When Your Mind + Body Are Not On the Same Page

After each marathon training cycle, I find that my mind needs a break. Of course my body needs one, but I often find that my mind needs a longer one. A break from following a plan, figuring out how to rearrange all the puzzle pieces so I can fit in the necessary runs and from setting early AM alarms. I have found that it’s usually about 3-4 weeks of downtime. I am still running – but often, it’s a very “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of running. No set paces or distance – more just running what I feel up to running that day. More rest days.

And then when my mind and heart decide it’s time to resume training, my body immediately gets on board and training picks up. It’s been this way for the last 3 or 4 marathon training cycles.

This past April was completely different. My mind definitely need the normal break, but when I felt like I was ready to get back into things and resume training, my body was not ready – not even close to being ready.

Over the last few months, it’s been a constant struggle. I kept trying to resume training. I was a bit impatient – I SO missed the training aspect of running. Following a plan, running hard a few days a week, pushing myself brings me an incredible amount of happiness and satisfaction. And so every week or so, I would attempt to get back into the swing of things. I kept looking at the calendar and questioning why I still felt so lousy.

Some runs were a total disaster (read: I would have to walk back home or even call my husband to come get me). Other runs were okay; but I’d wake up the day or day after and feel totally wiped.

For the last three+ months, I have felt pretty awful. These are some of the highlights (more aptly called “lowlights”?)

  • Energy levels were insanely low
  • I had a general haze of fatigue from wakeup until bedtime
  • Lake of desire to do anything on the weekends
  • Constant desire to find a bed and crawl into it and nap
  • Indigestion, intense bloating (there was a period of 3-4 weeks where my stomach would get so distended each afternoon after lunch (while I was at work) and I would have to unbutton my pants or rearrange my skirt or dress to give me more breathing room)
  • Lots of whining, moping and complaining to my husband
  • Not having the “pop” in my legs. I was running similar paces than I was used to, but my legs just felt heavy – no run really felt “easy” or enjoyable

It was hard to fully put into words what I was experiencing while I was going through this. And so I never discussed at length what was going on. I also didn’t know how long it was going to last and didn’t want each post to be me complaining about how I felt.

But I was also optimistic – so each time I had a good run I was eager to share the good here – but then I would quickly spiral down and feel awful again.

I tried a couple of longer runs initially, but after feeling like I just went right back to where I was previously, I made the decision to stay away from anything I considered “long” for a bit. There was a handful of weeks with my “long” run being about 8-9 miles (or less).

The last few weeks, however, have seen a marked improvement. It’s been about three solid weeks of running – and more importantly, feeling 100x better.

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These are some of the things, I believe, were affecting me:

  • Burned out from work: April and May were nuts at work. The number of late nights or days where my coworkers and I even had a break for lunch far exceeded the number of “easy” days. More than the workload, however, I think I was letting work itself stress me out. I felt a constant nervousness of what needed to be done and upcoming deadlines all the time. Vacation was crucial. It felt so incredibly good to disconnect and only focus on my kids and family for a period of time.
  • Vitamin D + Ferritin levels: I talked about getting my bloodwork tested with my wellness doctor as well as having it tested with Inside Tracker. Both my Vitamin D and Ferritin levels were severely low. I knew that both caused some of the symptoms, listed above, but what I failed to understand was just how long it would take me to get those levels up enough where I felt okay.
  • Not enough sleep: I think I was trying to do too much in March and April. One of the benefits of wearing an activity tracker is that it tracks your sleep. All of my sleep data from last summer is tracked on Garmin Connect. Over the last few months, I’ve spent a good amount of time looking at my sleep patterns. I think I was so cautious with sleep in the early part of the year and definitely chose sleep over workouts on more than one occasion. But I think around March, things started to shift a bit. The closer I got to Boston, the more focused I was on not missing any runs and chose the run over sleep on more than one occasion. My average sleep went from about 7 (in the months of Oct-February) to closer to 6 in March and April. Couple that with my mileage and intensity starting to peak for Boston and I think my body just couldn’t manage it all.
  • Iron pills not agreeing with me: I tried two different types of Iron pills – both of which were recommended to me from friends who also suffered low Ferritin. Unfortunately, both caused severe stomach cramping, aches and bloating. I gave them both about 2-3 weeks and never felt good – so found a 3rd pill that has been working. Mary recommended them to me – and after hearing about how her ferritin levels went from upper-teens to low-40s, I was sold. (I’m going to do a full post on the supplements I am taking, how often, etc)

So what has my running looked like? Two weeks ago I ran almost 43 miles – on 5 days of running (I took M-T off b/c I was incredibly jet lagged still from vacation), including an awesome 13 miler. Honestly, that 13 miler is when I really felt I had turned the corner. For the first time since Boston, I felt like the miles didn’t run me – I ran the miles – and ran them happy and strong and fast. And I felt GOOD.

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You can literally see the overwhelming happiness in my eyes

Last week was my best week of running in about 14 weeks. 57 miles including a hot, humid 15 miler, a fun progression tempo on the treadmill and an awesome progression run outside.

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I opted to make today a rest day. I got up at 4:15 with the intention of meeting Jen for some early-AM miles, but didn’t feel up to it, so went back to bed for about an hour. I’m still not in training mode for any big goal race so I don’t want to push too hard and end up back at square one.

