973741 tn?1342342773

Questions to our Runners in the group

Soooo, my son who is a competitive distance runner was pulled during a run last week after 3 miles by his coach who says something is wrong.  He's been sluggish and fatigued since starting back in early June.  This coach has coached my son through two cross country seasons, one track season and as far as they got before covid shut down sports last spring, so three months of training.  He know my son and his ability.  My son can't keep up with kids he's previously been able to and is struggling.  Now, he' had depression this summer and maybe that mental health piece is impacting him.  But I'm not sure. This is a new varsity group and they are not working together like previous groups.  The boys in varsity range from super fast to kids about a minute and a half behind them.  But in previous years, the group trained as a unit with the fastest guys working with the others to increase their speed which impacts the whole team.  Cross country doesn't win by having one or two guys with a fast time, they need the entire pack to place well and that's how you win.  We had twins that were super star runners (can do a 5 K in about 15 minutes flat, occasionally breaking 15) and they kept the group together, improving and motivated.  They graduated.  The new top guys are not team players and run off by themselves.  But even without that, my son's time has slowed down with no reason why that we know of.  We have an order from the doctor to get his iron checked and thyroid as hyper thyroid has been suggested to us by a couple of different people.  He doesn't exactly fit the symptoms but he IS underweight (but he runs 6 days a week, heavy mileage so that is hard to tell), has anxiety, has vision problems (wears glasses and needs a new prescription about every 6 months), has sleep disturbance, and has gi problems.  But otherwise, not really sure it fits.  He started doing weight training at a sports performance facility three times a week with his brother.  His brother, a soccer player, wants to develop some mass (my boys are thin).  They've been doing the same routine.  It's meant to bulk up the muscles.  It lasts about an hour and a half and is pretty heavy lifting.  The slow down correlates with that.  He stopped going a week ago.  His coach doesn't know if that would still be impacting him if that were the cause.  They run a lot.  Anywhere from 6 to 15 miles a practice, 6 days a week plus core work.  But this has always been the case and hasn't been a problem for him.  None the less, he has been put on rest for fatigued muscles by the coach.  He's returning this week.  Any ideas?  Does this happen where time all of a sudden drops off significantly?  He hasn't grown, he hasn't done anything different than the weight training and the depression.  We'll see what the blood work reveals if anything.  He's had a lot of vomiting during races in the past. His coach wants me to help get him back on track.  I'm a little bit lost.  He's going to virtually start working with a counselor but we had that set up before this came up (took a long time to get an appointment).  Is his mind and feelings of inadequacy slowing him down or pressure to perform?  Sigh.  I just don't really know.  
5 Responses
Sort by: Helpful Oldest Newest
134578 tn?1642048000
Fartlek, despite what one might assume, means "speed play" in Swedish. When my husband and his running friends began doing fartleks in the 1980s, I couldn't help but wonder if they did them mostly because they liked to say the name.
Helpful - 0
Maybe?  I've been doing fartleks long before I knew the name of them, and I assume many runners do them even if they've never heard of a fartlek.  The first time I remember purposefully doing them was between power or telephone poles when I was training for my first marathon in 2012, I don't think I knew the name until listening to running podcasts, probably 2016-2017ish.  One of the podcasts I listen to (ultrarunnerpodcast.com) ends every interview with a "fartlek round", so that's probably where I first heard the term.

I'm thinking I probably have done them even before 2012 (I started running around 2001), but in 2012, marathon training meant a lot more miles and needing to find more ways to keep my brain entertained while slogging through some very long runs.  It is very natural to want to vary pace or effort during a run.

I also did "walking fartleks" last week when I wasn't allowed to run, because I get so bored just walking.  It definitely helps pass the time a little faster.
When you've been used to years and years of being able to do whatever you want as hard as you can, and you get old and injured and everything hurts and so you have to walk, it is really boring.  I want so much to move faster and harder.  I used to make it work by walking a really long time, more hiking really, in the woods and that was fun.  But now I can only walk shorter distances and so it really is just boring.  And sad.  But it's probably not that way for those who didn't do a lot of sports and other things.
Walking buddies definitely help.  I did a few walks with my mom last week, and that seemed less boring.  I have no idea how I can run for 2 hours (or 4 hours) with no problems at all with concentration or boredom, but walking for an hour is so hard.  
Can't tell you how much I find exercise for its own sake boring. The year I volunteered in my second-grade son's classroom every day was a great year, because it was a job you do on your feet, and therefore I was moving all the time all day. I think for me the trick is doing something else that has has a goal that isn't exercise but requires you to move to do it. Like, for example, gardening or digging a trench for a fence, or helping with second-graders. Only when I get into really good shape does my body call out for exercise for its own sake. That hasn't happened for a while, so I know I'm not in shape. Still searching for that activity that tricks me into exercising in order to do it.
134578 tn?1642048000
My husband, a runner, also added that if the faster runners are allowed by the coach to ditch slower runners and go off by themself, that's bad coaching. He thought the coach should do some trade-ups of "pace leader" so everyone gets a small group to be the pace leader of, and they trade off that role. The faster runners will get just as good of exercise even when they aren't running their top speed, and they can do some fartleks too.

