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Running out of steam

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My problem is summed up simply, I am getting worse and worse at running, I am aware of many possible factors but am also aware that I don't know it all and can't really zero in on what the problem is, or if there is even a problem at all.


To describe what I am experiencing in more detail, I will briefly describe my recent history with running and fitness.I am 29, a smoker, this time 2 and a bit years ago I was overweight and horribly unfit. I have been active at various points in my life but always overwieght and unfit to varying degrees. When I was about 13 I started lifting, a -lot-, with no real clue. I grew huge shoulders, biceps and pecs, did 100 situps a day, wrecked my posture and ultimately let it all turn to fat. In the last 3 years of my life I started dieting, then went to a gym and started running on treadmills amongst other things. I 'ran' 5k every day at about 10-11kph, did some intervals on the bikes, swimming and used machines a bit. I experienced an improvement in my quality of life that I had never dreamed possible, but work and life ended up getting in the way of me having any kind of regular routine. My job was extremely physical so I quit the gym with a mind to pick it up again when I had more time.


After almost a year of not going to the gym I started back around 3 months ago, with a much better idea of what to do to lose bodyfat. I cut my sessions down from 7 to 3 a week with some core work on rest days. At the gym I would skip the bikes and warmup by running intevals on the treadmill. This would involve 1 minute at 10kmph and 1 minute at 15kmp for 5k or ~24 min, then I would hit the machines and do a far more intensive and structured workout than I previously did. I am aware of some of the issues and limitations with machines and am trying to move away from them, but for now I am afaik working all my large muscles.


I am at the point again where I can say I look 'fit', but I still have too much flab around my pecs waist and belly. Appearance is not my main motivator but I consider it a good indicator. I want to be strong, agile, flexible and healthy, I really want to work on cardiovascular function and posture. So, I am getting smarter about how I work out, eat rest etc but I am experiencing something odd, or maybe not all that odd. It is getting impossible to run those 5k intervals, I managed it 3 days a week for 2 weeks, then started struggling, and now I can run about 2.5k. Since my arms have gotten (slightly) bigger it feels like I have fire extinguishers strapped to my shoulders and my running is getting extremely laboured and rigid. Being able to run less is making me want to run more, but I am hitting walls that my willpower cannot overcome during my sessions.


I have tried to be thorough in describing my state of fitness, and there are some things I do need to change, which I am working on, but what I am struggling with is the fact that I seem to be getting worse at running. This is something I really want to sort out and I have some ideas, but ultimately I would be piecing together a lot of half understood information. I am here looking for some wisdom, maybe some of this rings a bell, maybe I'm missing something or maybe I'm just going about it all wrong. Also I know the smoking has to go, but I have been smoking for 16 years and trying to quit for 10. It's proving a tough nut to crack and I am trying to approach change in my life 1 step at a time. Packing in the habit would be the ultimate end goal right now.

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Short answer is I have no idea, but I've had something of a similar experience with bodyweight workouts....


I can certainly relate to the "hitting walls that my willpower cannot overcome".... I got that doing the beginner bodyweight workout.  I made myself do it for weeks and weeks, but I just burned it out.  I changed some exercises, started doing them in a different room, to different music, on a different day, changed the exercises again and so on.  That enabled me to keep going to a short while, but ultimately I burned it out, didn't enjoy it, and drained the motivation tank dry.  Fortunately for me, it got me most of what I needed from it in the short term.  But I didn't like it... it made me vulnurable and claustrophobic, and trapped.  But I could do similar things in a circuit training class without a problem, for some reason.


So one question might be: do you like running?  I do, so motivating myself isn't a problem.... though I have better days and worse days, and days where I'm counting the distance until the end with closer attention.  If you don't like running, and can't make yourself like running, maybe it's just not for you. 


On a more positive note, have you tried changing things.... music, distance, route, time of day?  Could a particular route become mentally linked to a bad run, opening the door to self-doubt?  Is it perhaps worth going back to couch-to-5k and building up again?

 Level 4 Human Adventurer / Level 4 Scout, couch to 5k graduate, six time marathon finisher.



