You know the feeling, right? It’s the way you feel in the second half of your half-marathon, or a few km’s out from home at the end of a long training ride. Everything is sore, but there’s something more: life just feels shit. Everything irritates you. You just want it to end. And you’ve experienced this more than once.
Does endurance exercise and racing always have to feel this shit? I’m not sure it does.
Without a doubt, endurance training and racing hurts and we have to get used to fatigue, but I wonder if there’s something else brewing in our bodies that causes this deep, deep kakness? After events we typically blame the route, as if there’s something devilish about it that has made use feel this way. But what if the problem is actually in us and the way we manage our hydration, nutrition or intensity? I’m not sure that we always have to feel this way at the end.
There are all sorts of things that can go wrong with our bodies, where the major issues that arise are a lack of nutrition, inadequate hydration, endocrine imbalances or just plain pushing too hard. The underpinning physiological issue here is known as homeostasis, which is the bodies ability to keep everything in balance. The more obvious homeostatic disruptions are things like the glycogen bonk (hitting the wall when your glycogen stores run out), but there can also be a host of other things. One athlete I know discovered that a sodium deficiency was plaguing her ultra marathon racing causing nausea and deep fatigue. She began to consume more sodium every hour and her performance turned around. She also happened to feel a lot better in the second half of her races. She didn’t feel as shit as normal. Bam!
So, here’s the mental trick: do not assume that it always has to feel so shit in the second half of an event or training workout. Be brutal in your self-reflection and determined in researching what may be causing homeostatic disruption. Don’t assume that it was just a hard route, that the conditions weren’t favourable, or worse … that you were just having an off-day.
Develop the ability to unpack and debrief your performances. It’s not something us endurance athletes are normally good at.