Thursday, December 13, 2012


I apologize in advance for this lengthy post.  I haven't updated this blog in a while and I finally have the desire to fill in my one or two (maybe three?) readers on how my running has been going.

During July I knew in my mind what this year's running would look like.  I planned to build more base miles though the fall, culminating in a marathon or two and perhaps an even longer trail race in December.

I ran regularly till October.  It was at the beginning of that should have been pleasurable month of cooler PR friendly temperatures and low humidity bliss that I began to feel the subtle clues of an impending and mandatory rest.  It started with questions to myself:

- Did I used to need three days before my legs felt fresh again after a moderately paced run?

- Have I always felt this tired every morning?

- Have I always had half of a pot of black coffee just to bring back the urge to run fast or feel fully alert?

- Did I ever really take a break last winter?  (I pretty much picked up pool running and cycling immediately upon getting injured.)


These questions weren't hard to answer.  No, no, no, and no.  I made up my mind pretty quickly that with my somewhat shaky recovery from injuries this year (at least five distinct ones) and almost certain burnout (residual overtraining, adrenal fatigue, chronic dehydration, caffeine dependency, or whatever) a real break couldn't hurt.

I settled into the path that many others before me have adopted as a yearly ritual.  Endurance athletes with reasonable success and longevity such as Scott Jurek, Mark Allen and others all write about their annual breaks of a month or more from running and training.  I also recalled at the time another olympic runner with longevity in the sport who purposefully abstains from running a single step for a month and lives sedentarily while eating in such a way as to gain twenty pounds during his annual "rest".  The purposeful weight gain may be an extreme example, but when it comes to healing a worn body each year such an approach might also be worthwhile.

I settled on a "rest" of exactly 6 weeks.

Kick the Habit

Because of my fatigue issues and dependence on caffeine for reasonable running, removing a daily mega-dose of a stimulant seemed like the right thing to do.  It was much more difficult to eliminate my caffeine intake than I anticipated.  Here are my brief recollections of this process that I actually started two weeks before my running break.

Week 1 - My running immediately dropped to a slow and half-hearted effort each and every time I  got out the door.  I slept for 11-12 hours a night for the entire week.  I had extreme difficulty waking up despite these epic bouts of sleep.  I was still constantly tired and also took many naps.  After a short pilgrimage to Death Valley and Badwater basin to explore I recall falling asleep in the car for at least another hour one day.  It's a good thing we were on vacation.

Week 2 - I slept 11 - 12 hours a night, and still had trouble waking up.  I began supplementing with licorice root, magnesium, vitamin c, and cod liver oil.  I did find that the licorice root helped with maintaing a stable (albeit low) energy level throughout the day.  I would recommend the licorice root as an herb worth investigating to anyone looking to recover from potentially coffee induced burnout.

Week 3 - I slept around 9 - 10 hours per night, and at least felt stable but sub-par energy levels each day.  Although not energetic, I felt better when I thought about how bad I felt the first week.

Week 4 - I slept around 9 hours a night and most noticeably started to feel that I was much more relaxed and stress free.

Week 5, 6, 7 and 8 - My sleep remained constant at 8 to 9 hours per night, and gradually I noticed that I felt energy levels formerly associated with coffee merely from getting out of bed in the morning or eating a little fruit at breakfast.

Kicking the caffeine habit was tough, but ultimately the end result was worth it.  If I consider the timeline of improvements objectively, I believe recovery took practically a full eight weeks.  My overall hydration, energy and appetite have become much more consistent.  Had I generally used a moderate and controlled intake of coffee without side effects I would probably not have decided to go this route.  For me however, I simply need to recall my overall state of fatigue in the time prior to this break to see that eliminating caffeine and coffee as a variable was a good idea.

Improve the Body

Small compensations in a running stride after injury can over time cause some strange asymmetries  in function to manifest themselves.  I discovered this when standing on my left leg, and then my right leg and attempting to balance on each.  My left and weaker but typically uninjured leg was far superior in balance to the right.  Since I wasn't running I made this a daily focus.  I balanced on one leg on both sides of a bosu ball for up to an hour each day.  Without running I had freed up quite a bit of training time to use for alternate purposes.

I did this for hours each week.  It wasn't that fun.  I did not wear a sports bra.
I suggest headphones and some good podcasts or music.

I also followed up balance exercises with a circuit of calf, quad, glute, hamstring, hip flexor and hip rotator stretches and foam rolling.  In addition to poor balance, my right leg also lacked the flexibility of the left.  Although it did feel strange to spend an hour at the gym doing noticeably unusual amounts of foam rolling and stretching I also took some solace in the fact that passer bys probably assumed from my regimin and running attire that I must be serious and have recently finished running many miles.

In the end my flexibility improved after about a month and my balance and control on either side has improved to the point that I can balance on foot, ball, or a rolling board for likely ten times my previous limit.

Over the last three weeks of the "rest" I also focused some of my efforts on daily weight training focusing primarily on leg and core strength.  I even did some laps of "power skipping" around the SRSC track to hopefully get a little more power in my toe off.  I skipped faster than most people ran so that was a little odd for both of us when the occasional pass by occurred on the track.


After all this preparation, I declared Saturday, December 1st to be my first day to train again.  The entire rest and caffeine withdrawal process felt much like pressing the "reset" button on an overly difficult build of running base.

To make sure I minimize injury risk, for the time being I am going to back to a triathlon training schedule I had self tested for 9 months in preparation for an Ironman in 2009.  At the moment, this is allowing me to quickly build cardiovascular base and add some all around strength with swimming and cycling that I wouldn't get otherwise.

I'm not sure yet how long I'll stick with this sort of plan (only 3 or 4 running days a week) but for the time being I'm enjoying the variety and some renewed desire and energy to train.  Typically I have kicked off focused training in January, so I do feel like I have a well rested head start and an early new year that started in December.

I'm almost done with two weeks of this, and each day I have essentially sprung out of bed clamoring for a challenge.  It feels good to be back at it!