Current 5k Personal Best: 22:00 / 21:23 / 21:13 / 21:09 / 20:55 / 20:25 (4th July 17)

Current 5 mile PB: 36:41 35:27 34:52 (10th May 17)

Current 10k PB: 44:58 44:27 44:07 44:06 43:50 (29th June 17)

Current Half Marathon PB: 1:41:54 1:38:24 1:37:47 1:37:41 (14th June 15)

Current Marathon PB: 3:39:34 3:29:49 (10th April 16)


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I do all of my running on treadmills partly because I can set them up for intervals partly because I have very little experience running outdoors. I suppose part of me is worried that I will find myself far less competent doing real running :)


I change it up a lot, at the moment I am changing everything about my workouts every month, with regards to the treadmill this meant going for intervals and working on pace last month. After gradually getting weaker and weaker at performing the 5km intervals I stuck with it this month to try to push myself back up. I have a constant battle to motivate myself though I imagine no more than the next person, and indeed running has been rewarding for me, when I can switch off and just run it's incredibly relaxing. That said I don't know if running on a treadmill is something I consistently enjoy. I have accounted for boredom affecting my motivation, but I am really feeling a physical difference then and now. I ran 30km over the course of 4 gym sessions in September and was getting faster and faster, since upping the wieght in my workouts and moving to intervals I appear to be making my body less good at running I suppose?


It's also worth noting that while I don't 'live paleo' I have been somewhat infuenced by stuff I have read on it, and as a result find my carb intake has taken a huge hit. I did tend to stay away from the carbs as much as possible in the past, except for porridge/muesli in the morning which I now avoid.

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I'm not an expert (and definitely not at running), so take it as such. 


1.  When was the last time you had a checkup and some bloodwork done? Not saying that you should look at this the worst way but it may be an indicator and it doesn't hurt to check.


2. Obviously quit the smoking. I don't think it has to do with loss of air since you were doing fine before. But it's not helping


3. If you are getting bigger, then you may be getting used to your new body which will take time.


4. Try upping the carbs on workout days. You need fuel, plain and simple. Paleo is more about quality of food and types of food vs very low carb. If you work out a lot you need to power it. How many calories are you taking in?

Pinterest: Alex's Paleo Wins - Recipes on Pinterest              Instagram: alexcold23             MFP: dalex916

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First, I don't want you to believe this is a result of your weight lifting.  Lifting weights and strength training has made me a better, stronger, faster runner.  EVERY runner should strength train.  For years I knew this and didn't do it.  Man, I wasted those years.  So don't talk yourself out of lifting weights or think it's making you a less effective runner.


I personally hate running on a treadmill.  I certainly can do it; my half-marathon is an early spring race, so every year a fair amount of my training is done indoors on a treadmill, and I can bust out 90 minute long runs on the treadmill because I simply have to if I don't want to break my ass running on the ice-slicked roads.  But I don't enjoy it and there's definitely mental blockage involved.  It is so much easier to talk myself out of intensity or out of going just a bit further or any variety of things because it's just not as much fun.  I feel so much better with my feet on pavement and the world around me rather than my feet on a belt and my basement/the rest of the gym around me.

You can certainly give it a shot and see if that isn't a contributing factor.  I will say there is a difference involved.  Running outside is going to be different and it will probably feel more challenging.  But your endurance on the treadmill will still help you get through it!  Whenever I switch from the treadmill to the pavement, there's always a slight adjustment period where I have to work a bit harder, but it's not like it really kicks my ass and I can't do it... just an adjustment period!


If you want to work out with intervals, you can still do that outside.  If you're willing to dish out a bit of cash, you can get something relatively inexpensive like the GymBoss - set it for intervals and it will beep for you.  More expensive is a Garmin Forerunner; tell it what intervals you want to do, and it also beeps to let you know when you're ready to switch intervals.  The cheapest option would be to use something like Audacity and your music library, and build your own workout mixes into it, along with some kind of beep or buzz or something that indicates when you're changing intervals.  Load the mix onto your MP3 player and away you go.  More simply, you can just take a song and when you hit the intense part of the song, sprint.  When the intensity drops, you slow down too.  It's not as organized of an interval but it still gets those sprints in.  You might also find that more fun - my mp3 player is just set on shuffle so I never really know what's coming, and it's never the same workout twice, even if I do my sprints the same every time I hit a given song, because the song order is always a surprise.


So basically, you can evaluate if you think running outside will help encourage you or not!  There are a number of things that are different about it and if you think those things might discourage you more than help, it might not be worth trying.  No need to pile on more discouragement when you're already feeling down unless you think you can push through and reap rewards!



All that said, I ditto the questions about your diet.  How many calories, how many carbs, protein and fat?  The thing with any kind of athletic performance is you need to basically look at it as fuel strategy.  In racing you don't want to make unnecessary pit stops and fuel up more than you need, but if you skip the necessary pits and simply don't put enough in the tank, you won't make it across the finish line.  Or if you do, you end up finishing way back in the pack because you're busy trying to conserve fuel just to limp over the finish and can't make any moves to finish competitively.  I suspect we might find the answer to what's going on here...

