Thanks for sharing that story. I’ve dealt with over training before, first in my 20s, when I was bicycle road racing very seriously, and then periodically throughout my athletic life, climbing, train running, and so forth. Below are some basic things that jump out at me, and then some words about a possible change in perspective.
-Definitely get your iron and ferratin levels checked–I recently felt much as you do, and it turned out I had low vitamin D, and very low iron levels, despite my diet. My doctor explained that, no matter what they eat, some people just have trouble absorbing iron from food, and may need supplements.
Besides Giradia (!) you didn’t mention any viruses, colds, flus, and so on. That’s good–I think that’s the next step if you keep going deeper in the hole–your immune system begins to get much weaker. I would say it’s a good sign you have not been consistently sick, but at the same time infections like Giardia can set you back for many months, especially for athletes. Don’t discount the effects of that infection.
-You also did not mention any physical injuries, like stress fractures, tendonitis, and and so on. Again, I think that’s a next step, if you keep trying to do more, especially now, as your training may not be as consistent as it once was, and you might alternate between periods of relative inactivity, and periods of more intense activity. Try your best to base your efforts on what you have been doing lately, not what you have done in the past. If you try to do too much too soon–relative to your current state of training and physical fitness–you risk an injury. This is so important. Go slowly!
OK, those three points were pretty conventional. Here’s some more “out there” advice.
Rowan, you’re only 22. I’m more than twice your age. I’m not saying that to be patronizing, or try to sound superior and wise, but just to give you some perspective.
You have so many years ahead! I am sure you have big dreams and huge plans, but, as frustrating as it might be right now, I would say this is the time to take the long view, and try to be patient (which is hard for athletes of any age, myself included).
You will run again. You will hike and bike and climb again. You will in all likelihood complete adventures much bigger and grander than those you have already accomplished (which sound great, by the way).
So how do you get there?
Instead of going for a run every few days, and waiting for your legs not to feel heavy and flat, which might be counterproductive, why don’t you try something completely different?
For example, you could start regular yoga practice, or Tai Chi, or something else that would heal your body in a new way. You could practice cross country or downhill skiing or snowboarding. It sounds like you have some means and time to travel–how about learning how to surf (if you can’t already)? What about paddle boarding or kayaking? What about conventional ball sports? What about dance? What have you always wanted to try? What would be fun to learn? Maybe this would be a good time to try something that you have always been curious about, but never felt like you could pursue, because it would detract from your main goals. In a strange way, taking an alternative track, and trying something new, might be the best way back to the sports that are closest to your heart. Think of this period as an opportunity to do something fun.
I say this because, for you right now, it doesn’t matter what you do, right? As important as specificity is when you are training, you are not training–you are recovering. The important thing is to stay active, in some way, in any way, for your physical and mental health. If you tried something different as I suggest, you could maintain a light level of aerobic fitness, and perhaps build some new strength, flexibility, coordination, or skill, as well as become part of a wider community?
This summer, when I was recovering from a knee injury, which did not allow me to run, bike, or climb, I took up a new sport–wind surfing! It was great, and because I didn’t need to repetitively bend my knee, it sort of worked! Now wind surfing is a sport I will surely practice in the future. And I have a life goal to learning how to surf on ocean waves when I turn 50…why not? I am trying to lay the groundwork by practicing with a long board when I go to buy coffee in the morning, and soon I hope to take my first snowboard lesson with my wife and daughter, just to develop some balance on a board.
So the dreaming and doing never stop…just try to take a deep breath, accept where you are now, look around for new opportunities, and remain confident that eventually you will be back running on those trails….
Anyway, that’s my “old man” advice. As they say, advice is a form of nostalgia, so please forgive me–perhaps I see in you the potential of youth, and am trying to suggest things that I might once have liked to do.
All the best, and good luck.