Heartbreaker team member and 2:52 marathoner, Daniela D shares her recent deep dive into her unwavering fatigue through a barrage of testing. Here she is in her own words:
"Four weeks before the 2021 New York City Marathon, things started to change both mentally and physically for me, and not for the better. I couldn’t shake the physical and mental fatigue. I attributed both to burn out, a relatively normal phenomenon after 16+ weeks of balancing marathon training with one’s professional and personal life. While I surprised myself with my performance in NYC, I was most excited about was taking time off running to regroup, recover, and identify the goals I wanted to set out to accomplish in 2022. I had been accepted into both the 2022 Boston and Chicago Marathons, but I had reservations about running two marathons competitively in one year. Specifically, I was worried about continuing to feel the mental and physical fatigue I was still feeling, even weeks after the marathon. After having been accepted into the American Development Program for Chicago, I decided to scratch the 2022 Boston Marathon off my list and prioritize recovery and strength training.
As the weeks continued to pass, the fatigue remained. For a month, I attributed the fatigue to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). My work-life suffered, and I found myself more anxious. Eventually, I saw my doctor for bloodwork to help find some answers. After having completed several blood screens throughout different times of the day, the results came back normal – each indicating that I was healthy and fit. My doctor said I had “good problems to have” compared to most individuals. I left that appointment with more questions than answers. I knew something was wrong but didn’t know who to see or talk to about it.
I took my Garmin and MyFitnessPal log to members of my coaching team and asked them if they saw anything concerning. What immediately stood out to each member was what I was eating in any given day. Their concern was not quality, but quantity. They asked why I was sticking to a specific calorie count per day, and my answer was “that is what MyFitnessPal says I need to eat in a day to maintain weight.” Until recently, I didn’t see anything wrong with that. I used an application many (specifically, 19 million) regularly use to gauge my daily caloric intake to maintain the weight I felt most comfortable. My coaching team recommended I take a Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) test to determine what my maintenance range should be to ensure I wasn’t under-eating, which would cause fatigue and eventually lead to injury. I scheduled the test at a local facility, which required a 12 hour fast and breathing into a machine with my nose plugged for 15 minutes. The results shocked me - I was undereating by ~300-500 calories per day while not in a marathon training cycle.
I asked the physician who administered the test if my RMR would fluctuate while in a marathon training cycle, and the answer was yes. After continuing research on the matter, I remembered a principle I learned during my time in graduate school: not all at-large data is relevant. In my case, and likely in the case of many distance runners, I was basing my daily nutritional needs on an app that averages data based on height, weight, gender and activity levels to provide nutritional guidelines. Note, I do not believe MyFitnessPal’s daily guidelines to lose, maintain or gain weight are incorrect for the average person. However, I believe competitive long-distance runners should seriously (re)consider how their daily nutritional needs might differ from the general population throughout the different stages of training cycles, and how working with a team of professionals beyond a coach is a worthwhile investment to promote competitive longevity and overall health.
After a few weeks of increasing my calories by the recommended amount, I immediately saw an improvement in how I felt – both physically and mentally. I’ve wondered how this recent discovery might have changed my performance during the NYC Marathon had I completed the test sooner or if it would’ve affected my decision to not run the 2022 Boston Marathon. At the time I trusted myself and my decision as I knew I did not have the power to begin another marathon training cycle without risking my mental health and increasing the likelihood of physical injury. Rather than focus on the “what ifs”, I’ve decided to appreciate the time I’ve taken to deep dive into this topic as it has allowed me to develop deeper connections within the running community and help others in similar situations.
I’ve come to realize that this phenomenon is more common than I initially thought, but because nutrition can be a difficult topic to discuss, it’s not something people (myself included) are always comfortable speaking about. What you choose to feed your body is entirely up to you, and I am not here to tell you how you should fuel your body or that you should measure your caloric intake. What I hope to get across with this article is the importance of you being your own advocate when it comes to your physical and mental health. Always be sure to listen to your body, when something feels of it likely is. If you find yourself relating to my experience, I hope you take the time to invest in your health and consider taking an RMR test to learn more about your unique nutritional needs."
* This is one athlete's personal journey shared from her perspective. This is not medical advice. Consult a physician if you have similar health concerns.