[Description of fartleks: " After a warmup, you play with speed by running at faster efforts for short periods of time (to that tree, to the sign) followed by easy-effort running to recover. It’s fun in a group setting as you can alternate the leader and mix up the pace and time. And in doing so, you reap the mental benefits of being pushed by your buddies through an unpredictable workout. If you’re running solo, you can use it as a playful way to pass the time by targeting random markers as the finish line for the hard efforts. The goal is to keep it free-flowing so you’re untethered to the watch or a plan, and to run at harder efforts but not a specific pace."]

Anyway, not to repeat the (much more) excellent advice you've gotten above, but I'd suspect a physical problem first and would check for things not so obvious like Covid and Lyme disease and anemia. If that is all negative, I'd wonder if it was a mental thing, like he's burning out on running in general. After that, I'd question whether it's an emotional thing, like he doesn't feel welcome in the group any more. Teenagers do sometimes just change their mind about liking something enough to keep doing it, especially when there is a fine line between it being fun and it being boring and hard. Something might have made it cross that line.

Good luck figuring it out.
Helpful - 0
Those fartleks, a great term I never heard before, are a standard training technique for any sport that requires a lot of sprinting or fast running.  It's what fad exercise gurus call interval training.  All basketball players do them.  All football players.  All sprinters.  It's not for fun, it's for building speed, endurance, leg strength, and improving your burst.  
The article I took the quote from was explaining the difference between interval training, tempo runs and fartleks. (Apparently there is one.) lol
I do intervals, for example 1 min "fast" 1 min "slow" x 20, when I want to work on my speed and do some of my fastest running.  Intervals usually have a defined time or distance.  If I do intervals, I do a warm up and cool down.

I do fartleks when I want to increase my speed a little, but not do a very hard workout where my heart rate is elevated for a large portion of the run.  I might do a whole long run full of short fartleks, or I might just throw some fartleks in towards the end of an easy run.  The main difference is fartleks have no set plan, and are usually of variable distances and time.  For example, when I'm feeling very slow but want to run a little faster, I will run faster past 4-5 driveways on the suburban streets I run on, or faster to the next stop sign.  I will sometimes do a fartlek based on a song I'm listening to.  I'm about to go out for a run this morning, and now fartleks are on the brain and I will probably throw some in.  

Some people probably do fartleks at much faster bursts of speed - there is no set pace and distance.  It is "speed play" and can make a boring run a lot more interesting.  

Tempo runs are where a certain (usually predetermined) pace is held for usually a mile or more.  For example, I do most of my runs at an easy run pace between 11:30 and 12:30 per mile right now.  The last tempo run I did, I did 5 miles at a pace of 9:45, which is much faster than my easy pace, but slower than what I do those 1 minute intervals at.  Usually the pace is determined ahead of time by a coach, or in my case, what pace I think I might be able to maintain for a set distance.  My fastest 10K is at a 9:10 minutes per mile pace, so 9:45 was doable, but not a comfortable pace to maintain.  If I do tempo, I also do warmup and cool down.

