Now that I’ve finally ticked off all the races I set out to do this year, it’s time for me to head into the offseason. This year more than any other year I am reminded of how important this time is. Let me tell you why.
When we’re training we always talk about incorporating rest or easy sessions so that the body can recover. However, as endurance athletes we find it much easier to keep moving rather than stopping and starting again. This gives rise to the “no offseason” mentality where you have people continuing to do almost the same mileage and intensity of training even after their A race has been completed.
“Oh, I don’t want to get fat.”
“It’s so much harder to get back into training when you’ve stopped for a while.”
“A nice race might pop up so it’s good to keep the fitness going.”
Sounds like you? Well, it was me for the past two years, and it all finally caught up with me resulting in that most dreaded of maladies: OVERTRAINING.
Here’s a timeline.
I started training for Challenge Philippines in late October 2013 and kept training through the holidays. My fitness improved by leaps and bounds and I recorded my fastest open half-marathon in January 2014. The inaugural Challenge Philippines happened in late February 2014, then I did two more short races after that and was felled by a nasty flu in March.
I started training in earnest for the full distance Challenge Roth by April and tirelessly slogged through endless long rides, intense indoor training sessions, runs, and swims while working in my day job as a group exercise instructor. I then went to Germany in mid-July for Challenge Roth. Fourteen days later, I was at the starting line for Ironman 70.3 Philippines. Another two weeks later, I was in Phuket for T*** Supercamp.
Training for Challenge Philippines started again in October 2014. Despite quitting my very physical gym job, training well and shaving off six minutes from my course PR at the second edition of the race in February 2015 I felt much worse off. Again I got sick in March but was back training by April because I had set my sights on Challenge Camsur. Struggled in the heat in Camsur in June, but needed to get back on the horse because I still had Ironman 70.3 Philippines in August. And then of course I needed to keep on going because I wanted to race the Bataan International Triathlon in November.
At the beginning of this year I had two goal races in mind: the Laguna Phuket Marathon in June and Challenge Vietnam in September. But despite having plenty of time to train because of more flexible work hours, I just felt myself get progressively weaker, catching sniffles and flus much more readily. I dismissed it as something that comes with having my toddler nephew around — kids bring the most virulent stuff home. But this also made it harder to keep on track with training; I was constantly cramming.
I think I did pretty well on my marathon, but jumped straight into training too soon. And so my health was at the most up-and-down it’s ever been through July, culminating in that awful sore throat that laid me out for two weeks.
As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, it took a vacation trip full of easy walks and jogs that still left me pooped to wake me to the reality: to race Challenge Vietnam as an individual would be counterproductive at best, and suicide at worst.
I got a complete physical done the week before leaving for Vietnam to race on a relay team, and picked up my results the day before departure. What I found out floored me. The test had found trace amounts of protein, an elevated white blood cell count, and bacteria in my urine. (A normal sample would have no trace proteins, no white blood cells, and no bacteria.) A blood test meanwhile showed I had low levels of protein in my blood and elevated uric acid levels.
This was quite a scare, because taken in isolation it would seem to mean that my kidneys weren’t doing their work. I’m happy that both my parents are doctors and managed to come up with a differential diagnosis. The bacteria and white blood cell count were signs I had a urinary tract infection, so we treated that with antibiotics. The trace amounts of protein in the urine is actually consistent with endurance athletes pushing limits. High uric acid in the blood could mean there was a lot of muscle tissue breakdown — again, consistent with too much training, too fast, too soon. Low blood protein meant that my body was just throwing everything it had to try to recover from all the training I was putting it through.
And so, I really have to stop. S-T-O-P, stop! (Haha.)
The Challenge Vietnam swim and run I did well below my thresholds, and I’ve taken a very laissez-faire approach to exercise in the past week since I got back. Yesterday, I did a lap around the UP Academic Oval (2.2 kilometers) with some friends to check their running form out. After I gave them feedback, I let them go on their way to do 15 kilometers while I went off to eat some Rodic’s tapsilog.
I’ll still exercise maybe four or five times in a week, but never for longer than an hour and always with an eye on how tired I feel. A lot of the exercise I’ll do will also focus on strength and mobility just to build my body back up. Endurance training burns plenty of calories but it also breaks down muscle and tissue, so I’m going to avoid doing that in this offseason period.
How long do I expect to be out of proper run and triathlon training? Not sure. I’ll give it two months of proper rest, nutritious food, and gentle exercise just to be sure. That means you can count me out of racing in the next six months.
I got an ultrasound done on my kidneys last week, and I’m happy to say they are clear! I’m going back for a repeat urinalysis next week to check if we’ve gotten rid of the UTI and we’ll also do another blood test to check on my protein and uric acid levels.
Suffice it to say I blame no one for this but myself for making such unwise decisions over the last two years. Some people get mentally burned out before they ever get to this point, while for others like me it takes an imminent physical collapse to stop us. Some people can handle the training and short recovery times better. I found out the hard way that I can’t.
I got greedy and wanted to race everything — so now it’s payback time and I can’t race anything. I’m just happy we caught it when we did, otherwise I would be digging myself out of a much deeper hole for much longer.
There will always be races to compete in and enjoy even if you take time off. Can’t get around to it this year? There’s next year. And the year after that. And so on, if you treat your body well. Many times we get caught up in the Fear of Missing Out because everyone’s doing these races.
To that, let’s say “F**k FOMO. I’m in this for the long haul.”
Offseason is good for you. Do it.
How much do you know about overtraining? Take this quick quiz and find out!