Q: My XC season is spiraling fast! Can weight loss be the cause? Help!

Dear Lauren,

I really look up to you and I’m hoping you might have some advice for me.  I am a college runner and just had the best summer of training of my life.  My first week back at pre-season went extremely well too (great workouts, feeling good). However, at the beginning of the second week I started to feel really fatigued and dizzy. I dropped out of a tempo workout, and now for the past two weeks I’ve been struggling with everything. I’m tired all the time. I’ve been severely anemic before and my body feels that way again. I just don’t feel like myself. It’s like I’m in someone else’s body. I have no bounce in my step and midway through any workout I just feel so tired I have to stop – which is not like me at all!

I got blood work done, and the results showed no signs of infection or anemia. The only other thing I’m thinking it could be might be related to the weight I’ve lost over the summer. I didn’t really realize it until I got back to school and people started commenting, but I’ve lost 5 – 10 lbs. And right when I did get to school there was a marked decrease in what I was eating due to getting settled and wanting to look extra lean in my sports bra at practice (silly, I know). My symptoms showed up about a week or so after I started eating less. I also have not gotten a period in three months.

And now, I can’t tell how much of my fatigue is related to emotions. I’m just so anxious and upset over the whole thing. Running has always been my de-stressor, my happy place. I would normally go to practice each day not worrying about the workout or if I’ll crash and burn midway through a run, I knew I could push through it. But now I can’t help stressing over how I will feel each day, wondering when I’ll feel like myself again and when will I feel ready to race. And, unfortunately, the anxiety is affecting my usually ravenous appetite and my ability to sleep.

Therefore, my question to you is have you ever experienced anything like this yourself or seen anyone else go through something similar?  Could it be overtraining, the result of a long summer, or eating habits?  Or could it be possible that by now I’ve freaked myself out so much that my anxiety is causing all my physical symptoms?
Sorry for the long post, but I really hope you might have some thoughts on the matter.

Amy

A:

Hi Amy,

This advice is given with the assumption that you don’t have any hormonal issue. Your symptoms could be related to a thyroid problem, (hyperthyroid can cause rapid weight loss and other symptoms you describe) which if it were me, I’d test for immediately. That being said, I’ve seen and experienced similar issues that were not thyroid related, so the following advice will hopefully be helpful to someone, even if not for you.

What you have described is a common mistake female runners make when they are trying to take their running to the next level. If its not thyroid, I’d bet my favorite Nike Lunarglides that the root of your symptoms are in fact related to weight loss, and that the problem will be quite straightforward to solve.

The Wheel

Think of running as a wheel. The day you caught the desire to be a runner, you were handed a floppy tire tube. You were told that this is the tire that will transport you through your career, and its up to you to build it into a functioning, strong wheel.

The center of the wheel, the hub, is built when you start to visualize your running potential and make competitive goals related to that. Its the focal point that everything rotates around.

But in order for the hub to connect to the rim, you have to build a bunch of spokes. Those spokes are the supporting structures that take your desire and passion and time on your feet and connect it to your goals and your aims. The way you build those spokes is CRUCIAL to the structure and function of the wheel.

Examples of spokes:

  • Nutrition
  • Physical Training
  • Mental Training
  • Community/Social Support
  • Recovery Techniques
  • Life Balance
  • Competition

If you build those spokes evenly over time, your wheel will be strong and carry you with relative ease through your career. Put too much emphasis on one spoke or ignore several of them, and your wheel becomes weak and collapses beneath you.

I am not joking when I say that all of the spokes are equally important. But it is natural when you are learning about a particular subject area to over-do it for a while. Your focus moves away from the hub completely and you dwell on that spoke. Looking the part of a distance runner becomes more important than actually running fast! If your nutrition spoke becomes the center of your wheel, think about how lopsided and wonky it will roll! Think of how dizzy you will get!

Take Action

Here’s what you do: literally grab some paper and draw your wheel (do it. you can do it). Redefine the hub and identify the spokes. Find the weak spots and decide how you will reinforce them. Burn this image of a wheel into your mind and keep coming back to it over the next few weeks. This is called creating a visual cue, which is a way to pull your mind back to the place you need it to be to achieve a particular goal. I use these all the time.

I believe your health will return if you do this and you will get back to kicking ass. It may take a couple weeks, or it may take a couple months, but you have to accept whatever time it takes as part of the repercussions of the decisions you’ve made. Be at peace with that. Its part of the deal.

It would be smart to include your coach in this process as well as a sports nutritionist if possible. And if it were me, I’d ease my training down to 85-90% for a month or two while my body rebuilds. After losing weight and getting weak, there is a time lag in which you are probably more susceptible to injury, even after you tackle the nutrition issues. You have to let your nutrient stores build up a bit without subjecting your body to too much stress. This will take a lot of discipline, but you will save yourself a bigger setback if you heed this advice.

Amy, always remember there is no shame in screwing up. Its a necessary part of reaching out into the unknown of your potential. The only shame would be if you don’t use the resources at your disposal to come through this wiser, stronger, and faster!

Keep us updated!

Lauren

 

A quote I heard from a friend (original source unknown):

“How do you get good judgement?”

“From experience.”

“Oh. How do you get good experience?”

“From bad judgement.”