How I went from having Aerobic Deficiency Syndrome to #2 on the World SUP Tour... and then Relapsed
Updated: Feb 11
Aerobic Deficiency Syndrome, (ADS), is where you never fully train your aerobic system to be efficient. Then, when you train or race, you end up using mostly anaerobic, not aerobic, metabolism to propel yourself forward. This isn't so good, because anaerobic metabolism releases a lot of cortisol (although, it has it's time and place when planned properly). When you run out of anaerobic energy, your body must reduce speeds to rely on aerobic metabolism, and if you've never trained that system properly, your aerobic pace is painfully slow.
If you want to understand ADS better, go scope out this article I did on Paddle Ninja about it. If you want the science, definitely read that article and leave this blog post. Full warning, this is one of those posts that is partly educational for someone about to make the same mistake, but is more cathartic for me to write so I can process what has happened over the past few years in an effort to fix it. This post isn't really for you. It's more for me. But you're welcome to tag along for the ride.
A few key points before starting: ADS/OTS/REDS
ADS and OTS interact: Over Training Syndrome is a "condition in which an athlete experiences fatigue and declining performance in sport despite continuing or increasing training. Overtraining can result in mood changes, decreased motivation, frequent injuries and even infections." If you're constantly training in your anaerobic zones, you have the potential to wind up with OTS much quicker. If you go out and increase your training leading to a big race, but train incorrectly (read: too much anaerobic work without ever developing or maintaining the condition of your aerobic system) your performance will suffer even though you're training harder.
Ironically, aerobic training can reduce inflammation, improve circulation of blood and lymph fluids, improve mood, and stave off injury (pretty much all of the symptoms of Over Training Syndrome). So, how do some people wind up with symptoms of over training but don't go anaerobic or do high intensity? I would argue that it is an energy imbalance or an early version of REDS. You see this acutely in most people starting new year's resolutions: no matter the intensity of the work, if you're not consuming enough energy to fuel the work and it's recovery then you're going to burn out fast. If you're super committed, and have a strong mind that convinces itself of the "no pain, no gain" mentality and pushes through, medical problems could arise and a common sign for women is the loss of their menstrual cycle.
Truth be told, I had all three.
But my OTS/REDS story is for another day, because I don't know the end to that story yet. I'm still battling the repercussions of extreme energy imbalance; under eating and over training for many years in a row left my body with a lot of recovery to handle. Training in such a way that I was Aerobically Deficient contributed GREATLY to my OTS. In fact, if I would have trained with the same volume but at the correct intensities all of those years this story might not have even existed to tell. But that's a big maybe. I still would have had to eat enough calories to sustain all of that hypothetical volume.
So... for some clarity (or confusion).. the way I see it is:
You can not have ADS and still get OtS = most likely an energy imbalance nutritionally, or just too high a volume for your current abilities.
You can have ADS and not get OtS = train few enough times per week to recover, too high intensity to ever develop aerobic system
You can not have ADS and not get OtS = potentially healthy paddler if consuming enough energy to sustain.
You can have ADS and get OtS = (Me) Overdoing the intensity, neglecting the aerobic work, leading to burnout (exacerbated by under-eating)
My personal battle with Aerobic Deficiency Syndrome
In 2017 I was starting to take my Stand Up Paddling "seriously." I started training January 1 after a comfortable off-season. Super motivated, I ran to the gym and started doing my crossfit workouts every week. I even did the CrossFit Open for the first time that year and did relatively well. My on water workouts were very hard from the very start. I was doing 30second and 1 minute intervals as hard as I could. Then anything that was structured with "pieces" I did as hard and fast as I could - the last repetition or interval was never as fast and strong as the first because I was so tired by the end (in hindsight, a big no-no). Often times would skip workouts that looked too easy because I needed to rest and assumed the benefit from the "easy workouts" was negligible. It took me about 2 months to get in "good" shape, but my fitness level plateaued. I had reached the highest level I could without any base to build on (I didn't know that at the time). I flew down and raced in the Caribbean for some "warm up races" and had a great time in the short courses - but literally felt like death in the long courses. What could be happening? I trained so hard! I raced two weekends in a row for 7 & 8 miles at 180 BPM. I couldn't go any harder or faster but I could hold that heart rate for a LONG TIME! I was "fit." If you'd call it that...
