Don’t let ex­haus­tion dam­age your per­for­mance

Trail Running (UK) - - Start Line - Tom Craggs, Po­lar UK Head Coach and coach at Run­ning With Us­ning­ James Thie, Sau­cony UK Am­bas­sador and BMC Coach of the Year @TeamThie

Rob in­ves­ti­gates what causes fa­tigue and gives tips on how to fight it,

The word ‘fa­tigue’ is used a lot th­ese days, span­ning any­thing from the gen­eral tired­ness that comes with a busy life through to a chronic state of non-func­tional over­reach­ing (NFO), or over­train­ing as it’s com­monly known.

By un­der­stand­ing what con­sti­tutes ath­letic fa­tigue, what it looks like and how to over­come it, run­ners of all abil­i­ties can reap per­for­mance re­wards.

The tip­ping point

Run­ners progress by stress­ing their bod­ies on more chal­leng­ing runs, which helps the body grow new mus­cle and strength tis­sue that causes pos­i­tive changes in blood pro­file. “We adapt to our train­ing load and stress. It’s how we get fit­ter and stronger.” says run­ning coach Tom Craggs. “The tip­ping point comes when the stress is too great and fa­tigue be­comes a more chronic state. This halts pro­gres­sion, raises in­jury risk and can lead to long-term health is­sues.”

There are com­mon signs of true fa­tigue in run­ners, in­clud­ing a lack of pro­gres­sion. “You can be train­ing just as hard, if not harder,” says Tom. “But train­ing and race times are stay­ing the same or get­ting worse. For a sim­i­lar pace you find your heart rate is no­tice­ably el­e­vated over a sus­tained pe­riod of days – also there are changes to your rest­ing heart rate out­side of ses­sions.”

You may also find your­self suf­fer­ing from fre­quent nig­gles or find that your re­cov­ery times are be­com­ing slower.

Psy­cho­log­i­cal signs

Fa­tigue doesn’t only present phys­i­cal symp­toms. “Look out for mood­i­ness too,” warns Craggs. “If you’re reg­u­larly grumpy and moody – well, more than nor­mally – that can be a sign.

“You may also find your­self quit­ting on ses­sions reg­u­larly, and find it hard to ap­ply your­self or keep fo­cused.” Th­ese is­sues may oc­cur along­side other phys­i­cal signs, such as weight loss or weight gain. “Over­train­ing in­creases the like­li­hood of rapid and hard-to-ex­plain weight fluc­tu­a­tions,” says Craggs. “An in­crease in adren­a­line and no­ra­drenaline, trig­gered by over­train­ing, can cause a loss of ap­petite. But equally you might no­tice you get more crav­ings, es­pe­cially for ‘pick-ups’ like sugar and caf­feine.

“Over­train­ing and the re­sul­tant fa­tigue can cause a re­duc­tion in an­abolic hor­mones, which can re­sult in re­duced sex drive.

“Other warn­ing signs in­clude a sus­tained or chronic level of stress hor­mone cor­ti­sol and a low level of testos­terone.”

Preven­tion plans

Since train­ing load is a ma­jor in­flu­encer when it comes to fa­tigue, coach James Thie says all run­ners should mon­i­tor it closely to pre­vent fall­ing foul of ex­haus­tion.

“Train­ing must be bal­anced and the in­crease in load must be pro­gres­sive,” he ad­vises. “It helps to keep a di­ary on how you feel be­fore and af­ter train­ing and races. Record­ing fac­tors such as how your sleep is – too much or too lit­tle can be a sign of over­do­ing it – or a higher than nor­mal morn­ing heart rate.”

Sports spe­cial­ists and coaches are in a unique po­si­tion to un­der­stand fa­tigue’s causes and preven­tion. “As coaches we look at both in­ter­nal load and ex­ter­nal load,” says Craggs. “A ses­sion of 5x5 min­utes at a cer­tain pace – with a 90-sec­ond rest – tells us the ‘ex­ter­nal’ load. The ‘in­ter­nal’ load would be the mea­sure­ments of phys­i­o­log­i­cal stress to achieve this; the heart rate, heat man­age­ment, psy­cho­log­i­cal stress etc.”

“Run­ners can avoid pro­gress­ing their ex­ter­nal load too fast with a train­ing plan that only ex­tends their long run in marathon train­ing by 10-15% as a max­i­mum each week.”

But when the pro­gres­sion of ex­ter­nal and in­ter­nal load starts to out­strip our body’s abil­ity to re­cover, fa­tigue will rapidly fol­low. Our bod­ies can cope with huge vol­umes of train­ing, but only if we find time to prop­erly re­cover in our busy lives.

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