the current one. And yet I survived. I was a bit wobbly at first but that went away quickly; my technique had degraded a bit but not as much as I’d feared.
I was real hesitant on crossovers which is no surprise; I didn’t want a crash my first day back. My legs were tired and I could feel that I was definitely out of skating specific shape. The big limiter was actually my low back which has been fatigued since I got back into the weight room. Stupid RDL’s.
But I got through it and it wasn’t awful. I finished 2 laps on my standard course and it actually felt pretty good. It was nice being out in the sun and skating and doing something more enjoyable than the EFX. I made sure to cut it early, I needed to finish on a positive note, not push too hard and crumple. I clocked my time but didn’t wear my Garmin, I didn’t want any pressure to perform, I just wanted to go skate easy and see what happened.
I didn’t run that day, no point in pushing it too hard. I looked at the schedule, Houston was in 4 weeks. It would be tight but I could conceivably get ready for the half-marathon in that time frame and finish the season on a high point. Or just finish the season. I figured that I could train up to it over a straight 3-3.5 week period with a 3-4 day taper. There’d be no accumulated fatigue requiring anything longer. I might not be completely race ready but I could be ready.
Of course, one workout meant nothing. Even as I started my descent into madness, I had managed one workout at a time before cratering again. Which is why I didn’t write this piece on Monday; for all I knew I was going to fall off the edge again the second workout.
And put it up on Wednesday, after completing a second successful skate which at least suggests that I can make it to Houston. With each day I find myself feeling better, the mental cloud going away, being able to face and focus on things again. I’m not saying I’m fixed (and others of my problems still need facing but at least I can do it with a better mindset) but progress is progress.
The New New Plan
The past Monday, I cut my weights back to essentially maintenance. As noted above, I figured I should get at least a second successful skate in before I made any decisions (or wrote this piece) but I was hedging my bets in case I was going to be constrained to the weight room through the winter. If the second skate went badly, I wouldn’t have lost anything in the weight room; if the skate went well, I would have already established a maintenance routine. See, I’m not always a complete idiot when it comes to my own training. Just most of the time.
I did a longer aerobic session that evening and brought back in a bit of running (15 whole minutes before and after the EFX). My fitness is definitely down (going by run speed relative to heart rate) but I haven’t run in months so that doesn’t surprise me in the least. My EFX workloads are down a bit too but not severely. Again, to be expected considering my training of late.
I didn’t lift on Tuesday with the intention to skate but my low back was still wrecked so I did a basic aerobic/active recovery workout instead. I saw no point in going out to try to get a successful skate when I knew it would go badly. This past Wednesday, I felt as good as I was going to feel and managed to even get out to skate in the morning and add a few minutes to my time. My low back is still the limiter but my Garmin shows that my average speeds aren’t that far down. I’m not entirely sure what to make of that given that my run speeds are way down and my EFX fitness is down too.
I did some extra aerobic work (easy) on Wednesday and lifted and did a longer aerobic session last night after lifting earlier in the day. I can mentally face the training and with a goal in place, actually feel motivated to go do it beyond ‘Oh, god, I hope I haven’t seen this episode of Bones.’ Hanging out with the girls last night, they both commented that I seemed back to my normal self. Almost.
Bring it On
So it’s on and I have every intention of racing the half-marathon in Houston on November 7th. I’ve sketched out my training including a gradual increase in skating time (the goal is to add 10 minutes or about 1 lap of either of my courses) every other workout to give my low back time to adapt.
This should put me at a full hour of skating 6 days before the race; that’s plenty of volume for a half-marathon. I could actually get by with less than that and may very well do just that. I’ll be playing a lot of it by ear as I go. The goal now is simply to complete the race and be happy with how the summer and season ended.
That’s along with a gradual increase in my other training volume; this will rebuild my aerobic fitness and facilitate taking some of the lard back off. Given the short-time frame, if I weren’t coming back from being overtrained and depression, I’d consider intervals for the maximum improvement per unit time. But I can’t risk it under these conditions. I have to balance the goal of finishing the race/being happy with my results with not putting myself back in the hole.
I’d love to say that my goal is to go and race my brains out and be competitive; the race results from 2009 are what I was doing earlier this year on what looks to be a flat course and had I not lost 4 months to this silliness, I’m fairly sure I could have destroyed the field. But at this point, just going and racing and finishing is the goal. Anything beyond that will be gravy. If I do well, fantastic; if not, that’s ok too.
I haven’t decided if I’ll continue going to the weight room but if I do, it’ll be twice/week on Mondays and Thursdays before either my day off (Friday) or an easy non-skating day (Tuesday). I’ve adjusted my training schedule so that all of my skating will be done in as fresh a condition as possible.
And I’m mainly putting this article ‘series’ up for my own accountability. Not only to give you a real world of example of how it can go wrong (and quickly at that) but what I did (inasmuch as I actively did anything to fix this) and what happened. Or what I hope will happen over the next 3 weeks.
The Houston Inline Marathon is on Sunday, November 7th. Expect a race report shortly thereafter assuming everything goes well. And if all of a sudden site updates stop again….well, let’s not think about that.