I got home and trained even harder the last two weeks leading into the Carolina Cup. I was in a "taper" so I had reduced my volume, but kept my intensity super high, higher than ever before. I wanted to win that race more than any other race in the whole world. That is reflected in my heart rate that day. I averaged 181 for over 2 hours. By the end, I was experiencing full body cramps, and after that I was sick for about a month.
In 2018, I was still training very hard in the gym and I did some of the CrossFit open workouts, but I started tapering off on those suspecting that I was overcooking the gym work. I got better about my recovery and nutrition (mainly because I didn't have to work a full-time job anymore), but most of my training sessions were still in the wrong heart rate zones. I started training mid-January that year, and I was doing the SoCal OC1 Winter Series every other weekend or so. I don't remember when, but I somehow also found time to compete at the Santa Cruz Paddle Fest. I finished off my "winter season" with the Puakea Designs Wild Buffalo Relay where I was able to go super hard in 20 minute pieces and then recover. That race was a fast-twitch athlete's dream - allowing those muscles to recover after each piece. The moral of this story is that I spent my entire Aerobic Base Development Season (or what should have been an aerobic season) racing and competing on the weekends, and training hard during the week. I never gave any time to my aerobic development at all. Before I got to the Carolina Cup, I was officially over-trained. During my taper, I didn't want to do anything. At the time, I didn't realize that my desire to rest and not train any more was likely over training. It was definitely a result of pushing my body anaerobically for so long with bi-weekly races all winter. The acidic, stressful environment I had subjected my body to made me sick and sluggish. Resting for the two weeks before likely enabled me to eek out my best placing ever, a 4th place. But again, after the race I felt like crap for weeks. I drove across the country to get home after racing 2 more times on the east coast. Once back in California, I went straight into OC6 season... all in. (If you don't see me mention doing any aerobic recovery, or taking a rest period of aerobic work, it's because I never did any.)
The Turning Point
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting a different result. If that's the case, I was clinically insane. I just couldn't get it out of my head that if I wanted to be better at paddling and win something I had to train harder. Not to mention, I could see slight improvements from year to year. I had two 8th places in the Cup and two 4th places. Then, every once in a while, I would get a 2nd or a 1st in a very competitive race - although it was inconsistent and I could never figure out when or why. In my mind though, I was losing, I obviously wasn't training hard enough! I needed to get my heart rate higher, hold it longer, be stronger, paddle more, paddle faster. With my scientific background and a Master's of Science degree - you'd think I would be smarter. But I didn't learn anything about human physiology. If I had, maybe I wouldn't have wasted so much time.
The final straw was when I was selected to go to the ISA SUP and Paddleboarding World Championships in China. This was one of my major goals. I was only selected as an alternate because the other woman didn't want to go. But I wasn't going to blow my opportunity, to go for a Gold Medal. So, what did I do?
I trained so F@CKING HARD!!!
I'll never forget my last session from Goleta Pier in California. I went out a few days before my flight and did 2.5 hours of 20min pieces as hard as I could. I want to slap my past-self. (Ok, that's not practicing non-violence. I guess I would like to sit my past-self down and have a big talk about aerobic deficiency syndrome.) With my immune system depressed, I hopped on an insanely long flight to China. I felt myself getting sick before I even got to the start line. To make things worse, they moved the dates of my race once I was there which caused me to experience a load of stress hormones trying to change flights while spending money I didn't have. I was cooked. I raced. But it was pathetic. About half way through the course, I could barely breathe, I felt like I could die. My heart rate was dangerously high, not to mention the mental anguish of training for years and getting to the world championships just to absolutely f@cking blow it. I hated myself. I hated the experience. I got so sick I couldn't talk. Once home, I coughed and sneezed with dis-ease for about 3 weeks. I should note that even before arriving in China, I had packed on close to 20lb of extra weight - and it wasn't muscle. It was that hormonal imbalance weight around your midsection, the kind you get if you under eat and your body is panic-storing energy for your insane training and racing habits. I never wanted to paddle again.
This is the year I figured some things out. I read the "Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing" by Phil Maffetone. I loved it, and I started reading a lot more from various authors (you can see the books from my Top9 of 2019). I rested and started fresh ( I had my heart checked after what I had put it through); I followed the aerobic protocols to a T. I shocked myself with a win in the Hano Hano challenge in January after taking a long (for me) break with only easy, aerobic paddling. I stayed the course and won a more competitive Wild Buffalo Relay as my only warm-up race. I was doing plenty of aerobic work in between any weekend "fun" races to flush my body and maintain my aerobic system. When I got to the Carolina Cup, the adrenaline kicked in, but it was a lot easier effort and I wound up in 2nd place. My best finish ever.
