Swollen hands and face, itchy scalp, worsening exercise-induced asthma, heartburn, indigestion, feeling empty, breaking out in itchy hives, severely decreased motivation and general grumpiness! These were the symptoms I experienced all at once at my worst. It was the spring of 2005 and my first full season racing Xterra triathlons after focusing on mountain bike racing the previous five years. I found myself so under recovered that it took me a few months to feel normal and get that snappy feeling back in the legs. Without a serious triathlon coach to help me balance the three disciplines I had not backed off on the cycling much and just added some running and swimming – not such a good idea! I was also finishing my PhD thesis that spring on top of learning a new sport and traveling to many new race venues all over the U.S.. It was all exciting and positive, but when all added together stressful nonetheless.
After consulting with a local doctor in Canmore where I was living, who had worked with many athletes, he reassured me that most of my symptoms were likely due to being under recovered. Even though I wasn’t allergic to anything, our bodies sometimes act like it is an allergy and produce extra antihistamines in response to too much stress. I learned my lesson that season. The following season I found my current coach, Cal Zaryski, who races Xterra himself and is excellent at personalizing my training in accordance with what else I have going on in life with work and family.
Once in awhile a few of the above symptoms come back and I take it as a warning to monitor myself and listen to my body. Of course, if its just a day or two after a hard block of training that is normal, or after a hard race, when it can take a couple of days to refuel the tank, physically and emotionally.
As a mother, it has been even more important to listen to my body. Staying healthy is number one, so once in awhile if I feel I’m on the edge of getting sick I back it off. I remember when my brother Geoff coached me as a mountain bike racer, he always said, there is no harm in throwing a day out now and then. So if I miss a planned day of training once in awhile I don’t sweat it. Recovery activities like massage, ice baths, stretching, yoga or using the foam roller don’t happen as often as I’d like but I just have to go with the flow. Luckily I’ve also learned through the sleep deprivation days with babies that I can still have good energy with less sleep and that exercising and training gives me extra energy. Like most athletes, if I’m overdoing it I get testy and impatient and so my kids and husband usually are my first alert to when more rest is needed.
Overall, I try to follow my own advice to the athletes I work with and rely on good self-awareness. Sometimes it takes some trial and error to know how much training you can handle in a given week while trying to balance other things like school, work and/or family. When I first started cycling I relied a lot on monitoring tools like heart rate (in training and in the morning) and watts but with time I’ve been able to go more by feel. Most people forget that it is not just the training intensity of training volume that contributes to over training or under recovery, other life stress can be just as much a factor so balancing it all week to week can be an ongoing learning process. I’ve learned how much volume I can handle while working part-time and raising two little sweethearts, and it is likely almost half the training that some of my competitors who are full time athletes do, but the exciting part is seeing what I can do with the time I have to do it in! As I sit here still feeling pretty beat up from three days of mountain bike racing in Fernie, I take it day by day and my body will tell me when it is GO time again!