Wednesday, August 18, 2010

PARASYMPATHETIC OVERTRAINING- Why doesn't it get the same attention?

I just deleted a three page blog entry detailing overtraining and the endurance athlete, because it rambled and didn't cut to the chase. Hopefully the following blog entry doesn't skirt around the issue.

Most of the current information regarding overtraining is referring to a form called Sympathetic Overtraining. There is however, another form of overtraining, Parasympathetic. These two forms of overtraining present differently. Endurance athletes most likely have Parasympathetic, and so if they are trying to determine whether or not they are in a state of overtraining most of the information that they are receiving isn't even relevant to their condition, and hence may lead them astray.

Athletes involved in ANAEROBIC  activities should watch for signs of Sympathetic stimulation. The Sympathetic Nervous System controls the "Fight or Flight" response and other stress responses. This means that their morning heart rates may be elevated.

Athletes involved in AEROBIC sport, should be cautious of Parasympathetic stimulation. The Parasympathetic Nervous System controls "Rest and Digest" functions. This means that the athletes morning heart rate may NOT be elevated at all, and they may be still in danger of being overtrained. I mention HR specifically, because this one aspect of overtraining is the indicator mentioned in nearly all easily accessible information regarding overtraining, but for endurance athletes, their morning heart rate would most likely present in the opposite, not elevated!

The meat and potatos here is that if you are feeling stale, overworked, etc. TAKE TIME OFF. The body cannot differentiate between training stressors and work stressors.

Taking a daily mood and motivation inventory is the best tool research has found to determine overtraining. You may even begin to add to your stress level by stressing about NOT training! TAKE TIME OFF.

The following link is the best article i have read on overtraining to date. It is research backed, and fully encompasses all details of overtraining syndrome. For the most part, it is NOT anecdotal, and when it is hypothesizing, the author states so. Check it out!

Train Hard, Recover Well!

Monday, August 16, 2010

New Trails


As defined by the World Health Organization; Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

How many of us whom focus on eating whole grains, reducing refined carbs, cutting out animal fats, etcetera are truly aspiring to be healthy individuals? In the holistic definition, (holistic meaning dealing the whole sum and not just parts of the whole, mind and body), we generally tend to be unhealthy in our disregard for mental health and peace. Be it goals, self-imposed expectations, financial stresses, kids, or time management, we feel that health can be attained solely from nutrition and exercise. I believe firmly that nutrition and exercise is the first step in attaining health, but the ladder ascends still once those first two steps have been taken. We must climb further towards mental health and happiness.

The mind and body are one. They cannot be separated in regards to health. Our lives are partially governed by our hormonal responses to situations that arise in our day to day functioning. When we are stressed, our brain sends messages to our endocrine system and adrenal glands to pump out hormones to better prepare ourselves for the danger we perceive, these hormones cause us to function at our highest levels during the "fight or flight" response. The "flight" could be escaping a charging bear, in which we need exceptional muscle power and strength. The "Fight" could be functioning at our highest level while explaining the need for a budget cut to board members around a conference table. This stress affects our immune system, our blood sugar levels, and our general feeling towards the world around us. That stress may feel great at times, such as during running a 5K when your muscles are well fed and you excel at your sport, or it might feel horrible, like when you begin to "stress out" over financial obligations, time management, and other aspects causing distress in your day to day.

The brain controls many hormonal responses through its hypothalamus and pituitary glands. There two glands are the major "grand central station" for hormonal messages in the body. They send messages throughout the body, to your adrenal glands, to your testes and ovaries, and throughout your endocrine system. They produce release of growth hormone to repair muscle damage, they control release of thyroid hormones, and even affect metabolism, This grand central station even affects how addicted we become to certain objects in our lives by affecting dopamine response through management of prolactin levels, (prolactin actually determines milk production but affects dopamine receptor sites).

The point I am trying to make here, is that the mind and body are connected. The science sounds very complicated, but we know when we are stressed. We know when we are happy and when we are sad. We need to take a step back to adjust reality and look at the stress in our lives. Stress negatively affects our immune system and our enjoyment of the world we live in. Burning the candle a bit too much at both ends can cause depression and physical pain through a decrease in growth hormone response even causing muscle soreness and tiredness. A lack of stress allows for effective blood sugar levels, proper growth and repair of muscle, peace, and happiness. This is achieved by the body producing, "Rest and Digest" hormones through the Parasympathetic Nervous System.

