The Perfection Problem: Fearing Fatigue

As athletes, we often get set on the idea of what the “perfect” training cycle, week, workout or race looks like. Many times our performance suffers when we expect perfection, try to force perfection or think our success is only realistic on a perfect day. We know that 9 times out of 10 we aren’t going to approach a race, recovery run or workout feeling 100 percent. Our expectations should never be measured by what the “perfect” day would produce. When we focus on what the “ideal” scenario would deliver, we often lose an opportunity to learn and develop as an athlete. To be fair, much of how we develop and improve is based upon how our body learns to adapt to feeling imperfect. 

We want to highlight a few areas where the “perfection” bug can limit our progress if we get too caught up in the ideals. This will be a multi-part series that we will progress through over the next couple of weeks. In this first section we want to address the fear of fatigue and how that can be a limiting factor in your training. 

 When training hard and pushing oneself to a higher level, the body is riding a fine line between simply being fatigued and overdoing it. Often that fine line also includes a side of soreness/aches and small pains. During heavy training periods soreness and fatigue are common. In fact, we must become experts at handling training stress when we are fatigued. Often we get caught up in the idea that the body must feel great to complete training as planned. However that is rarely the case. Sometimes we cut things short or take days off or try to skip a workout when we are feeling this way, often (not always) this is a mistake as you are missing a chance at a valuable adaptation to stress your body is learning to take. You will be amazed at how your body can adapt to intelligent increases in training loads when done correctly. You don’t always have to feel “perfect” to get the training in. 

Imagine this, you are training for a marathon and you are in the height of heavy training. Every week after your Saturday long run you have a Tuesday workout planned. As that long run gets longer, you notice yourself skipping that Tuesday workout or cutting it short again and again. Why? Because you felt legs were a little sore or still a little tired from the weekend. By the end of your training cycle you realize that you missed over half of your quality sessions. Ouch. Training is a calculated art of combining stress, rest, and active recovery. In the height of your training cycle, stress isn’t just applied when the body is feeling primed and fresh. Often we are operating under some level of fatigue. We want the body to adapt to the training stimulus being applied. 

With all that being said, listening to your body is still a critical piece to successful training. Pain is different than being sore, and fatigue shouldn’t be an everyday thing for weeks on end. If your recovery days aren’t feeling like recovery, then chances are you may need to take a step back and lighten your training load or make some necessary adjustments. Continue to work on the things that can reduce chances of injury and being overly fatigued. Though fatigue is an inevitable part of a training cycle, that doesn’t mean we do not do things to mitigate symptoms of fatigue that lead to exhaustion or injury. Getting proper sleep, consuming proper recovery nutrition, staying hydrated throughout the day and receiving body work or taking to roll and stretch are all things that aid in helping the body handle the daily stress of training. 

Fatigue is natural, don’t let the idea of perfect feeling legs limit you in your training cycle.


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Will Christian

I was a 2:27 marathoner that seemed to have hit the ceiling. It seemed that I couldn't break that time. I ran a 2:20 marathon this past fall and a big reason for that success was due to coaching and guidance. Coaching is like having a second set of eyes on a problem.

As an active duty service member we are taught "Attention to Detail." I was focusing on my stronger attributes while neglecting my weaker ones. My personal coach pointed a few things out and changed a few of my workouts and like magic; I smashed my PR in the marathon.