I had some confidence and went about my season of racing. Unfortunately, I experienced a mild backslide after the Cup. The triple header of Wild Buffalo, Carolina Cup, and then the Salt Life Cup left me a little too tired to hold on in the first stop of the APP World Tour in London, especially when one adds the stress of international travel. My feelings of being a really crappy distance racer started to return when I realized that I was probably just over cooked with racing and traveling - which didn't leave a lot of time for me to do any aerobic maintenance or aerobic recovery work. For some reason, I decided to head home and do a 100 mile race in my OC1. It was aerobic! That should have been the end of my spring season, but instead I went and made a fool of myself at the USA Tryouts.
After paddling at a snail's pace at the tryouts, I thought, "Not again, April." with resolve. I would not go back to over training. I would not go back to being aerobically deficient.
I re-read some of my books for inspiration and got back to training so F@CKING easy.
I went for gentle paddles in my OC1 and on my SUP. I did very little anaerobic work. I cruised up to Hood River and enjoyed long, bump-catching technique sessions practicing surfing with as little effort as possible. For this, I was rewarded with a 1st place in the Gorge Downwind Championships, a 3rd in the Gorge Downwind SUP race, and a 1st in the Gorge SUP technical race.
I stayed the course. I was tired after those races, so I rested for a week and did more aerobic work. Then, I won the APP World Tour stop in New York.
Holy crap. My aerobic system is the golden ticket!!
I was ready for the 3rd stop of the APP World Tour. I had finally gotten it all together. I went and won the sprints on the first day... Then, I had some food and fall mishaps that played a bigger role than my newfound aerobic capabilities could account for, and sadly that just is what it is. I wound up in 5th place for the distance race.
After that blow, I fell back into my old ways yet again.
I came home and dealt with my defeat in Japan with my addiction.
My addiction to competing too often and training too hard.
I did a local California race, the Red Bull Heavy Water (that should have definitely been the end of my summer season), the 31 mile Chattajack, a local North Carolina race, and a Florida Race before crashing hard and trying to rest up just enough to not die at the APP finale in Paris. But because I wound up with a bit of OTS, I lost all motivation to train, even my aerobic system. I managed to get out a little bit, but it was futile. I was too deep in the hole. The flights got me prepared to get sick, then the effort of the distance race, with a heart rate too high to even mention here, finished me off. I went down. Sick again for 2 weeks after returning home.
I realize that this story may not entice people to sign up to get coached by me, or train with me. But, it is a story that NEEDS to be shared. There's tons of people that are naturally good at things, and have had amazing coaches guide them to their successes - I am not one of those people. I have stumbled, faltered, failed, and risen to challenges time and time again, and I've learned more in my failures than my successes (although I still learn from those too!)
As a coach, the NUMBER ONE mistake I see people making is not developing their aerobic system.
I share this story with the hopes that you will heed my warning and avoid what I've so ignorantly done for so many years. I'm just now wanting to get back to training. It is slow and aerobic. There's a lot I could say here, but I'll just leave it all up to interpretation by you, the reader.
The unfortunate thing about being aerobically deficient and training so hard that you wind up overtrained year after year is that your body becomes more prone to OTS after just one instance of it and you have to be even more careful when bringing up the intensity to peak for races.
If you're motivated, be smart, train slow.
Don't know where to start when it comes to training slow? Try my "Improvement in 10K" Plan on PaddleNinja.com. In this plan, you'll learn how to slow down your heart rate with focus on the breath and find your connection to the water so you're maximizing your efficiency. Training at a slower heart rate doesn't have to mean your speeds drop to a crawl (although you may have to go through a brief mesocycle of "crawling" depending on how aerobically deficient you are!). Whether you paddle SUP, Outrigger, or surfski... or bike, jog, or any aerobic activity... you could use the 10K Improvement plan to help correct your ADS. Scope out this video all about the 10k Training Plan: https://youtu.be/Knewf71u8K0
Also, good gear can help make a huge difference. I'm currently using Garmin's Body Battery technology which factors in my stress, activities, and heart rate variability to give me an idea of how charged or drained I am. Check it out on new models like mine. If you think you'll buy a Garmin, please consider CLICKING THIS LINK to support me.