Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Patience and Experience

Photo by Cameron Baird

"Be patient with everyone, but above all, with yourself... Do not be disheartened by your imperfections. How are we to be patient in dealing with our neighbor's fault if we are impatient in dealing with our own?" -Saint Francis de Sales
"Experience is not what happens to you; it is what you do with what happens to you." - Aldous Huxley

In an email the other day my mom reminded me to re-read the quotes that I have in my email signature and remember what they say. She was reminded me to be patient with myself which I have most definitely not been. After dropping from States at mile 55, I wanted to feel immediately better, I wanted the two IVs I had at Michigan Bluff to instantly wipe away any effects of the 50 miles of running. I wanted to take that 55 miles of running and turn it into (in my head) a training run for something else. I spent a good deal of time last week trying to figure out what race I should hasten to do next. 

But when the dust started to settle and I relaxed back into normal life, I realized and accepted that I have nothing to prove and that what happened should not be overlooked or ignored for its severity. Hastening to do another 100 miler immediately (like a week and a half from now) would ultimately set me up for extreme struggle and quite possibly failure. Instead of making that kind of rash decision, I resolved that I would take the time to truly feel better, try and get to the root of the problem and maybe, just maybe, take some time off for good measure. I even went to the doctor last week, got bloodtests and made sure that all systems were go before deciding on what to do next. I figured, like most bloodtests I have received in the past 5 years that my iron would be low and some other levels of something would need addressing.

I got my results back and everything was "normal". Even my ferritin (iron) levels were twice as high as they have been in 5 years. And while that still means they are below normal, it means I am moving in the right direction. Looks like the Floradix I've been taking has actually had a good effect (despite realizing the other day that I have been taking a NOT gluten free version for 2 months-no wonder I have been having breathing issues). With the results in hand I decided that that meant I should feel better right? I should feel normal right? That's how my brain works sometimes. I wanted to be better now, I wanted to be back on track now.

That is when my mother reminded me of my own quote. And I have to agree and remember to be patient with myself. I still feel like my immune system is battling something, some low grade virus as it has been for nearly a month now. It's annoying, it makes me tired beyond belief, but it is there and can't be ignored.

Learning from my own and others experiences really helps though. I know that if I just pickup training again without taking a step back that I will likely burn out before I even make it to my next race day. I know plenty of people in our sport are unwilling to take days off, unwilling to rest and that is not a model I aspire to follow, at all. I think rest and recovery is a part of training. A part of training that ultimately is harder than the training itself! We all love to be out there running, working hard, testing ourselves and it is hard to say, eh I am going to take a week off, a month off, whatever it takes to feel better, rested and really ready to go. 

Nathan heading out on the Iron Horse Trail for 48 miles.

On Saturday, I crewed for Nathan as he did a 48 mile, very hot road run in preparation for his upcoming race at Burning River. It is a true test of patience and resolve to rest to be around people who are in peak training and not want to be out there. But my experience has taught me to listen to my body over my mind. When I wake up in the morning and my body is telling me to grab a spoon for breakfast instead of my running shoes and socks, I have to listen. When the alarm goes off and I feel like I haven't slept at all despite being asleep for more than 8 hours, I have to pay attention. I am running yes, but with no pressure, no guidelines. Some days I run, some days I don't. 

In my first year of ultrarunning, I took a full 3 1/2 weeks off from running. A true off season. The next year, I took off maybe a week and a half. This past year, I took a few days off after JFK in November then really never took any time off, I just kept going. I felt fine, I was racing well, I was loving training, not feeling burnt out at all. Experience has taught me that rest should come before you need it, that an off season should be something you do before you are so tired and dead on your feet that you can barely stand it. I want to run for a long time and therefore I know that I need to value rest as much as I value training. It is as simple as that for me. But it is also something that can easily get lost in the excitement of all the races there are to do, the fun I have training, the adventures that we go on.

