How to Cope with Training Exhaustion

To fight fatigue, it's critical to get enough sleep and kilojoules to support your running.

William O. Roberts, MD |

To fight fatigue, it’s critical to get enough sleep and kilojoules to support your running. – By William O. Roberts, MD

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I’m training for a 5K PB. I am doing a lot more speed work and quality runs than normal. I can’t get over how tired I am, especially since I am not doing long runs or high mileage. I find it hard to get through the afternoon. Any advice?

Training for speed at the 5K distance can be as fatiguing as the high-mileage training for the marathon distance. I was a sprinter and I clearly remember the fatigue following the hard workouts.

High-intensity training associated with running fast taxes the muscles and the body energy systems, so fatigue after hard training sessions is normal.

Training for a 5K PB requires workouts at even faster than race pace to improve the muscle strength and leg turnover to maintain speed through the entire distance. The higher intensity training must be worked into alternating hard and easy day cycles to allow the overloaded muscled and tissues to recover before the next push. Skipping easy and rest days in favour of more hard work can lead to fatigue rather than improvements.

Sleep is often underrated in training and is sometimes set aside in an attempt to meet other life obligations. There is strong data linking adequate sleep to improved training and performance. Conversely, inadequate sleep is associated with fatigue. Having been a parent, and now a grandparent, I am familiar with the needs of children and how they interfere with the volume and quality of sleep on a day-to-day basis. Adding half an hour a night could make a difference. Newer studies show you can catch up on sleep, so some extra sleep at the weekends can be a help.

Nutrition and energy balance play a huge role in training and performance. Trying to run the engine on low-grade fuel does not work well. An early sign of inadequate kilojoules intake for the level of training energy expended is fatigue. Inadequate energy intake over a longer period of time can lead to amenorrhea (loss of menstrual cycles) in women. Regular periods usually means adequate kilojoule intake and energy store, but a small bump in kilojoules may fix the fatigue from kilojoule deficiency.

Other life responsibilities can also get in the way. You may have to report to a boss and set your schedule around work hours. Maintaining the home, the garden, the car, the food supply, shopping for kids’ clothes and supplies, working on kids’ homework, taking kids to their activities and so on all take time and can add to fatigue. Help from family and friends may relieve some of the pressure.

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