Over-Training – in Running and Non-Profit Work

When I mention “over-training” to my running friends they know what I’m talking about. We have all experienced this from time to time in our running careers. Last fall I ran two marathons, Chicago in October and Bucks County just 5 weeks later. It was probably not the smartest decision I ever made; but I fell short of my BQ goal (Boston Qualifying time) in Chicago and wanted to take another shot while I was “all trained-up.” I did cut 8 minutes off my time, but still came up short on the BQ. I knew I needed some down time. I gave my coach a month off and was just running shorter distances at slower paces, while I enjoyed my recovery time (and analyzed what went wrong in Chicago).

Two weeks into my “recovery” I decided to join a gym – well more accurately, a training center. I had decided that a big difference in my training for Chicago compared to NJ in 2014 (where I came within a hair of a BQ) was the time I was putting into strength training. So I hit the gym hard. It was a great workout. It was challenging. I was going to an hour class, 3 times a week. It was a fun group and a fast moving class with great trainers who were liberal with the positive reinforcement. All good!

In January, I started training with my running coach again, this time for the New Jersey Marathon coming up on May 1. But as I started to increase my weekly mileage, I noticed I was getting sluggish – especially on my long runs. Finally 3 weeks ago, I hit an all time low. My 15-mile run – not usually a challenge for me – was a real struggle. My pace got slower and slower, I couldn’t keep my heart rate up in the desired zone, and my legs felt like cement blocks. I discussed it with a friend who said it sounded like a symptom of “over-training.” I knew I wasn’t over training as far as my running was concerned and my coach agreed. But we also decided that maybe while I was training for the marathon, I should keep everything else simple. So I took a week off from the gym classes, and then another. And as I did, I gradually began to return to my old self.

So if I ask you, my non-profit friends, about over-training, do you know what I’m talking about? I’m sure everyone at some point in his or her career – in any profession – has dealt with burn out. But after reading something a couple weeks ago and reflecting on my own experiences in the non-profit sector, I wonder if we don’t set ourselves up.

Mazarine Treyz of Wild Women Fundraising interviewed consultant Sheena Greeer recently about non-profit professionals being prone to “boundary issues” – that is, little separation between work and life. She described her work in non-profits, not unlike many of us do:

“I love this sector. I’m working exactly where I need to be. I’ve always had a big heart. I’ve always had a lot of empathy for people around me. I’ve always been very responsible in my relationships and my workplaces, and I’ve always been driven to solve problems. So all of these things that essentially make this sector such a wonderful place to work are also a lot of the reasons why I’ve struggled with boundaries. I care deeply for people, so when I see – and I want to solve their problems. I want to solve problems. So when I see all of these broken things or things that need fixing or things that need help, or people that are struggling or whatever, I can’t help but want to just dive in and fix it for them.”

To read the entire interview, please visit Wild Woman Fundraising.

I’ve certainly been there. Although I’ve been less open in admitting it, tried to manage it for years, and I wound up getting sick before I realized I had to do something about it. I started my first non-profit job in 1996. I was really driven, very organized and disciplined, and had high expectations for myself – and others. When I started supervising staff, my boss told me that I needed to lower my expectations of them because “no one could possibly be expected to work at my level.” I certainly worked the occasional evening and weekend as that’s the nature of fundraising. But the organization valued its staff and our personal time and encouraged flexible hours as necessary. In spite of how hard I worked, the success I had, and the reputation I built for a strong work ethic, I really wasn’t working much beyond 40 hours most weeks. I had boundaries.

But something changed. When I became a CEO, I felt more personally responsible for the financial success of the organization. There were a lot of difficult decisions I had to make that affected the livelihood of those we employed and the well being of those we were there to serve. I put in an insane amount of hours, even though I think as my hours went up my effectiveness went down. Things didn’t get any better when I took myself out of the CEO position and went back into development positions at larger organizations. I was also dealing with family issues – the fallout from my father’s death, managing the affairs of my mother and aunt both diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and being the sole financial provider for my family. But in my professional role I also felt a responsibility to be successful because the number of people my organization could serve was directly related to the amount of money I could raise. That was my non-profit career equivalent of over-training. Taking on too much, both personally and professionally. In 2012, I was treated for herniated disks. I took a year off from running. I made an amazing recovery and comeback. But I still didn’t do anything about the other stressors. I compartmentalized. Finally in March 2014 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. That’s when I finally decided I was putting myself first.

I left my last fulltime job at the end of June that year and have been consulting since. When I work for a client – or if I ever go back to work for another organization – I’m remembering who I was earlier in my career; when I had those high expectations, but boundaries – and was actually at my most successful. And I take with me the lesson of over-training, and why although we might be able to do everything, we can’t do everything well.

Next week we’re going to continue this conversation and talk about why everyone needs a coach.

IMG_3168Darlington County Park, Mahwah, NJ, January 2016



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.