Today’s post is about overtraining and, well…why it sucks. I also discuss a couple program tips that can help keep overtraining at bay.
As always, let me know if you have any questions.
How do runners make sure they manage their training load so that they aren’t over or under-trained? Are there specific signs a runner should look out for to identify if they fall into either of these categories?
Having a coach, or having someone manage your training plan, really helps keep you honest and in check with training. A good coach will not only push and provide challenging workouts…but will also hold the reins and say no. It’s better to show up on the starting line undertrained versus overtrained. Seriously.
Be sure to follow some simple (but important!) rules when it comes to your programming:
- DO build your miles gradually. (And DON’T assume you can resume your pre-injury mileage and speedwork when you’re coming back to running. But injury comeback is a whole other topic.)
- DO execute runs based on time, especially as you’re just building fitness. Remember: becoming a faster runner has a lot to do with gaining time and experience on your feet. A 6 mile run for me may take 48 minutes, but for you, it may take 65 minutes…and 17 minutes of extra running is significant.
- DO consider weekly mileage totals before doing your speed workouts for the week. Doing random speedwork is not going to make you faster…nor will doing too much mileage in your quality sessions if you don’t have a sufficient amount of other weekly miles to supplement. That’s just going to give you a stress fracture. 🙂
- DO consider weekly mileage totals before doing your long run. Your long run should be a percentage of your weekly mileage, and it differs a little bit per person. Yes…that means sometimes, you may not run over 20 miles before a marathon. IT’S OK, I PROMISE.
- DO allow days (yes, more than 1 per week) for strength training (no, a few clamshells do not count as strength training), especially when your mileage is relatively low and you’re just starting a training cycle.
And remember–these 5 tips only address programming. Listening to your body and BALANCE is what’s most important:
- DON’T choose running over sleep if you’re absolutely exhausted.
- DON’T run through pain.
- DON’T forget to take a multi-vitamin and fish oil.
- DON’T be a hero and run your easy days too fast.
- DON’T forget that nutrition is just as important as running!!!!!
- DON’T stress out. More stress –> higher cortisol levels –> shittier (sometimes literally) running and a body at greater risk of breaking down.
- DON’T forget that adequate recovery after a PR effort race (whether it’s a marathon or a 5k) IS SO IMPORTANT. Not taking enough time to recover after a major running event is just setting yourself up for failure and injury.
The huge red flag I see most commonly with overtraining is lack of motivation and sheer exhaustion…even, sometimes, sickness. When any of my runners complain of this, I immediately back them off, and approach their training a bit more conservatively. I also think it’s important to consider the mental aspect of overtraining. The mind is just as important as the body–sometimes, even moreso.
Overtraining signs to look out for are: pain spots that seem to linger, and not go away…constant fatigue…irritability…elevated HR…inability to focus…insomnia. If you’ve been experiencing over-training symptoms that don’t seem to go away, I’m also a huge advocate of blood testing to check basic CBC levels and iron.
How does over-training prevent a runner from reaching their goal?
It all goes back to recovery. If your nervous system doesn’t take time to back down and adapt/recover from a workout, overtraining symptoms may start to appear, which can lead to health issues that take longer than a few days to overcome. The most common issues are bone and tendon injuries; but, other issues include immune problems, chronic fatigue, and even amenorrhea (loss of period) in women. Having any one of these problems generally forces a runner to stop training for an extended period of time–making it much harder to reach a specific time goal.
How does under-training prevent a runner from reaching their goal?
Physically, there aren’t really health risks associated with undertraining. There are, however, mental ramifications of going into a race undertrained without realizing it until the result is not what you expected. –that can suck!
**EDIT – I had another thought. If you go into a long race–like a marathon or half–undertrained, you could hurt yourself because you’re not ready for that type of distance. Duh. That’d be stupid and bad.
Another risk of showing up to the starting line undertrained (and not realizing it) would be going out too fast, blowing up halfway…and death marching to the finish line. That’d also be bad.
Lastly, if a runner is doing everything right, i.e strength training, cross-training, foam rolling, etc but still isn’t getting faster what are some reasons for this occurring and how do they make corrections?
If a runner is trying to reach a specific goal, it’s so important to change up the speed, paces, and intensities of workouts and runs–otherwise, you risk plateauing or not meeting your goals. Varying your pace in a run can be as simple as inserting 30-second effort-based strides into a run…so, something like 30-sec on/60-sec off x 8, plus a warmup and cooldown of 10-15 minutes.
If you can’t afford a coach, it helps to keep a record of your workouts–whether it’s online or on paper. Being able to see your workouts and weekly mileage laid out can shed some light as to why you might not be improving.
Above all? Keep it real and be honest with yourself. Are you REALLY being good about recovery? How about eating? What’s your sleep look like? Stress levels? 9 times out of 10, when someone isn’t getting faster, it’s because there’s an important piece of the puzzle missing. Training smart is so much more than going for a run a few times each week. Once you have an understanding of the entire picture, it’s so much easier to identify what’s missing…and take action!