I've had a pretty good week training wise, confirming that the week off has been no detriment to my training. This was pretty reassuring, and has helped keep me on track towards my longer term running goals.
To have felt that I had slipped backwards would have been pretty stressful, and I read recently that stress from whatever source is interpreted the same way by your body. These stresses are many and varied and include causes such as work, family, illness and physical training.
There is an analogy in place between how the body can cope with stress and the events at Rorke’s Drift in 1879 depicted in one of my favourite movies “Zulu”. (I think this goes back to my Welsh heritage where the bulk of the soldiers were from, and the fact that it is an amazing story of endurance and mental fortitude of the individuals involved). In essence we have limited resources to combat stress (a limited number of soldiers), and therefore if it only presents on one or two fronts we can divert enough attention to those areas to be able to cope. If however, we are pressured with stress on multiple fronts we simply do not have enough resources available to survive. At this point something has to give and your performance will drop off.
This is certainly something to take into consideration in your overall training, without which you could easily send yourself on a downward spiral towards overtraining. If you do have an intense period of work, or a major family event which will increase stress you need to adjust you training accordingly. It all comes down to having flexible running goals and realistic expectations. Even the professional elite have to do this when they fall ill or pick up an injury, or suffer a stressful home situation.
The assumption from this idea is that training is a stress, and while there is an obvious physiological strain associated with ultra distance running, there is also a therapeutic benefit. It is well known that regular exercise if a prescribed treatment for depression, and as I’ve seen on a T-shirt – “It’s cheaper than therapy!”
Personally the emotionally benefit of running 20, 40, or 100kms, far outweighs the stress caused (not just the endorphin hit, but the comfort I get from knowing that I am doing good training and working toward a goal).
So don’t stress out with your running, it is meant to be fun. Be aware of your limits to withstand stress and adjust your expectations accordingly.