There are also fast bursts of running usually done at the end of an easy run, called "strides" where a runner will run at almost an "all out" fast pace for 15-20 seconds, usually for 4-8 strides total with some slower recovery between.  I don't count these as intervals or fartleks, they are in their own class.  
I still just love that word.  Never heard it before.  The first time I ever saw someone train that way was a guy I worked with who had gotten into professional kick boxing a bit and was a very experienced martial artist.  He would run a sprint on a track, then stop and walk, then run a sprint, then stop and walk.  I don't know if he had a set distance or not, but this is a very typical kind of training.  When I tried out for basketball in high school we did this kind of training, though I had to stop and go to work instead.  From that interval training was born, but mostly to make money.  Everyone already knew and had always known it was a great way to build endurance, to really work the heart in a relatively short amount of time.  When I used to run, I ran for about 6 miles, and I always sprinted the last segment.  But nobody ever told me I was doing a fartlek, and it would have been a lot more fun if they had!
I've done interval exercise classes.  Apparently, that up and down of your heart rate is extremely effective.  I was in great shape then . . .   hm, maybe I need to start fartlek-ing again.  My husband would contend I still do that but he really doesn't know the true meaning . . .   also love the word!
When my sons started running, I was amazed at all the different things they do.  They have tempo runs, they have progressive runs, they have springs, they have strides, they have work outs which are regular runs, they have hill runs.  All planned out methodically by the coach.  Enough to make me tired just thinking about it.  Today was a shoeless run through the grass.  My son has sensory issues, that's definitely not his favorite.  You also are supposed to start decreasing distance and intensity as the end of a season approaches and your biggest races are coming up (or for non school athletes, before an event that you want to do well in).  That makes you go faster when you need to.  I really never need to go that fast unless I'm slipping in a grocery store "run" in between carpooling.  
Avatar universal
Has he been tested for covid?  More than once, as there are so many false negatives?  We're in a pandemic and he's fatigued.  Might not be a coincidence.  I doubt anxiety would slow anyone down.  I've had it for a long time and it had no effect at all on my athletic performance.  The meds we take for it do, though.  Sometimes you get used to them and sometimes you don't, but they are all sedating.  Unless you're feeding him terribly, anemia is probably not it, but a doc will test for everything if it's a good doc.  Have you asked him?  Given what you've said about him, is it possible it's his mood?  Depression is much more likely than anxiety to have such an effect.  Has his sleeping changed?  And it could just be he's aging out of running and aging into something else athletically.  People who are good at things when they are very young aren't usually good at it as they age, which is why elite athletes get very few in number.
Helpful - 0
He really has no symptoms of covid other than fatigue and this has been building and going on for a pretty long time.  They asked me about getting him checked for mono.  But again, he doesn't have anything like a sore throat or fever.  His coach has been doing it for 14 years.  While the age factor might be true, he didn't age between March and June that would effect him.  His coach is noting something is out of place and wrong and it's unusual.   Anxiety has allowed people slower than him in races pass him.  He gets sick, he gets anxious, he gets stiff.  And the depression is new.  I'm ready to skip the running and get him on some medication.  He doesn't want that though.  
Avatar universal
Hi specialmom,

It could be many things.  

1.)  Anemia.  I'm no expert on fast running, but I am an expert on running while anemic, apparently.  Last December I found out that I've probably been anemic for at least a portion of every month for the last few years (which probably started by having hypothyroidism which can cause very heavy and prolonged "cycles", but in December and January, I learned I have a large fibroid that really has exacerbated the whole losing iron thing to unimaginable levels.  Enough where I was worried I might have to go the ER if I passed out).   I don't want anyone to be anemic, but especially as a runner, I don't want myself to have to deal with being anemic and trying to run.  It sucks.  

I recently had surgery to remove a fibroid (this is a whole long fibroid story, but I was having very heavy iron loss every month since December, was on estrogen suppressing medication which successfully shrunk the fibroid Feb-June).  I had an EKG before this surgery In July, and it showed I have an enlarged left atrium in my heart.  This can happen inpeople with anemia and uterine fibroids, and I can only imagine what contribution the huge amount of running I do has had on this issue.

My point is, it could be anemia, and that is not something you want your son to be pushing himself very hard to keep up with the other boys if he has it, because it puts a whole lot of stress on the heart to keep sending oxygen to the muscles.  It is like opposite doping, and when I stopped being anemic in March and early April, I found it so much easier to run up hills like I used to years ago.  

2.)  Overtraining syndrome or muscle soreness from weight lifting.  It could also be that he is overdoing it lifting weights, and his body just needs more time to recover.  In late May and early June  I did too many "workouts" (Tempo runs, long runs, hilly runs and hill repeats) without giving myself enough recovery, and definitely noticed my whole body feeling sluggish and just not feeling up to my normal running speed or distance the following week.  

Google "overtraining running", and you come up with "overtraining syndrome" - I believe this is from a Runner's World article:"One of the most common symptoms of overtraining syndrome is burnout. A runner who puts so much stress on his- or herself (think: poor sleep quality, caloric deficiency, and increased anxiety about an upcoming race) will feel spent. Mental fatigue is often overlooked, but it is an important part of training."

The reason the coach is having him rest a week might possibly be from burnout.