The beauty of trail running and long distance backpacking is that one learns what really matters in life. You get the beautiful opportunity to cut the extraneous crud out from your existence and examine it from afar. On hikes and long trail runs I usually find that the things that mattered most and were stressing me out in the preceeding weeks and months are the things that honestly matter the least. It is very hard to do this while immersed in the thick of it, especially as we endurance athletes are typically goal oriented individuals. I guess one may say that technically, goals in general cause stress! Ha hahaha. I am not saying to stop making goals, but realize when it is time to take a step back from training, work, etcetera and put it all in perspective.

Sometimes abandoning a goal is necessary, and sometimes that point of abandonment one meets and pushes through is the final crux which makes achieving that goal a remarkable accomplishment. What a challenge to know the difference...What a challenge to stay healthy.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Best Run In Months.

Two weeks ago, I spent nine days in Utah for the Outdoor retailers show. I saw a lot of spiffy gear, but spent less time than usual at the show, to spend as much time as possible in the mountains. This was definitely reflected by my accumulation of less swag than ever, as I didn't score any shoes, watches, etc. I basically came home this trip with a water bottle, and that water bottle is one which I paid for via a race entry fee that I was charged double for! The Wasatch Wobble is a 5k race which my Garmin Forerunner clocked in at almost 4 miles...So as I was signing up for the $10 race, I handed in my $20, and was expecting $10 back, and they just smiled and said thanks! Fortunately it went for charity at least, but then they informed me that the race tee's were all gone and if I wanted they could give me a pair of "Darn Tough" socks, (a brand that is pushing hard to be carried in my wifes retail store, whom have sent us many many free pairs!). Ugh. No thanks, I am trying to accumulate as little as possible in my life, and I don't need your socks! The race tee was a rare find however! I had my eyes on it for a few days, as I saw others who had pre-registered wearing them around town. Unfortunately, due to a communications error between my wife and I, my registration didn't occur 'til they were out, and I missed out on a one and million find of a cool race shirt. Anyways, it was a goofy training race anyways consisting of burnt lungs and dry air.

I got in 20+ hours of training while in Utah, and I slept at 7500'-10,000' each night which should prove beneficial for Ironman in 14 days as red blood cell life is from 90-120 days. I didn't get in any mountain biking as the trail running was too great, literally some of the best trails I've ever seen, especially by Lake Desolation.

An interesting conversation this week with Ricky George about muscle physiology as he noticed an inability to reach the highest heart rates while doing 3-4 minute climbing repeats versus 1000 meter repeats... Wondering if the watts required to run uphill, are overshadowed on flat land by the recruitment of the larger hamstrings and glutes, and that the highest HR would be possible on flat ground even though less watts would be produced? Or would more watts actually be produced on flat ground and the high higher heart rate as well because once again of the recruitment of the hamstrings and glutes on flat ground versus the quads and calves on climbs??? Interesting research opportunities. Taking this to heart, one may be able to train more effectively with heart rate on flats and climbs, for example-the same way in which I know that my threshold on the bike is lower than the run, and I train according while setting heart rate parameters for each workout, i could dive deeper and set parameters differentiating between hills and flat workouts? It'll be interesting to look further into this.

Three days ago was my best run in months. After spending the time at altitude in Utah, and spending the last month tip-toeing the tight-rope of balancing not falling into overtraining, I am finally feeling good again. I did a 3.5 hour ride in 100 degree temps, in which I felt OK, but on the run, I was able to still run a 3 hour marathon pace regardless of the 100 degree temps...Very promising for Ironman in 14 days. It was exciting as my favorite workouts of the year are my 1-1.5 hour runs at threshold and I couldn't do any of them the last 2 months because I my flirting with overtraining! Fortunately, the balancing act worked and for the first time in a while, I think I am going to be at a good fitness level for Ironman  after potentially peaking a month early. I think I played my cards right and I can jump back on the peak week without a second to spare. It was just rewarding to see my heart rate finally at 160 for an entire run, and also in the 140's and 150's during my ride. Last year for Ironman my average HR was 142, and for comparisons sake, during the Mohican 50 miler this year in June, my average HR was at 155. I am hoping this year for Ironman I can maintain a HR on the bike closer to 150 and can hold that through the run, I am after all, a runner. Usually less than 1% of ironmen, including the pros can run a sub-3:30 marathon so we'll hope for the best this week! bring on the second peak week workout tomorrow!