Sleepless in Virginia

The marathon is the one running distance I haven’t gotten faster at in five years of running. I’ve improved my PRs in the 5k, 10k, and half marathon over those years, but a new marathon PR has eluded me. My current marathon PR is my 2009 Richmond Marathon time (4:40:49). That was my second running race ever, of any distance, and it is still the race I am most proud of. It is such a huge accomplishment to run 26.2 miles and just finishing that race was truly life-changing. However, I know I have a faster marathon in me and I am still waiting to prove that fact.

Since 2009, I have run three additional marathons and everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong during those races – injury, nutrition, weather – you name it. I’ve had one disappointing race after the next. This year, I have made major gains in my general fitness and running speed and I really thought this was going to be my year to finally have a breakthrough at 26.2.

I’m supposed to run marathon number five on November 15, again in Richmond. The race is just four weeks away and I fear that I may have another bad race in store, despite all of my improvements this year. Marathon training just has not gone as planned.

The short(ish) version of the story is that about five days after Rev3 Poconos (which was September 14), I started experiencing extreme fatigue and heavy, tired legs. There were days where I couldn’t finish even short, easy runs without walking. I took a couple of days totally off – no exercise at all. That didn’t really seem to help. I also couldn’t sleep through the night. While I have always been a light sleeper, waking up often throughout the night, I have never had prolonged periods of not sleeping for hours on end, night after night.

While my legs seem to be back, for the most part at least (perhaps due to starting to take an iron supplement), over a month later, the insomnia has actually gotten worse. I’ve tried a number of sleep aids, including by prescription, but I still can’t sleep. For example, I may fall asleep okay, but then wake up at 1:00 a.m. and be wide awake and unable to get back to sleep. Sometimes, I can’t fall asleep, and then finally will, but for only a few hours – say, 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m.

Not surprisingly, as a result, I am exhausted all of the time. And, of course, I’m trying to work, keep up with family commitments, and train for a marathon. This is not a great combination. Obviously, my performance has been compromised. I’m doing the best I can, with the help of my very supportive and understanding coach, but there is only so much you can do when your body and mind are just worn out.

So, here we are four weeks out from another marathon with things not going according to plan. I’m trying to stay hopeful, and I do still think I may be able to pull out a PR if things go my way on race day. I would just really like to get some sleep before then.

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7 thoughts on “Sleepless in Virginia

  1. Good luck Stephanie. I went through phases of difficulty sleeping (and also night sweats) over the last year as well. I had blood tests and hormones checked and all that was okay. So it may have been part overtraining or part life/job stress. You’ve got such a good fitness base at this point you could probably err on the side of taking a more conservative taper if it helps you sleep and rest. Will be thinking of you on race day!!

    • Thanks, Kelli, I appreciate that! I’m sorry that you went through something similar. Now that I am in it, I understand how much insomnia really impacts all aspects of your life. The good news is that I know you had a great year, which gives me hope I can get through this and get back on track eventually.

  2. I’ve had sleeping problems for years so I feel your pain. Trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, restless sleep. Maybe not as big a deal when you’re not nearing a big race, but particularly difficult when your confidence takes a hit because you feel exhausted. It’s a very real problem.

    Try to approach it with the confidence that you’ve done the work, and grab extra rest where you can. It may not be in your nature to nap, but even taking little cat naps when you can might help. Nutrition plays a part, and do your best to avoid TV/computer screens in the hour leading up to when you’d like to be asleep.

    You’re incredibly fit, and you’re definitely faster than you’ve ever been. Keep believing! If anything, let it help you start the race a little more conservatively and you’ll have an amazing day.

    • I appreciate the positivity and also that you understand it’s a real issue. We put our bodies through a lot and that’s much harder when your body doesn’t have true rest. I am still hopeful and if I can have a good race this time around, it will definitely be the one I worked the hardest for.

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