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Overtraining Syndrome and Adrenal Burnout - Part 2
Part Two: Descent To Illness
In Part One, we laid out requirements for making ourselves ill:
The requirements, in themselves, won’t make anyone sick.
Capacity & Obsession are necessary for high performance.
Energy Deficits come and go, usually without issue.
What does it take to tip ourselves beyond The Limit?
We need to impair our capacity to recover. At that point, a downward spiral can take hold.
How might we do that?
Constantly Change Time Zones (Pilots)
Disrupt Our Circadian Rhythm (First Responders & Doctors on Call)
As an endurance athletes, caffeine and intensity are socially acceptable ways to stimulate ourselves.
How will you know you’re using too much? Simple. Stimulation stops to work.
Put another way, one day you will realize you need stimulants to sit at baseline.
I didn’t have my first coffee until my third season of triathlon. I’d been running for seven years at that stage. Over the years that followed, my caffeine consumption increased.
Eventually, I found myself at 250-500 mg per day. The dose increased to the point where I needed caffeine to feel normal.
Let’s put chemical stimulants to one side and consider intensity.
How do you know you’ve done a session that’s stimulated you? I like a simple test. My hands shake.
Have a look right now.
Are you shaking?
How often are you not shaking?
Do you have any routines before your key sessions?
How many times a week are you using these routines?
Gradually, I found myself in a routine of chronic amping.
Liters of coffee
Hours of loud music
Like everything else, there’s no one factor. It is the combination of factors that causes disruption.
How will you know you are tipping over the edge? You will lose the stability that holds your life together.
There is a place beyond fatigue…
…and when we use stimulants to get there…
…we might not be able to fall asleep.
Three things mark my optimal sleep pattern:
An ability to fall asleep, without chemicals
An ability to wake up, without alarms
Stability in sleep duration
If we want to train close to our limits then doing it naturally reduces the risk of disaster.
Sleep is our early warning system.
Once sleep falls apart, the clock is ticking.
Reduce chronic stress
Eliminate stimulant use
Eliminate chemical sleep aids
In consultation with your medical team, re-establish a healthy baseline.
When More Ceases To Work, Try Less
Do you see the pattern?
It takes years.
Training load ramps up
Performance improves in line with training load
Stimulant use begins as an ergogenic aid
Stimulant use becomes chronic, to override fatigue
“Sleep aids” are added, to help unwind
“Sleep aid” use become chronic, to counter overstimulation
Eventually, sleep becomes erratic
Clas and I were performing at a world-class level with this pattern. What we weren’t doing was optimizing our performance. We could have performed better, for longer.
Last summer, my coachasked me,
Have you ever taken a break from coffee?
I’d been a 20-year daily coffee drinker when he asked. We agreed to take a break and it started a positive cascade for me.
My internal story about caffeine was false.
To optimize my performance, I needed to understand my natural signals.
To achieve my athletic potential, I had to change my approach.
My willingness to change was due to:
My experiences with overtraining
A ten-year break from competition (AKA obsession)
A commitment I made to do my absolute best for 1000 days
A desire to optimize adaptation, rather than maximize loading
There is no one factor that will tip you over the edge.
As you move towards The Limit, reduce the risks associated with the lifestyle you are choosing.
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Clas and I raced great for years after the Trans USA trip.
What we didn’t do was optimize the results from the exceptional work we were doing.
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Find yourself to be an emotional mess? Get help from a mental skills professional.
Think your eating “quirks” are heading towards a disorder? Be honest with your medical team. They’ve seen it before and have the tools to assist you.
“Baseline” for the at-risk athlete is chronically fatigued and overstimulated.
Prescription Sleep Aids, Alcohol and Cannabinoids (edibles in my demographic).
If your coach, or doctor, is hooked on stress, stimulants or sleep aids then change your advisory team. You need healthy, and vital, people advising you.
Johan Röjler, Sweden’s Coach of the Year 2022
My article of the experience is called, The Swedish Coffee Challenge. Nine months off coffee, so far.
If you discover you have been fooling yourself in one area then you’d be wise to hold all beliefs less strongly.