Guide on stress monitoring when training for your marathon

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A good athlete knows how to listen to and interpret his/her body’s signals- to determine when training can be intensified or when there is a need to back off for a while. There will be some days when you really don’t feel like training, and it is important to understand why. It could simply be a matter of not wanting to go out into bad weather conditions, but on the other hand your body might be trying to signal something more serious.

I remember a biathlon race I took part in one winter. It was a state title and we had to ski 10km, stopping between loops to shoot at the range. I was only about 2km into the race and feeling so drained of energy that I considered stopping. I had never pulled out of a race before and it was a real mental struggle for me as I tried to figure out whether or not I should push myself to keep going. The next hill seemed like Mount Everest, so reluctantly I pulled out. I had no symptoms of any sickness, and I was hoping the coach believed me when I said I couldn’t understand what had gone wrong. The next day my resting heart rate was much higher than usual and so I felt I should go to my doctor for some blood tests. Sure enough the results came back that I had been attacked by a 24-hour virus, and my body’s energy stores had been busy fighting off the intruders instead of helping me win a ski race!24657-1_n

Resting heart rate is often a good indicator of how training is going. Typically, as a body becomes fitter, the resting heart rate will become lower. At my fittest with ski training my lowest recorded HR was 42 beats per minute (b/m), but there are accounts of athletes with recorded heart rates as low as 30 b/m. The average untrained adult usually has a resting HR of between 60-75 b/m.

The idea is to take and record your pulse rate each morning, so that over time you can see if it deviates from the normal reading/ figure out why and if necessary, adjust your training accordingly. Heart rate is best taken first thing in the morning before you get out of bed. The easiest way to check it is to locate the pulse in your wrist artery (on the thumb side) or on a throat artery (slide fingers up alongside the voice box to the top of the throat and press gently). Use the first two fingers and not the thumb, as the thumb has a pulse of its own and can confuse the reading. To get a per minute reading, count the pulses for one minute using a watch for starting and stopping. Over a few days you can see what your average resting HR figure is.

You can also take your HR at the end of training sessions (and during) to compare overtime. It is better to count the pulses over 10 seconds (rather than 1 minute) and then multiply the number by 6 for a per minute reading. This is because once you stop running your HR will drop quickly as you recover, so the shorter recording time will give a more accurate training HR figure. It takes some concentration to get an accurate reading if your heart is pacing though! I take my pulse after most runs, and I usually find that if a session has felt a bit more difficult than usual then my after-training heart rate is often higher as well. It’s interesting to know how different training sessions compare.

If on awaking, your resting HR figure is five or more beats above the usual, then this can indicate one of several things. It may mean that you are coming down with a cold or some other sickness, and your body systems are working harder to overcome the problem. It could also indicate a lack of sleep, emotional stress or an overly hard training session the day before. In such a case the body is signaling that it needs more rest. This is one reason why it is a good idea to plan one or more rest days or very easy workouts straight after your harder Long-Slow Distance (LSD)/Race sessions. Try to avoid doing hard workouts on two consecutive days, as the body needs adequate time to recover after the first session.

Going to a place of higher altitude than you are used to will result in an increased heart rate for the first few weeks of training, until you are acclimatized. This is something to keep in mind if you are entering a marathon that is held in a mountainous area! Running in high temperatures can also cause an increase in training heart rate as the body works harder to stay cool.
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Taking a few days off training due to minor illnesses will not be a setback to your fitness, but training when you are ill can be worse for you than if you had rested. If you’re not feeling too well when you wake up and your heart rate is higher than usual, take a rest day or plan to do a modified run, something shorter and slower than usual. If you feel really drained after a few minutes into the run, then just stop and walk. There is no sense in pressuring yourself to train when your body is not up to it. Learn to listen to your body and understand its signals. I know that if I wake up with the symptoms of a mild common cold (slightly sore throat, sniffles and sneezing), then I benefit more from going for a short, easy run or cycle than if I’d done nothing. However, if it is anything more serious then I will rest until I feel able to train effectively again. Under no circumstances should you train with a fever, as training will increase the already high body temperature, with possible serious consequences. If you’re not sure whether a specific condition should stop you from training, consult a doctor or other qualified practitioner.

Training too hard for too long can lead to a condition of chronic fatigue, also known as burnout or over-training. A cumulative condition, it can last for days or even months. The symptoms of over-training include feelings of general tiredness, irritability and lethargy, a susceptibility to colds, and not wanting to train. The best solution is to take time off from the regular training scheme to give the body and mind a chance to “recharge”. That may be for a few days or a few weeks, but the goal is to build up the mental and physical enthusiasm for running again. Do some completely different activities during that time. Continuing with heavy training when fatigued will only worsen the condition and increase the risk of injury. Also, friends and associates might get sick of being around a grumpy person!

Training Tips
1) Train at the same time each day if possible to establish a routine.

2) Try to have some different run routes for variety.

3) If you’re feeling stale with the same old training, do something completely different for a session or two (swimming, cycling, inline skating, parachuting…..).

4) Do an easy workout before a LSD run and have at least one rest day after it.

5) Don’t schedule a race day close to a LSD run.

6) A day you have to travel somewhere can be scheduled ahead of time as a rest day.

7) Wear comfortable clothing (does not have to be fashionable or expensive!).

8) Don’t over dress, as you will heat up quickly when running.

9) Wear sunglasses on sunny and/or windy days.

10) A baseball cap can help keep rain off your face on wet days.

11) Double knot your shoelaces so that they don’t come undone during the run.

12) I don’t brush my teeth before running as I find my mouth becomes very dry.

13) Sometimes you don’t feel like going for a run because you think it will be slow or hard. Go anyway, as sometimes these turn out to be the best ones!

14) If the run is feeling really bad, or you experience sharp pain somewhere, stop.

15) Run towards dogs cautiously — some like to chase moving objects.

16) Avoid standing on dog poop—it really sticks into your shoe tread!

17) Be enthusiastic about your training—appreciate the fact that you are healthy enough to be able to train with a special goal in mind.


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