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"Hitting the wall" I believe is an expression used to describe endurance athletes depleting their glycogen stores. You may want to dial down your pace a bit and keep your heart rate under 150 bpm as you work on your cardiac output. You could also get someone, preferrably a running coach, to watch your form. Running economy becomes a factor with longer duration runs.

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I may be underestimating boredom as a factor, certainly my experience with intensity in the past (with all kinds of training) is that I am less able to deal with it the more I train. Competence is an indicator of progress and when I start to feel wrecked on an interval program I have done several times before I it's possible I psych myself out a bit.


With regards to the food, the more I see results, the more I get serious about getting fit, the less carbs I eat. When I am doing nothing towards my fitness I happily eat tonnes of carbs, when I am putting serious time, blood and sweat into losing fat and conditioning my body I start to treat carbs like poison. I am aware this is a mistake, but I remain ignorant of when and how much carbs I should be eating and just abstain. I eat fruit and I'm sure I get a decent amount, but I completely avoid bread, pastries, grains, sugar, pasta, potatoes etc


As for calories, I have absolutely no idea. I will eat a decent amount of protein fat and vegetables, I am probably taking in more calories than I burn but the way I eat is partly geared towards not storing fat. I am probably carrying a lot of conflicting nutrition advice around with me and am happy to admit ignorance.

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Start tracking!  If you have a smartphone you can do apps, otherwise if you're poor like me and don't have a smartphone you can just use a website.  MyFitnessPal is one, SparkPeople is another, I'm sure there are more.  I would start with that.  If you are avoiding carbs, you really need to make sure you're getting enough protein and fat to compensate.


I would give tracking ALL your food (remember to count your sauces or any cooking oils too) a try for a week or two and see how it's going.  From there you can start troubleshooting, playing with numbers and macros.  But get a nice starting point first by just tracking as per usual for a week or so and get a picture of what's going on with the diet.

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Ok so I have given a lot of scrutiny to my eating habits, I have since making this post upped my carbs (sweet potatoes mostly) and om top of that I am having at least a banana and an apple before I go to the gym. I have been eating a lot of protein and fat, and a huge amount of vegetables since originally lowering my carb intake. I am certain I must be doing something wrong though because the running is still getting harder and harder. I took the pressure off myself for a while, and preceded my workouts with brief sprints for a few weeks and have since attempted running distance again. I am struggling to make 2km at 13km/h, to the point where I have to really push myself to make it that far. A month and a bit ago I was running 10km a day at this pace and had begun to run intervals to work on upping said pace.


My workouts have gotten a little bit aimless, I have been using machines for months now. The plan is to get a session at the gym with a fitness instructor to show me how to use free weights, but until I get around to it It's machines. I have been adding weight to my sets pretty successfully but I am aware that I may be making things harder for myself as a result of the types of exercise I am doing. I am also not stretching properly.


I had been planning to run a tough mudder in april and do the 3 peak challenge at some point but despite the work I am doing towards these goals they are getting further and further away.


I have re read all the advice given in this thread and am going to try to start from scratch with my running, I started my fitness journey with bike intervals and running at much slower pace and I did see fast progress, so I am going to go back there. I think I am also going to enroll in some classes which will at the very least force me to stretch properly a few times a week :) I used to do boxing classes once a week and used this as a measure of my progress and indeed an indicator of whether I was getting enough energy from my food. I recently screwed my back up using a leg press (I have been adding 10kg per week to all the machines I use) and am now feeling a lot better but determined to move away from machines. I want to move to freeweight/bodyweight workouts and enroll in a parkour conditioning class and boxing class within the next 3 weeks. Work just got a lot less busy and it seems I have at least all next week to dedicate to fitness and relaxation (when work is busy I have to dial down the workouts or suffer ^^) so I am going to try to re approach my fitness regime.

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I may be underestimating boredom as a factor, certainly my experience with intensity in the past (with all kinds of training) is that I am less able to deal with it the more I train. Competence is an indicator of progress and when I start to feel wrecked on an interval program I have done several times before I it's possible I psych myself out a bit.



To address several aspects of boredom: 


When I run on a treadmill I fight boredom from the time I get on till I get off. I can run on road 6 miles no problem, but the second I got on the treadmill my mind was screaming at me "are we done yet, how about now, that guy over there is done, I should be done too." Honestly what helped me was bringing my ipad/kindle I would read during the "warm ups" or I would watch a movie when I was doing my "fast" running/jogging. 


Also in regard to training, I find it good to have a goal, like for instance I'm running a marathon so I have to train, along with that I have several strength workout plans that only last 12 weeks, so I "see the light at the end of the tunnel" I have found running is easier with a goal in mind, and strength workouts are easier when I break them out into 12 week chunks.  

