Recognizing Fatigue

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    This somewhat relates to my other post here in the forum about “how to suffer,” but I’m interested in some discussion around how one goes about recognizing fatigue in a training plan/cycle.

    I’m the first to admit I’m not great at letting how I feel dictate training, whether that is on a specific training run or during a particular training cycle. I feel like I am much more likely to lie to myself with an attitude like “I can handle this” and plow-forward rather than realizing that what I am doing at the micro or macro level is too much and wisely back off. Thus I have tried to rely on “objective” measures such as power/HR on a run (micro), or a Fatigue score such as ATL on Training Peaks (macro).

    But the last few big training cycles I have noticed distinct times when I am just plain tired despite these objective measures…and I’ve had lackluster race results, which I don’t think are coincidence. By “just plain tired” I am specifically referring to feelings like:

    – I don’t want to do this run
    – Dreading an intensity session the next morning
    – laying down following a twice-weekly core workout
    – general malaise

    These are all despite all “objective” measures being “in the green” such as those above but also things like HRV, Garmin’s “stress” or “body battery” (I do know these are far from iron-clad measures of course)…and getting adequate sleep and excellent nutrition. I am older so I don’t recover like I used to, I know that.

    A training cycle is supposed to make you tired at some point, otherwise there is not enough stimulus, I think my question is how do I add some subjective measurement into this equation and what is a good approach to that? Skip a run? Skip several runs? Back off the training until the “good feeling” returns?


    Like you, I use HRV, Garmin body battery etc, but I agree they don’t always align on a day to day basis with how you feel. My advice would be this – be kind to yourself! If you are not feeling great on a high intensity session (ie. not able to meet power or pace targets), turn it into an easy recovery run. If you feel crappy, give the workout a go, and if you are not feeling the love, stop and rest. It’s ok – give yourself permission to say “not today”. You may need 2 rest days a week rather than 1. You’re enjoyment will return……


    One other thing springs to mind. The whole point of 8020 is that most of the workouts are easy so that you can do the hard workouts. When was the last time you did a run or bike fitness test? Your zones may have changed with your fitness, and you may be working too hard on your easy workouts. Just a thought.


    For me, it comes down to just not feeling it. Lack of motivation, feeling run down, etc. I try not to skip runs very often. But if I’m not feeling it, I modify the run. Make it easy. Shorten if necessary. And so forth. Just curious, but do you do cutback weeks? These can really help with running, weight lifting, etc.


    Good feedback, guys, thanks. I do cutback weeks but maybe I need to evaluate the amount I cutback, as well as the frequency. Also I typically have done 2 rest days per week from running (with cross-training on one of those other days). but maybe that needs further exploring.

    I think I know what Matt F would say here, that I’m probably relying too much on those objective measures and I need to back-the-heck-off when I get these fatigue markers described. Probably a good area where a dedicated coach would help – I’ve always heard coaches were better for getting us to back off than to motivate to push-forward. I like self-coaching though, it makes the entire process more fulfilling for me to learn what works and what doesn’t.

    Leyla Porteous

    All great feedback on fatigue management.
    What you have described above
    – I don’t want to do this run
    – Dreading an intensity session the next morning
    – laying down following a twice-weekly core workout
    – general malaise
    these are red flag signs of over-training. Over-training can happen pretty quickly for busy full time working people with life/family stress and not under 30. Then if you add in a few nights of inconsistent sleep (ie not going to sleep at the same time) and underfueling (not eating enough for your training load) then you have a nice recipe for feeling like poop.
    Fix the foundation (sleep, stress management, diet and fueling) adjust your intensity for a few days and wait to see those signs of feeling energised, excited to train and you can get back on track.
    This is a constant self management loop that no device can predict exactly, but one you can management by seeing the early signs of fatigue, focus back on the foundations, and then return to training.
    You can’t build fitness on a tired/stressed/under-fueled body.


    All good feedback, thanks.

    I’ve had some consecutive underwhelming performances so I’m looking for answers and how to course-correct. The latest training cycle leading up to a recent marathon was actually somewhat abbreviated compared to what I usually do, but I scaled things back quite a bit (not as much volume, not nearly as much cross training volume) and I did more frequent cutback weeks (two weeks “on” then one week “off” whereas previously I’d go 3 “on”)…and I didn’t have nearly as much “I don’t wanna” moments.

    Yet, my race still was not what I had hoped (thus prompting the other thread about re-learning how to suffer).

    I think when I was younger (not exactly “young” as I was in my 40s), I was able to tolerate more of these overdoing-it mistakes in my training because A) my body could take it, and also B) there was considerably more “zeal” in what I was doing as much of it I had never done before…not to mention I was having frequent PR breakthroughs feeding that zeal.

    Now I’m in a different place on both of those fronts (older and less resilient – and not getting anymore breakthroughs), so something has to change in my approach. One thing is for sure, if it’s not enjoyable then why do it? I’m generally much happier when I can achieve some balance between still pursuing athletic “fun” while not letting the fatigue affect the rest of my life. And if I’m dragging just to complete my scheduled workouts, then I certainly am not much interested in doing other stuff like family-time and home projects, etc.

    Anyway…I think the point here is to begin to recognize some red-flags of fatigue, I listed some of those above, and know that means some sort of scale back is in order. Maybe that means skipping an intensity session, or moving a cutback week up in the schedule. I’ve read before about athletes training “intuitively” and maybe this is how they do it.


    Tagging onto this post, I have been dealing with some chronic hormonal issues and have found an amazing functional medicine doctor. After a year of blood testing and adjusting my hormone and vitamin/mineral levels, she had me perform The Dutch Test, a urine stress test. The consultants at the company said of my results “we don’t even know how she’s functioning.” Yikes! All this after two years of really easing off my training with a focus on Zone 2 work. I think that most of my stress was work-related, and I’m 6-weeks into a sabbatical where Im really trying to focus on taking care of myself, but part of taking care of myself was an exciting upcoming racing season. Trying to figure out how to move forward. Im told this is a 1-2 year recovery process, but I’m so impatient.



    My advice, for what it is worth, fix it. Health and fitness in that order.

    Leyla identifies the essential pointers to where you might be pressing when you should be focused on recovery. If you follow the training of elite runners you can learn a lot about how they address injuries and adapt to adverse performance. In some cases the pressure to perform is shocking – especially the 2019 Woman’s Marathon Championship where 40% of the field DNF’d – why did they risk their health?

    I’m in an age division that is dominated by individuals that are hobbled in one way or another by training or health issues. I don’t know why, but it is sad, and in many cases preventable.

    The coaches can guide you better, but I will say periodization works. One of the maintenance or goal based plans may be appropriate for you during your recovery. Just “stay in the game”.

    I know runners that have thrived into their 80’s and the joys are immeasurable; be patient, and be a learner…

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