HOW YOUR LACK OF ENERGY IS PROBABLY ANYTHING BUT CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME
ALL RUNNERS HAVE EXPERIENCED AND CAN IDENTIFY HOW FATIGUE FEELS
Every step is a chore. You feel the cold more than usual. Sore throats and illnesses are second nature. Your muscles are achey and weak, ESPECIALLY in the morning. Just getting out the door is an effort and you can forget about getting anywhere near your usual ‘steady’ pace. It’s easy paced runs for you from now on, except your ‘easy’ pace is having you dip into the ‘amber’ or even ‘red’ zone.
We can accept that every now and then we will become fatigued, and can even endure the symptoms for a few days. After a tough race, a hard training session or a long Sunday run… Sometimes the symptoms can last longer than expected, but it’s all part of the recovery process that allows us to take one step back, two step forwards in becoming a better runner.
However, what if your fatigue lasts worryingly longer than is the norm? The rot has set in, perhaps you’ve pushed it too far this time? Maybe you’ve dipped too deep into your energy reserves and you’ve depleted them for good? You search google, you come across the dreaded ‘Chronic Fatigue WebMD page and it instantly clicks, ‘That’s it.. that’s the one… I’ve officially got Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and I’m going to be broken for good…’
The good news is…
IT’S NOT CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME
Or, it’s highly unlikely to be the case.
So what exactly is Chronic Fatigue and why don’t you have it? Healthline.com defines the syndrome as ‘ a debilitating disorder characterized by extreme fatigue or tiredness that doesn’t go away with rest and can’t be explained by an underlying medical condition.’
No amount of rest can rid you of your fatigue and any form of exercise will wipe you out for the rest of the day. So why are you unlikely to have the illness? Simply put, runners are too injury prone to ever train to the point of the shear exhaustion that leads to Chronic Fatigue.
Your body will break down far sooner than the point of no return – tired running form, impact and overuse will lead to injury and Chronic Fatigue will be a point that’s very rarely reached. Cyclists, swimmers and athletes who have less stress on the body are the likelier candidates to achieve Chronic Fatigue status, but even in those athletes it’s reportedly rare.
That’s not to say that runners can’t get the syndrome, it’s just so rare that you might as well rule it out and look elsewhere.
SO WHAT COULD IT BE?
The likeliest case is that you’ve basically overtrained. You’ve gone so hard for so long, that you’re mentally and physically exhausted. Nothing’s particularly changed, you do the same sessions and the same mileage, yet something’s not right. You just can’t hit the same times in your speed sessions, tempo run average paces are way down but you persist on and battle through the lack of motivation, leading to a nosedive in your desire to run, willpower and enjoyment in the sport.
GET BACK TO BASICS
It’s the hardest thing for runners to admit, but you need a break. We can only accept rest once it’s forced upon us through injuries so bad we physically can no longer run. Runners need to realise that our bodies don’t work in weekly mile average and your body won’t be upset that you haven’t met your 30, 40, 50 mile averages.
In fact, your body (and mind) is literally crying out for a rest. When your body is in this fatigued state, it is literally asking for recovery TO MAKE YOU A BETTER RUNNER. It knows it needs to adapt to the training you are relentlessly chucking its way, and it’s asking for a chance to breathe, catch up, build and improve so that when you’re rested (and that might take 4 days, a week, or even two of very low easy miles) you can feel the benefit and go again harder and faster.
You won’t lose any fitness, and any sluggishness in cadence can be quickly built back up. Remember that your body remembers all the miles you’ve put into it, even if you don’t.
SO WHAT TO DO IN THE MEAN TIME?
Ditch any and all sessions. If it’s possible, ditch the watch and ditch strava too – or at least don’t upload and analyse until much later. Get back to the running you enjoy. Take it steady, keep it short, never over exert yourself, but try to get in a few miles of the kind of training that made you fall in love with running in the first place.
BUT WHAT IF NOTHING CHANGES, YOU’RE STILL EXHAUSTED?
In this case it might be time to consider your diet. When we’re running well, we feel invincible and can become oblivious to the impact and strain that we’re putting on our bodies. In the summer months, training can feel easy. Weeks and months get ticked off with no real issues. Come the winter months, we have a change of weather and temperatures, and along with those come the flus and colds. The different conditions can have a major impact without knowing until it’s too late.
Your diet hasn’t changed and you’re not replenishing the lost electrolytes and irons. The body is able to put up with a lot, but once you get a virus or illness, you’re already at such a rundown state that you’re unable to get it back to the levels it once was at.
As runners it has been engrained in us that we must replace our electrolytes, whilst we also understand that iron has a part to play in staying healthy. A lack of iron means a lack of ability to form quality red blood cells, or produce them at the usual number. Red blood cells are what carry oxygen to the muscles and without this the following occurs:
- Tiredness and lack of energy
- Shortness of breath
- Noticeable heartbeats (heart palpitations)
- Lack of energy
- Waking up with aches and pains
So how can we ensure we get enough? Firstly, there isn’t just ONE type of iron. There is ‘Heme Iron’ and ‘Non-Heme Iron’. When you see cereals boasting about being ‘fortified with iron’, or hear about the ‘superfoods’ Broccoli and Spinach being rich with iron, they are both Non-Heme Irons. Heme Irons are much easier for the body to absorb than Non-Heme Irons, whilst Heme Irons also help restore iron levels in the muscle and aid in recovery.
Low iron levels don’t happen overnight, it’s a gradual process. Once your body begins to be deficient in iron, the red blood cells it develops are of smaller and poorer quality. Once your better red blood cells die out, it leaves just the poorer blood cells carrying less oxygen.
It’s therefore no wonder that we jump to the conclusion that we have ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’, as to us, we’re eating the same stuff we’ve always eaten and theoretically should see no change. It is the increases in training, changes in conditions or even the stresses of life that can reduce our iron and vitamin levels and it’s easy to go unnoticed and blame factors elsewhere.
Red blood cells can take 120 days to die out, so expect to see a slow recovery. Iron supplements can help to maintain or boost iron levels back up too.