Category Archives: Marathon

Sleep, stress, and injuries: is it all connected?

The last few months have been tough. Getting injured for the third time this year made me feel like a failure and it was difficult for me to get through. I do believe that everything happens for a reason, though, and this injury forced me to take a serious look at what was going on in my life and how it may have contributed to my injury.

A few major themes have been constantly coming up in my life over the last year and a half – constant stress, unrelenting eczema flare ups, and insomnia/disrupted sleep.

The lack of sleep and eczema flare ups stress me out, and stress, in turn affects my sleep and exacerbates my eczema. SUPER.

Stress is an ongoing theme in my life that I’ve got to learn to manage. In the meantime, I’m trying to tackle the smaller things and that is mainly my eczema and my sleep problems.

I’ve been seeing a naturopath to help me manage my eczema which I’ll probably write another post about in the future depending on how things go.

When Mike and I spent time in Switzerland last year, we unintentionally revolved our training schedule around sleep. If we had trouble sleeping the night before, we would sleep in and run whenever. Luckily it was during their winter as well, which meant that we didn’t have to worry about starting our run too late when it was the hottest part of the day. In fact, the later, the better as far as I was concerned.

Over the last year, I thought that it was unfortunate that I had trouble sleeping, but I never thought it could contribute to me getting a stress fracture. Trying to keep up with a certain level of training when I was barely sleeping was a pretty dumb thing for me to do. I should have known better.

So working on getting a better quality sleep is one of my top priorities right now. I feel like it will contribute to lowering my stress levels which will hopefully improve my ability to manage my eczema and stay uninjured. I really like this infographic below, from Casper, which is actually a mattress start up that I came across when I was doing usability research at work. A few customers I was interviewing for the company I work at actually cited Casper as having a very aesthetically pleasing website and a great business model.


The top takeaways for me from their infographic were:

Average pro-athletes get 10-12 hours of sleep, and the average amount of sleep adults need is 7-9.
I was averaging 5-6 most days and the majority of that was broken up into chunks.

A sleep environment that promotes restorative sleep includes a dark room, supportive mattress, and a cool temperature.
My insomnia started when we moved here last June. We were in the middle of a heat wave and none of the apartments seemed to have air conditioning. Air conditioning is a given in the majority of the apartments in Toronto, so I took having the ability to control a room’s temperature for granted. We DID buy a portable A/C this year, but it was too small and it didn’t always reach our bedroom. I spent so many nights tossing and turning with my thoughts and lying in a pool of sweat.

Quick naps are important.
I’m always hesitant to take naps. They feel so luxurious in the moment, but I’m always afraid they’ll impact my ability to sleep later that night. But maybe it’s worth taking a few naps here and there, especially on weekends, when I’m eventually running longer again.

A few other things I’m doing now to help promote sleep:

Taking magnesium.
I started seeing a naturopath to help me with my skin, but she’s also helping me address my insomnia. Every night, I’m taking some magnesium to help me fall asleep and stay asleep. In all honesty, it’s not working as well as I had hoped and I’m still waking up in the middle of the night.

Working on my anxiety/stress.
I think one of the biggest things I need to address is the amount of anxiety and stress I carry around. I’m trying to meditate, take a few breaths every hour on the hour (that has also been difficult, but it’s a work in progress), and choosing more relaxing and energizing exercise like yoga over high intensity / high impact exercise like running.

Ever since I started taking magnesium and the weather has been cooling down for the fall, I’ve been having an easier time falling asleep. Staying asleep is still a work in progress, but one step at a time.

To 8-10 hours of sleep and staying injury free for 2017!



Things I want to do differently for the upcoming marathon cycle

While things are still relatively fresh in my mind, I wanted to get some thoughts down on a few things that were different between the two marathon training cycles to see what I can change for the next time around.
Left to right: Manchester to Victoria. I ran 20 minutes slower in Victoria and looked like a hot mess while doing so.

So here goes…

I didn’t get enough of this. One or two “off” nights isn’t too concerning, but when we first came back to North America, I was going through weeks of insomnia. I blame it mostly on stress, the oppressive heat with no air conditioning which made my eczema flare up worse than it has in 10 years (ugh, the WORST), and constantly moving from temporary accommodation to accommodation until we finally settled down into our own place which made me feel unsettled. Back in Europe, Mike and I were working remotely, but if we had trouble sleeping during the night, we’d just allow ourselves to sleep in and wake up when we felt ready. I can’t do this now (newsflash to Alison: the majority of the working population can’t, either), so all I can do is take note and try to be more disciplined about going to bed earlier and at least resting if I can’t fall asleep.

Eh, because I’ve had some ED issues in the past, I try not to come down too hard on myself here. Several years ago, I thought I would get faster if I leaned out, so I cut down my portions to a dangerous low and ended up getting slower and with a stress fracture. I still believe you have to watch what you eat to an extent no matter where you are in life. Having said that, all the running I’m doing does make me crave lots of sugar (imagine that), and sometimes Mike and I can go a little crazy with our sugar binges (yes, I’m calling them sugar binges). Running lots of miles does not cancel out bad eating decisions. I know this, but I’m still learning how to balance. We eat pretty healthy outside of our sugar habit, but I think this is the main thing I need to stay on top of.

Maintain a solid base in the off-season
I don’t want to go crazy and jump right back into speed work or 50-60 mile weeks, but I also don’t want to get so relaxed over the next month or so that I feel myself playing catch up when I start marathon training again. I know I can’t technically control this, but I am hoping another solid Spring season will help me run faster than I did in Manchester, rather than getting back to where I was when I ran Manchester.

Strength training
Yeah… I sucked royally at this. I always drop it until I start to feel an ache or pain that won’t go away. Mike told me the last time this happened in Switzerland that I had no excuses to be lazy about it. I listened, started doing my strengthening exercises and I made it through to Manchester injury-free. But then I fell off track again, and haven’t been able to motivate myself to make time for it. It was always the wrong day of the week (the day before a hard workout) or the wrong time (I was too tired after a hard work out). Basically, I let myself get away with every excuse and it stopped being a habit. I trained through a lot of non-serious, but nagging pains that hindered my progress this summer. It affected my range of motion in my legs. I was sore all the time (but I didn’t *run* in pain, I just adjusted a little which meant running slower). I’m working really hard at forming a habit during the off-season so that I’ll be strong enough to keep it going when I start training again.

Paying attention to taper week / race day
Although I didn’t log everything, I’m quite certain I ate a lot more leading up to Manchester. It’s not like me to under eat – I’m always finding an excuse to eat! But I was stressed out, I was sick… I just didn’t really want to eat food so I didn’t eat as much of it. I really didn’t pay attention at all to my diet during my taper week. I didn’t really make a solid plan for the meals we ate once we were in Victoria (and without access to a kitchen). I just went with the flow in terms of restaurants and meals – and I made some poor choices, in my opinion. It’s hard to say how much this affected my race, but next time I’m going to err on the side of caution and be over prepared. I’ll probably choose an AirBnb over a hotel so that I can cook my own pre-race food.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m also going to do a short warm up so that I’m not panicking over my breathing or pace in the first few kms.


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