As for "bulking up", sprinters usually have more muscles which help them run very fast.  Long distance runners (including cross country) usually have much leaner muscle mass because any extra muscle weight that doesn't help them run is extra weight in general which can slow them down.  If his 3 x a week weight lifting sessions are bulking him up, this might be adding unnecessary weight as well as causing muscle damage.  In order to build muscle, you must cause muscle tears, which can cause inflammation and soreness,  and from my own experience, whenever I've done enough weight lifting (we are talking body weight squats and lunges and 24 pound total deadlift - I am no body builder and apparently pretty weak), I end up with DOMS which definitely slows my running down when I'm running sore.

3.)  Not heat adapting well.  It could be that his body is not becoming heat adapted as quickly as the other boys on the team.  Runners can adapt to running in very hot temperatures and this usually takes about two weeks.  It still won't be as efficient or have as fast of times as running in cooler temperatures.  My body is definitely not heat adapting properly this summer (but I'm still currently on or just coming off the last injection of Lupron Depot, which suppresses estrogen.  So basically, I have hot flashes upwards of 15-20 times a day - and running turns in to just one giant hot flash where it feels about 15 degrees warmer than it is.  This was fine it February, and if my surgery had been in May when it was supposed to be, that would have been great.  Running in 80 degrees now is awful.)

What difference does temperature make?  Back in March, my average easy run pace was around 11:30 per mile.  I'm slow, but I also have some health issues and I run because I like running, not to race anyone else.  Now, with 80 degree temperatures, even before surgery my average easy run is around 12:15/mile.  Post surgery is even slower, but it has been a lot hotter.

And on the topic of heat adaptation, I hope he is getting enough electrolytes.  It has been in the 80s here, and I have been "intuitive electrolyte supplementing" - normally I run with water and do electrolytes after the run at home.  The last several days, I have been running with water and electrolytes, and then if I feel like I still need more, taking more when I get home.  As much as some might think that eating a diet with salt in it is enough to replenish electrolytes, if I am too low, I wake up with fingers swollen like sausages and deal with twitching or cramping muscles.  

Helpful - 0

4.)  Anxiety. I will mention here that I a.) definitely have anxiety issues I deal with, my anxiety is unrelated to running but affects my running and b.) can't prove that the anxiety is not entirely linked to my thyroid hormone levels or how thyroid hormone has impacted other hormones in my body.

3 times in my life, I have felt an overwhelming crushing level of anxiety.  I also had undiagnosed Hashimoto's that might have been a contributing factor the first time in 2014, when I was living in the UK and went to A&E for panic attacks.  The second time was when I definitely had lumps on my thyroid and was dealing with heavy iron loss each month (and the anxiety was triggered by that monthly iron loss, but it is possible sky high estrogen levels were also playing a role).  This last time was in 2019, my mom had double knee replacement surgery at the same time my estrogen levels were probably too high, because this was right before I had some of the worst fibroid bleeding in December.  I went on anti-anxiety medication briefly (7-8 months in 2014, maybe 7 months in 2018), but in 2019-2020, I learned I had a fibroid and then went on estrogen lowering medication, and while I still was having anxious thoughts pop in my head in March-June 2020, I was able to manage my anxiety so much better with estrogen suppressed.  It is amazing how much hormones can play a role in mental health.  (I'm not saying this is true for all people with anxiety or depression, but for me, it is.)  Your son probably does not have "too much estrogen" causing anxiety, but that doesn't mean there might be more to it than just pressure from the team to run faster, mental health is quite complex, and sometimes there are health issues, sometimes just stress that causes anxiety.

I also have family members and close friends who deal with anxiety and/or depression with medication.  I'm for whatever works for that person.

This latest "week of anxiety" for me was in November 2019, and I couldn't even run (for two or three days) I was so overwhelmed by just a sense of impending doom.  In comparison, I ran everyday between my first D&C in January where we discovered the fibroid (following the 7 day post-surgery "not allowed to run" time) up until this second surgery in July, so taking a day off of running for anxiety issues is not something I normally do.  

As to pressure to perform... some people are genetically superior runners and there is nothing your son could do to compete against the fastest runners.  I am sure his coach just wants him to perform to the best of his ability.  As a parent, I think the best thing you can do is encourage your son, but let him know that his performance at cross country does not define who he is as a person, and that as a high school cross country athlete, as long as he is trying to the best of his ability, it doesn't matter in the long run how well he performs.  (I guess if he is trying to get into colleges with a cross country scholarship, it does matter, but otherwise, this should be something that he enjoys doing.)   You can tell him that you want him to do well and succeed, because that is what parents want for their children, but if you can find a way to support him without also adding to his performance anxiety, that would be great.  