I wanted to share my last few months with you in case you have or are experiencing something similar. My biggest piece of advice would be to take it easy. I know how hard it is to watch the fitness you worked so hard over the last few months/years slowly disappear. But allowing yourself time to be fully ready to train is the most important thing. Once you are ready to go, you can work to get your endurance and speed back to where it was.

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Post-workout glow on my way to work!

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    13 thoughts on “When Your Mind + Body Are Not On the Same Page

    1. Pingback: Weekend highlights + my new biking coach + tri training real talk + training week 8 – I Run Like A Girl

    2. Another commenter mentioned liquid iron, which has been a huge help for me as well! I use the Wellesse brand (drugstore.com usually has the cheapest price) and I follow it with chewable vitamin C or Emergen-C. Not only is this easier on my stomach, but I seem to absorb it better than pills. I do take the Nature Made tablets when I’m traveling; they’re the best brand I’ve found also. Glad to hear you’re starting to feel better, and good luck with the rest of your summer training! :)

    3. Michele, after being diagnosed with a tibial stress fracture back in 2008 I found out I had a VERY low vitamin D level. To maintain a healthy level I now have to take vitamin D supplements daily in addition to a 50,000IU pill once a month. My levels have been perfect ever since. I’m sure you’re where you should be now but I just thought I’d share my experience with you.

    4. This is such great news and I absolutely love seeing your smiling face here again!! I cannot imagine how hard these past few months have been so congratulations for making it though the dark cave to the other side :-) I’m sure it’s all flat and fast from here!
      Allie recently posted..The Rundown – TransitionsMy Profile

    5. I’m glad your starting to feel better! I went through the opposite a few years ago – my body could handle it, but my mind just wasn’t in it. I’d be doing mile repeats at 6:30-ish pace and be feeling totally fine (well, feeling the burn, but in the good way), and I’d just stop right in the middle of a repeat because I didn’t want to do it anymore. It was so strange, especially since I love running fast. I stepped back a bit and even tried listening to music/podcast (something I never did), and after a couple months, it got me back through the rut. I finally had a couple runs where my brain turned off, and it was so much better.

      Of course, now my body isn’t the mood since it’s been injured for awhile, but I’m hoping the extended period of rest it has forced me to take will have me ready to come back after surgery – I know my brain will be ready!
      Susan – Nurse on the Run recently posted..Life Update/My Hips Hurt: July 2016 EditionMy Profile

    6. I have been taking liquid Floravital for iron. Order on Amazon. Works fast to raise levels and no stomach issues. Thanks for the honest post!

    7. This was such a great post and I feel like I am in this exact place with my running! I am just struggling with it! I am getting my runs in, but nothing feels great and I have done very few speed runs. I thought about throwing a 10k into the schedule to see if that would help. A week before the 10k I did a 5 mile speed progression run just to see where I was at (looking back I am not sure if this was the smartest way to ease back into speed). All things considering, I did pretty good with it, but like you said in your post it is just hard to see fitness and speed go away! The next day though not only was I WIPED out, but my hamstring was so tight. It has stayed pretty tight and I just decided it was in my best interest not to race that 10k. I could have done it just “for fun”, but I know I would have gone out hard and could have really injured myself. This combined with several other crazy things in my life like moving to FL are probably all affecting my running. I know I just should probably get a race on my calendar and train for it the right way, but this also reminds me that I used to take an iron supplement and I haven’t been taking it for a few months now.

    8. A few years back when I was training for my first marathon, I too had a similar issue. It was my first summer training in Arizona and my training partners were training for a July race, mine wasn’t until November, but I ran long with them, which meant I was seriously over-training. And to make matters worse, I was giving blood every 8 weeks. Every half I did that summer got slower & slower and I couldn’t understand why. Finally after a very bad long run (17 miles) which ended in walking 7 miles back to the car, I went to the doctor and found out my iron levels were dangerously low (2), I didn’t know they could get that low. So I gave up giving blood and took iron pills for about 6 months until I got to better levels and felt so much better. I’m so glad you were able to figure it out because it’s not fun.

    9. “Following a plan, running hard a few days a week, pushing myself brings me an incredible amount of happiness and satisfaction.” This. This is what I love about marathon training!! I know after my race this weekend I will miss this for a while as I will need the breea
      Tia recently posted..The Birthday Run- 12!My Profile

    10. I swear I could have written this post myself. Since after Boston, I have been feeling horrible. I took a week off right after the race and took it *very* easy during the following months. I purposely didn’t sign up for any race (my first race attempt will be this Saturday) to recover properly. And yet, the last three months have been a real nightmare running wise. Super-heavy legs, extreme fatigue, paces so slow I really thought my Garmin was broken at one point. It was truly frustrating. I kept praying for a decent run just to feel like myself again!
      The causes for me are the following: #1-the heat. The heat really, truly gets to me. Not only it makes me slow down considerably, but it also leaves me wiped for the entire day. They say it takes 3 weeks to get used to the heat… It takes me way longer than that and I never feel 100% fine. It also takes my body forever to recover from a marathon! I see people who can bounce back and even set new PRs right afterwards like nothing ever happened! My body, on the other hand, needs at least two months to feel normal again.
      I cannot thank you enough for writing this post. Of course I’m not happy that you have been feeling this way, but it helps to know I’m not alone…

    11. I’m very interested in the kind of iron supplement you are taking. I’m also very low in Ferritin (16), and I think my bloating issue right now is being caused by my iron supplement.