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I am very interested in fitness and I have done a lot of training in the past (both cardio and strength). However, I become overtrained very, very easily. When I get overtrained I become extremely fatigued, I have trouble sleeping, I get headaches, I get run down and sometimes I get sick. Therefore, I have to limit my training and this limits my progress and what I am ultimately capable of achieving.

For example, on a background of steady cardio (such as cycling) I started running 3 years ago. I can run 45-50 miles in a month without much problem and I can run 60 miles if I am really careful (in terms of rest and not pushing too hard in my training). Earlier this year I ran 75 miles in a month and it made me overtrained and it took me months to recover from that.

The last few months I have been running 50 to 60 miles each month and this month I finally felt ready to try to step it up again. At almost the middle of the month I have run 36 miles so far. This week I ran or walked 5 days in a row, managing each session so as not to overdo it. However, during yesterday's run I realized I was feeling drained, so I backed off and walked part of the way and cut the distance short. However, by bedtime it was evident that I had become overtrained. Sleeping was very difficult and today I have no energy to do anything. I feel drained and extremely fatigued.

I have been this way my entire life (since I was a teenager). I have been checked by many general doctors and nothing obvious shows up. I don't have any recognizable diseases or even anything obviously wrong according to basic medical examinations. Furthermore, because of my desire to be fit I eat better and follow a healthier lifestyle than any of my friends. The problem most certainly is not a poor diet or lifestyle.

Most people I know who have worse diets and lifestyle are able to training much harder than I can.

It seems to me that I would never be able to run a marathon (or even a half marathon) given the limitations in the amount of training my body can handle. I just could not follow any of the half marathon training programs I have seen without quickly becoming overtrained. The same limitations have been present for any type of physical training I have attempted. I had to give up a sport I loved because even through I had athletic talent for it, I did not have the stamina and I could not find any solution for getting the stamina. (Again, the typical training routines were far too much for me to handle.)

Should I just accept that my body cannot handle much exercise? Or should I go for some really advanced medical tests? If so, any ideas about what should be tested? (I had a treadmill stress test a couple years ago and passed that with flying colors. The doctor remarked on my excellent physical fitness!)

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Are you only focusing on running? Have you tried other endurance or strength activities? To what does 60 miles a month translate, I mean it can be 2 miles each day or 60 miles once a month (the later obviously not the case, but you get what I mean). – Baarn Sep 14 '13 at 21:37
As I mentioned in the post I have done a lot of training including serious cycling and weight lifting. Currently I am focused on running. As part of that I do a moderate strength training program for runners that was recommended by my PT. My running program consists mostly of runs between 2.5 and 4 miles. 4 miles is an easy distance for me at my typical pace. I did one slow 6 mile run this month (and also one 6 mile run last month.) Does that provide the info you need? – Frank Sep 14 '13 at 21:43
I had a similar problem last winter to get beyond ~5-6km running distance, although I am an avid cyclist. I discontinued running due to several reasons (beer and shoes mostly) and just restarted some weeks ago. So I don't know an answer but share an interest in obtaining one. – Baarn Sep 14 '13 at 21:49
However I guess everyone faces this problem, but with running you seem to be much more likely to meet the blerch earlier than with other endurance sports. – Baarn Sep 14 '13 at 21:51
@Mephisto - I am comparing to others to provide essential information for people reading this question. In fact, the basis of my question involves a comparison -- can some people simply not handle typical levels of exercise? If the answer is "yes" then maybe I have to adjust to having limited capacity compared to "normal" people. But I want to know if what I describe is common. If not, maybe I need to go for advanced medical testing. – Frank Sep 14 '13 at 22:17

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I found out what is going on for me. In case others have questions similar to mine, this paper provides a pretty good background:

Myalgic encephalomyelitis: International Consensus Criteria - Carruthers - 2011 - Journal of Internal Medicine - Wiley Online Library

The specific issue that affects me is PENE: Post-Exertional Neuroimmune Exhaustion.

From the paper, PENE is a pathological inability to produce sufficient energy on demand with prominent symptoms primarily in the neuroimmune regions.

Characteristics are:

  1. Marked, rapid physical and/or cognitive fatigability in response to exertion, which may be minimal such as activities of daily living or simple mental tasks, can be debilitating and cause a relapse.

In my case, I am usually OK with mental tasks. I'm also very motivated to exercise and it seems that I have more exercise tolerance than many/most myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) patients, but my exercise tolerance is far below "normal" as I explained in my original question from 2013.

  1. Post-exertional symptom exacerbation: e.g. acute flu-like symptoms, pain and worsening of other symptoms.

As described in my original question, this happens to me very reliably with harder training, even when following exceptionally careful training and nutrition programs. However, I can train below a certain threshold of intensity and volume and I am usually (not always) OK.

  1. Post-exertional exhaustion may occur immediately after activity or be delayed by hours or days.

I have experienced all of these onset times. The effect of exercise is cumulative. The onset depends on training volume, intensity, recovery and sleep, nutrition, general stress and other factors -- the same factors that would affect recovery for anyone. The main difference seems to be sensitivity to these factors and the degree, depth and duration of post-exertional exhaustion.

  1. Recovery period is prolonged, usually taking 24 hours or longer. A relapse can last days, weeks or longer.

As noted in my original question, "Earlier this year I increased my running from 60 miles to 75 miles in a month and it made me overtrained and it took me months to recover from that. And, unfortunately, I have a lifetime of repeated experience with this issue.

  1. Low threshold of physical and mental fatigability (lack of stamina) results in a substantial reduction in pre-illness activity level.

In my case, I have excellent mental stamina -- unless I pass my physical stamina threshold. If I pass my physical limits then I lose my mental energy too and become entirely non-functional, feeling almost like a vegetable.

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I have a theory...

My theory is that you are exercising every day. If so, the problem that you are running into is that you are giving your body insufficient time to recover. This is sometimes expressed as:

Training stress + recovery time = Improvement

If you do not give your body time to recover, you will not improve; you will just continue to accumulate training stress. Depending on how you do it, you will either plateau, or you will get overtrained.

If you work out fewer days during the week, you will be able to work out harder, and that is how you will improve.

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No, I do not exercise every day. In fact, I give myself more recovery time than most other people seem to require. That is why I asked my question. For example, some years ago I found that I make best gains in strength when I workout a muscle group only once every 7 to 10 days. Of course working out so infrequently limits my gains, but working out more frequently limits them even more! – Frank Sep 16 '13 at 14:55

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