May 5, 2021 – Types of Fatigue

Oh man – who’s feeling tired these days? I definitely go through phases, but when the weather isn’t great and my motivation is low, I can really start to feel the low energy. But what does it actually mean when you say you’re feeling tired? Having experienced training for endurance events, being a new mother to a non-sleeping baby, being a working parent to young kids, living through a pandemic with teens, I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur of fatigue. And let me tell you – there is not one word which adequately covers all of these sensations! I think there should definitely be different words to describe each experience – especially when, as a coach, an athlete tells me they’re “tired”. Ok … that’s a very rough start. In case it might be helpful for you in deciphering how you’re feeling, here is a brief breakdown of my different sensations of “fatigue” (I’m sure there are more):


If I’ve just completed a hard workout, I may have the fatigued but “buzzing” feeling in my legs – a satisfying sensation because it means I’ve just worked hard and will hopefully reap the benefits – by becoming more fit, stronger, faster in my next outing. My legs are tired (that’s the point), but good tired.


If I’ve just finished a long run, I probably have more of an energy depleted feeling of fatigue. It’s also satisfying for similar reasons, but demands slower movement and less activity for the next 24 hours. It’s more in my whole body than just my legs.


In the day and sometimes days leading up to a race, I often self-check and find I’m feeling tired. I’ve done this enough that I know it’s a false cue from my mind. It’s either nerves, or my mind forcing me to conserve energy for a big upcoming effort, but I’m familiar enough with this routine that I now welcome it as part of the race experience. And as soon as I get close enough to the start for adrenaline to take over, the phantom fatigue vanishes.


Then there is the sensation of fatigue in a hard race or workout. I don’t even really categorize this as fatigue – it’s more like intensity (I try not to say pain, but it’s close). This sensation is so far removed from the sensation of early motherhood sleep deprivation fatigue, that I find it incredible that we give it the same name. But we do, so that is another type of fatigue I’m familiar with and am surprisingly comfortable with. If someone tells me they were “tired” at the end of a race, I interpret that to mean it is something that is trainable.


Sometimes, if I’m in the middle of heavy training for something I’m pushing my body to adapt to, like a marathon or Ironman, I will have an ever-present sensation of general body fatigue. It’s not a fatigue which necessarily requires more sleep – if I were sitting on a couch, I wouldn’t want to go to sleep. But nor would I want to get up and run around the block for fun. This is another type of fatigue I’m familiar with and comfortable with. I know it’s my body adapting to new demands.


Then there is the deep, achy fatigue, which I can only seem to categorize as “deep, or bone” tired. I associate this feeling with over-training. It’s when I get into a workout and there is no sharpness or desire to push. It’s just a generalized ache which feels like it could be adrenal or neuro-muscular. I’m familiar with this fatigue, but I’m not comfortable with it. I don’t like it. All I can do for this type of fatigue is to take some easy days and back off hard training. The amount of recovery and rest depends on how long I’ve ignored the feeling and pushed into it. Shockingly I’ve learned this lesson more than once, but I’m getting much better at recognizing it and backing off quickly.


When I was a new mother, my baby did not sleep at all. He preferred to be gently rocked all night. And during the day, he preferred motion next to my body. So I found myself cradling and rocking all night and walking all day. To say I was exhausted would be an understatement. This was pure sleep deprivation fatigue. I felt like I was existing on a different plane from everyone else – I could just function well enough to appear human, but I did not feel human. I did go for the odd run – there was nothing tired about my muscles or legs. I just needed sleep.


Then there was a phase when I had young kids and a corporate job and decided to train for a half marathon. The only time I could fit in my training was at 5 a.m. I did all of my runs and workouts at this time. I would wake up sometimes in the 4-somethings, run hard, get my kids to daycare and myself to work, pick them up, make dinner, read to them and absolutely crash. Similar to the new-mom tired, I was just sleep deprived and craved it all the time. I sometimes had to pull my car over to have an emergency nap. I could close my eyes and fall asleep anytime anywhere. I fantasized about being able to sleep. But my other goals were more important. Surprisingly, my body held up fine and I ran a solid race for me for the half marathon. My body could still respond well – I wasn’t deep, achy, bone tired – I was just sleep depravedly exhausted. It’s a different tired.


Sometimes I’m scrolling through headlines and I realize I just can’t click on one more thing to do with … *whatever crisis has been making headline news. I reach my limit on something, and I just find it too exhausting. Or if I’m feeling down or depressed, the smallest tasks can feel too overwhelming and exhausting. I can’t even bear answering the phone when I see a friend calling. I classify this as mentally exhausted. It’s under the umbrella of “overwhelm” but I think it’s what we mean when we say “I’m so tired of this!” It does actually seem to manifest as fatigue.


And then there’s the “blahs”. The no spark or excitement or motivation fatigue. It is true that not being engaged in something will sap your energy and actually make you feel tired. This could be what many of us are experiencing right now. I was listening to an interesting podcast with Reid Coolsaet who said he was training and doing marathon workouts with the hopes of qualifying for Tokyo, but his times in training were not there. Then he heard word of a race he was allowed to enter, and immediately his workouts and energy improved. He wasn’t “not trying” before – he just didn’t have the spark. You can’t fake the spark. It’s ok if you’re feeling a little tired because there are no sparks. You’ll be ready when one is lit.


So that’s my 2-cents on helping you decipher your fatigue if you’re feeling it. Most of these have a solution and might just take some patience and acceptance for where you are (except the new-mom thing – god help you if you have a colicky baby – but just know if you get through that you can get through anything!)


Race reports: Congratulations to Cullen who ran 1:19:22 in a solo effort Half Marathon this weekend! (sorry none of us could help pace you – I suppose if we’d used a bike…) Awesome job.



Onto workouts for this week!


  1. I’m back on this one – I don’t know if anyone did it earlier, but I suspect not. Let’s try it this week. 200/200 run as Hard/Tempo continuous. Do two sets of 4-5 repeats with 3-4 mins b/w sets. I promise you’ll feel tired! (a good tired)
  2. If doing it by time, 30 sec Hard/30 sec Tempo – same sets and reps
  3. Tempo: 2 x 3K tempo w 1 K easy, then 1K faster


That’s all – enjoy!