Accept the challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory.- Patton

A pint of sweat saves a gallon of blood- Patton

I don't measure a man's success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom.- Patton




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Yeah if I'm honest I have begun to feel the same on the treadmill, believe it or not I used to love it, and yet I can't shake the feeling that I am doing something horribly wrong. I wouldn't have far to look what with being a smoker, and I'm wrestling with myself constantly on that one. It's possible a combination of boredom and a natural desire to avoid discomfort are to blame for the frankly sharp performance hit when it comes to running. I suppose when I look back at the distances I ran not all that long ago I easily forget how hard it was and how much I had to push myself, I remember every 5k as being a cakewalk and the handful of 10ks I did as being fun rather than uncomfortable, but the truth is I had to push myself a lot.


I have started logging everything I eat, infact this lead me to blow about 6 hours yesterday trying to make openoffice calc do what I wanted xD I have read some stuff at precision nutrition and following a link from there to a nutrition calculator, started on the path to being mindful of deficiencies. As a direct result of this, last night I ate 3 carrots and a bunch of raw broccoli! I have also begun to relax on the paleo thing, the fact is I wasn't doing it right and until I have a better idea of nutrition I should err on the side of caution before cutting out so much. This has taken the form of reintroducing canned beans into my diet on workout days.


Last night I did my first parkour conditioning session, it reminded me what effort and profound discomfort felt like. I'm going to try to take advantage of as many classes as I can at my gym. I used to love the boxing and I don't know why I haven't reenlisted since re-joining my gym, last night reminded me how much further I can push myself when someone is shouting at me :)

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Honestly I've adjusted how I deal with largely primal eating as a result of my running as well... I've put rice back into my diet.  I digest it fine and my body is happier with more carbs.  I get better results, more power, more explosive workouts.  Beast Mode is a thing again.  Also cutting so much stuff out really did a number on my calorie intake, which has traditionally been lower than I should be eating for half-marathon training anyway, and that meant a lot of really crappy runs where I struggled a LOT.  Not telling you to throw paleo out the window or anything, I'm very happy eating a mostly primal diet, but I'm also a big believer in doing what works well for you personally and for your fitness goals!


Truthfully you will never improve if you don't push yourself.  Endurance running is a mental battle.  How much I would say is mental versus physical depends on the day LOL.  But you're definitely not alone if you have to mentally push yourself.  I think we all do at any given point in our training!


I also agree about having goal races and things, and a training schedule that leads up to it.  It's much easier for me to get my shoes on and go run when I have a race coming up as opposed to "well I could go run, or maybe go to the gym and do RIPPED, or maybe run around the backyard with my dogs, or..."

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At the moment my goal is to get as strong as possible without putting on too much muscle mass. I want to be able to climb, jump, run, handstand etc. I am making great progress on the strength front, primarily by putting myself at the mercy of others, the only area where motivation is required is actually turning up to the classes. On top of classes (a very recent addition) I have been doing strength training 3 times a week for about 3 months (and on/off for about 2 years) and am stepping it up every week as much as my body can handle. Pretty much everything is getting easier (and I am therefore upping the intensity) but the running is the opposite. It does take a lot more willpower for me to run distance than to do 5 pullups for example, but given my ignorance I didn't want to discount the possibility that I was making some horrible mistake.


Goals will certainly help me but I am not sure racing is for me. In the past achieving the 5k was my goal and looking back I think having that goal was enough to motivate me, I did it for the sake of doing it and because it was part of working towards my general fitness. Pushing myself to the 10k was the same. It was only when my goal became increasing the pace that I did not have an exact speed/distance in mind. Expecting it to get easier may have been my main downfall.


In any case I have started running outdoors again, reducing rest periods, logging nutrition, stretching a little (whereas I seriously neglected any kind of stretching in the past). I have been prone to getting a little obsessive about getting fit, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in the short term. Having something tangible to work towards/achieve rather than my slightly abstract general fitness target is going to be vital in the long run I expect. That's where I kind of draw a blank. I almost found myself asking for suggestions regarding what my goals should be, which I recognize is a little backwards ^^


I want to be able to run fast, and run often and for long distances. That is an intrinsic desire that I have but I struggle to break it down into manageable milestones (so to speak). Right now working my way back to 5k a day would be a good start I think. Eventually running 5k at a 10 minute mile pace seems like a good target to aim for, however again I find my ignorance is clouding my vision as to how to break this goal down into an effective training regiment.


If it seems like I am putting way too much thought into this, that's because I probably am, but I tend to like it that way :P

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