Saturday, November 17, 2012

Pieces Of The Overtraining Puzzle

Well, I am nearly over my cold.  I blew through my braiding list (I had finished the same number of horses by 5 am as I had by noon the previous week) and while I was tired at the end of a very busy night, I was not "incoherent, falling asleep on my feet, barely able to move" tired like I have come to expect.  I felt like a normal person at the end of an 11 hour day.  Not exactly ready to jump tall buildings in a single bound, but ready to go home and not ready to die.  I seemed more resistant to the cold while working... I felt it but it didn't shut me down.  I slept 7 hours and woke up feeling... normal.  I think that I finally feeling restored. I did a few light workouts this week and, again, did not feel sapped at the end.  It has been two full months getting to this point.... Oh, and medication.

I guess I didn't mention that part.  My trials and tribulations with doctors have been so frustrating that I didn't want to post about this right away.  I am being treated for hypothyroidism.  I haven't been on medication for all that long but the type that I am on includes some fast acting hormone (T3) that is immediately available to the body as well as the slower, more commonly prescribed T4.  I researched response times and most people seemed to start feeling the effects of T4 within a  couple of weeks, though it can takes months to fully balance the body.  I don't know if what I am experiencing is an immediate response to the T3, because it is certainly too soon for a response to the T4, or a placebo effect of some kind.

I am not sure I care so long as it works.  I believe at this point that the reason that I succumbed so dramatically to overtraining was a drop off in thyroid levels.  No matter how careful we were (and we were not all that careful), my body changed and it's tolerance for work dropped.  Add to that a couple of traumas from the bike crashes and stress from the loss of Sera and it's the formula for disaster.  I do keep having to remind myself though that the brutal, crippling bout of exhaustion happened BEFORE the crashes or the grief, leaving only the butler (thyroid) and the maid (training volume).

I make this point because human beings do not live in clinical trials.  There is no separating the person from the athlete.  It's all one body, one energy system.  If it gets overloaded with stress, it responds with overtraining symptoms.  There is a tendency to assume that if you are experiencing overtraining or overreach symptoms that it is because you made a mistake.  The kind of mistake that is recorded in training peaks.  Not enough time off, too many miles, too many intervals, not enough recovery (grab your pitchforks boys!  The coach just scooted out the back!!) etc.  I think it is much more involved.  This summer I was handling a workload that I built up to slowly.  I don't think DW was wrong in assigning it.  Rather there was a loss of perspective on the athlete as a whole.  He was busy and our communication broke down... at a time when my travel and work schedule took a long walk off a short plank.  My body went with it.

It was more like this...

... and less like this.  Not all "planks" are created equal!

Did the workload tip my already failing thyroid over the edge or did the failure of my thyroid result in a reduced capacity for work volume?  How did the travel and work load play into this?  What about the races?  How about the overuse injuries that developed this summer?  I'll never know.  The reason for the strain on my relationship with DW was a sense that while this situation may not have been preventable, there was a certain lack of due diligence at the critical moments.  I don't think we know the answers even as much as we could.  It makes preventing future mistakes very hard.  He blamed me for not communicating my fatigue levels well enough.  I was frustrated with him for being (in my perception) virtually unreachable for two months.  Round and round we go.

None of this was his fault.  He spent a great deal of time building up an athlete that could handle a certain volume and suddenly that athlete was replaced by one that was much weaker- a sheep in wolf's clothing.  It is reasonable that he was surprised when the wheel fell of the bus.  My takeaway?  It doesn't matter what caused what.  The situation, probably as it will always be in these cases, is far to complicated to reach conclusions.  We both played parts and there were factors outside both of our spheres of control.  In the end, his program is designed for athletes that do not require intensive monitoring.... like me.  Square peg... round hole... 'nuff said.

You get the idea.

What matters now is going forward.  I have been working with a woman in NC (poor girl) on a consulting basis.  I was referred to her by another coach (he must like practical jokes) as being the right person to help me pick up the pieces and find the lessons in it all.  She has been doing just that.  I kind of feel bad for her because there were some seriously, stressed, frantic conversations/emails, especially at the beginning.  We seem to be through that phase and now, armed with an RBC that has returned to normal ranges, a thyroid that is supported by medication, and after two months of unwelcome R&R, Monday morning I will return to active training.  The goal now is to recover and reinforce the foundation so that the house doesn't blow down quite so easily the next time the big, bad wolf happens by.

On the downside, another condition that I have not posted about that has been plaguing me since before the medication change is hives.  Red, welted, itchy hives.  It started when I came to Houston this time.  It started with my hands and feet and soon the breakouts covered half my body.  I had to do a short course of Prednisone to break the cycle a couple of weeks ago and now they have decided to return.  I was eating a lot of nuts at the time and took those out of my diet.  I had some last night and by morning my legs were covered again.  I HOPE I am not seeing the development of another food allergy, though it would make sense as angry as my immune system has been recently.  Hives and food allergies, along with itchy skin, are all symptoms of thyroid malfunction.  I am hoping that perhaps with the new meds, this train can be derailed.   I am running out of things to eat!!

In brighter news... Seabiscuit returns home tomorrow from his surgery.  They tell me he is fully recovered and I owe them most of my life savings... and a kidney.

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