I love to run and I want to (more often than not) be excited when I head out the door to engage in it. I look forward to the work, the training, the racing I will do in the future. But right now, I have to be patient and wait for my body to be ready to do it. Experience tells me that if I am patient and rest and recover that I will be ready to go fresh and new in no time. Until then, I am going to go put me feet up, kick back and enjoy the current hard work I have to do: relaxing and resting.


  1. I am running better than I have in years after taking the winter off to just ski and play in the snow. It's weird but my race times (in shorter distances, on road, at least) are almost as fast as they were 5 years ago when I trained hard and did speedwork and all that. I think rest does the body good.

  2. After so many highs and a few lows, Devon, I can assure you that the lessons learned and the patience plotted will ensure that you are/become the quality person, not just runner, your standards demand! There is so much to you -- your next layer of the onion is trying to emerge. Keep an eye out for your older wiser self!!

  3. i found your fastfoodiecooks blog recently and have been following you since... i was sad to hear you dropped from states!

    thanks for writing this post though, i think this is an important lesson for all athletes, especially endurance athletes, to keep in mind. you can't keep going all the time, no matter how much we want to and love it.

  4. "I still feel like my immune system is battling something, some low grade virus as it has been for nearly a month now. It's annoying, it makes me tired beyond belief, but it is there and can't be ignored."

    Probably an after-effect of taking something with gluten in it for a couple of months? Immune systems have that effect on one when they are working their asses off! Sounds like rest is exactly what your body is screaming for - so glad you set the 'ego' aside to listen to it. It will only serve to make you stronger, both physically and mentally. Oh, and I DO love your mom - she is a very wise person! :-) Love you too!!!

  5. Rest - the ultrarunnner's four letter swear word. But it can only do you good. You will lose nothing it terms of your abilities and the building back up will be even more fun in that love-hard-work approach of yours... once your body is ready for it. In the meantime, there's Le Tour to enjoy!

  6. Devon, thank you for sharing so openly. I've been going through an extremely similar situation although I am a little earlier in my ultrarunning experience. I'm also gluten intolerant ( but negative for Celiac) and take Floravital (the gluten-free :) After a slew of races this year and not feeling great at any of them, I've decided to take the rest of the year off from racing and keep my eyes on Mont Blanc for next year. One of the most difficult things, I've found, is knowing when it is "ok" to get back into it. My mistake has been to repeatedly get back into it too quickly.

    I'm wondering what your blood counts were like. I also had a lot of tests run and had normal levels of everything (except Vitamin D) so I was suspecting a virus.

    I love reading your blogs and am a fellow foodie :)

  7. Devon, If you don't mind an ultrarunning veterinarian's analysis-lol-Your symptoms and history (races/training) make me wonder about possible borderline adrenal insufficiency (literally the adrenal glands getting a little burned out) which can result in symptoms similar to what you describe.Bloodwork can look completely normal and adrenal function tests may not pick-up the more subtle "underactive adrenals"-an internist needs a high degree of suspicion to investigate; but your history is suggestive of it. Continue to do exactly what you are kinda sucks I know! Good luck Devon- it's all part of the experience!

  8. Your message of patience and rest is a wise one. Those of us with more motivation than ability know how to overdo it too. I never really took an off season last fall or winter and have tried instead to hold onto fitness gains despite a foot injury that has spawned numerous follow on injuries. I can run up a few hills that I couldn't before, but at the expense of speed on the flats and downhills because of accumulated injuries and fatigue. The result- net slower and aching somewhere much of the time. It doesn't help that I recover slower, being old and all that. So I think you are smart to go by how you feel. The adrenal fatigue idea is a possibility too, and presumably that argues for rest too. Still, forty mile road runs are hardly restful :).

    Good luck!


  9. I was going to add, take a look at Gary Robbins' story- a complete rest for 3 weeks after Miwok, and relatively little running thereafter before running WS. The rest did his body good.

    And then there is the "Zatopek phenomenon"- he was hospitalized for two weeks before the 1950 Olympics, and was only released two days before he won the 10km by a full lap.

  10. One other thing: there is an iphone app for monitoring training that you might find useful (I haven't tried it so have no personal experience). The forum on that site has some interesting discussion too.

    And there is a scientific study here



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