Ross Macdonald is an international long-distance triathlete and one of Europe’s top obstacle course racers. In a bid to be successful in both sports Ross has, in the past, being guilty of over-racing and over-training, resulting in a significant decline in performances. By his own admission, he still races too much, but hopes his story will prevent others falling into such a viscous cycle of excessiveness.
I’m running but there’s no spring in my step. The competition is moving further away from me into the distance and I have no motivation to even try and stay with them. I should be ahead of them, not behind. My arms have no energy and I struggle to complete the monkey bars. I’m not ill but feel light-headed. I’ve completed just two of 12km and I want to stop. I push myself as, despite feeling terrible, I don’t want to quit. I’m not, however, enjoying it. I know I should be. This is the second time in eight days I’ve felt like this. I cross the finish line without my usual smile. I’m exhausted and holding back the tears. My face has no colour and my breathing is irregular. I’m now sat in the medical tent. It was only 12km of racing. What the hell is wrong with me?
There was a time when you could hobble into the office on a Monday morning and announce to your colleagues ‘I ran THE marathon yesterday’. It would be greeted with rapturous applause and you would be treated like a demigod for the rest of the week. Mention in casual conversation down the pub that you’d just completed the Tough Guy obstacle course race and envious friends would buy you pints of beer galore in sheer admiration of your achievements.
Racing two, maybe three, times every weekend. No recovery. No tapering
How times have changed. Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) has exploded in popularity over the past six or seven years. There are now over 250 OCR unique race series and events in the UK alone -that’s five for every weekend of the year. Looking out across the racing calendar, you feel like Augustus Gloop in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory! The big events draw vast numbers of competitors, many of whom will travel huge distances. But one event, it seems, is never enough. Why race and head home when you can turn your weekend into an OCR road trip, travelling with friends to compete in a second, maybe even a third, event. The bigger the racing haul the greater the achievement, right? Wrong.
This is certainly a mentality I’ve held in the past. There have been weekends when I’ve taken part in an obstacle race on the Saturday and a triathlon on the Sunday. For neither race have I been anywhere near 100%. On the Saturday, I found myself unable to commit to the race for fear of suffering an injury ahead of the following days event. Then on the Sunday, I found I was nowhere near recovered from the previous days racing exploits. As a result, I grew increasingly annoyed at my performances, trained even harder during the week to try and improve, but then went into the next weekend’s races even more exhausted. It was a viscous cycle -one that, without the help of a coach, I continued to spin round in. Having this mentality prevents you from ever peaking at races. You never fully recover and never taper into an event.
Overcoming FOMO – The Fear of Missing Out
The motivation to train and race more is obvious and, on the face of it, great to see. The key is not to over-do it. I know first-hand that FOMO (The Fear Of Missing Out) is a strong driver and when rumour gets around of an innovative new obstacle at a certain event it’s hard to say no to racing. Sometimes, however, no has to be the answer.
Okay it’s possible, albeit foolhardy, to race two or three times every weekend if you spend Monday-Friday relaxing, letting your body recover whilst doing only easy exercise. But the even bigger problems come when you race on successive days at a weekend and then in a bid to improve your performance for the following weekend, dive head-first into an intensive training session on the Monday. If you’ve raced hard, you must allow your body time to recover. Trust me. Recovery is key to improved performance.
This is even more important if you’ve picked up a minor injury. It’s easy to injure yourself in OCR as very few of us have a perfect technique on every obstacle, which guarantees you will pick up more than a few bruises. Although they may seem like nothing, these bruises can alter your running form and in turn lead to more serious muscular injuries.
Ask yourself… are you racing too much?
As great as it is that we have so many races in multiple locations each and every weekend, it doesn’t mean you have to do them all. My advice -and event organisers won’t like it as they will need to work even harder to attract you to their races -is to race a maximum of once per weekend. Some would argue it should be a maximum of one race per fortnight (for anything further than a 10k this is what’s needed in order to recover, train and then taper effectively), but by carefully picking and choosing your races you give yourself the best chance of avoiding a burnout.
The next time you’re feeling tired, run down or lacking in motivation, ask yourself… are you racing too much?