This year has been extraordinarily stressful for many people, and sometimes generalized anxiety can have an impact on running performance as well.  I would make sure that he knows that it is ok to have anxiety and depression, and that you are going to try to figure out what is causing it, and find ways to help deal with it when it occurs.  

Does anxiety and depression slow someone down?  I guess it depends on if he is feeling it while running, or if he can take his mind off the anxiety and/or depression while doing his training runs and just focus on the running.  This is easier said than done, in my experience.  Sometimes I can distract myself, sometimes I can't.  If he is having very serious anxiety, it might be worth having a conversation with your son and his doctor about using medication in the short term to get it under control.

5.)  Hyperthyroidism.  This sounds like a long shot because it is very uncommon in men, but he has enough symptoms - GI, anxiety, sleep problems to get tested.  Also, hyperthyroidism can cause heat intolerance, and I can only assume that running with heat intolerance is like running with a super long hot flash, and can cause poor heat adaptation.  So if he is poorly responding to the hot temperatures while other teenage boys are doing fine, that is all the more reason to check out his thyroid.  

TL;DR.  Ok... this was very long and let's see if the website lets me post this (it didn't and I split it).  Burnout can happen and that is probably why a week off was suggested.  Hyperthyroidism symptoms are worth getting tested, hopefully that is not the problem, but if it is it can be treated. .  It is hot outside, and sometimes not all athletes adapt at the same rate to the heat (just like not all athletes respond to training at altitude in the same way.)  Regardless of the reason why he has anxiety, talking to someone about his anxiety is a good idea.  High school cross country might be the most important thing in his life right now, but 10 years from now it will be a distant memory.  If he has "lost fitness", then that suggests that something could be wrong medically and is well worth having some tests done, not to improve his overall running speed but because there might be a health issue.  If the tests come back with everything fine, maybe ease off of the weight lifting and see how that impacts his running.

Good luck, and I hope he feels better.  It sucks having anxiety and depression, and hopefully all he needs to get back on track with his running is some rest.  He might need a couple weeks.  

This was extremely helpful.  I have read it and appreciate very much all of this information.  There are many nuggets to think of.  It's super hot here, we're having a summer well into the 90's.  He's tired.  He's anxious.  He's depressed.  And I need to rule out the iron, hyperthyroid and anything else medically related.  Agree, his running is secondary to his health.  I wish he didn't have the pressure he puts on himself about it or that he ties his ego to it. It makes it really hard to keep it in perspective for him. But he is fatigued overall.  The thing with the "pressure to perform" is that not from my side of the family, but both of my kids are genetically predispositioned to be fast.  Naturally.    As a sophmore, he timed the 2 mile at 10:40 and the 1 mile at 4:30.  Those are fast times for underclassmen in our city. His 5 K last year was around 17:05.  All of this with vomiting and anxiety during every 5K race.  If he could get rid of that nausea (with or without vomiting), who knows what his time could be!  I think that is part of what frustrates him.  And he is decidedly more nauseated during races. None of that is new.  The new part is the current fatigue and that he is like 4 minutes slower than his times in March.  I'm ready to just disappear to an island and forget all of this.  Ha Ha.  I wish it weren't so important to him.  
134578 tn?1642048000
I'd look for physical causes before mental ones. Yes, it isn't as much fun when the team players leave, but that shouldn't cause this noticeable of a problem. They ARE running a lot of miles. Going with the doctor running some tests sounds like a good idea to me.
Helpful - 0
Yes, we need to rule that out first.  I agree.  He's definitely got some mental health things going on.  And depression can leave you flat and without energy.  This has been a tremendously stressful period for us.  For us all.  
Have an Answer?

You are reading content posted in the Weight Loss and Fitness Community

Top Healthy Living Answerers
649848 tn?1534633700
Avatar universal
Arlington, VA
Learn About Top Answerers
Didn't find the answer you were looking for?
Ask a question
Popular Resources
14 super-healthy foods that are worth the hype
Small changes make a big impact with these easy ways to cut hundreds of calories a day.
Forget the fountain of youth – try flossing instead! Here are 11 surprising ways to live longer.
From STD tests to mammograms, find out which screening tests you need - and when to get them.
Tips and moves to ease backaches
Here are 12 simple – and fun! – ways to boost your brainpower.