You’ve worked really hard at training lately. You turn up at the race feeling like you’re guaranteed a PB. You get a mile into the race and your legs feel heavy and won’t move quickly enough. What’s going on? How much more training do you need to do to get to where you want to be? The answer could actually be to do the opposite and give yourself a rest. Maybe you’ve actually been OVERtraining…
Before you click off this page thinking ‘that can’t be what’s wrong, only elites overtrain, surely I’m not running enough miles for that’, bear in mind that symptoms of overtraining can occur any time a runner’s workload pushes them beyond their ability to recover.
What Are The Symptoms Of Over Training?
Feeling tired all the time – constantly lacking energy and wanting to sleep. Although also bear in mind that for every mile you run per week you need an extra minute sleep per night. So if you’ve gone from thirty to sixty miles a week you need an extra half an hour sleep every night, whether you’ve trained or not.
Muscles taking longer than they would normally do to recover or generally achy legs, when you haven’t done a particularly long or hard run. Or maybe a feeling that your bones and joints are aching.
Picking up every cold within a five mile radius due to a decreased immune system.
A general lack of motivation towards exercise… or a compulsion to exercise all the time.
Mood swings, depression or stress caused by training or thinking about training.
For women – a loss of period.
As described in the opening paragraph, a sudden unexplained drop in performance.
What Do You Do If You Think You May Be Overtraining?
The obvious, and correct, answer is to rest. Running is different to most other sports in that it doesn’t really have an off-season; parkruns happen 52 weeks a year and there are many other races to choose from all year round. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have an off-season. Consider having a month off every year before easing yourself back into training. This could be a one month block or a couple of two week segments. Perhaps they could come after a marathon or coincide with a holiday. This will allow you to recover physically and mentally – and reconnect with your loved ones! You should also regularly schedule an easy week into your training every month, where you drop back the volume and intensity.
If you’re the sort of person who can’t sit still, try cross training: swimming and cycling are a good idea, they’re relatively easy on the muscles and you won’t be tempted to go hell for leather, as you would when running.
Eat And Sleep
Ask yourself the question, ‘am I doing everything I need to do to recover?’ Two key elements of this are eating correctly and sleeping the correct amount:
Address the eating issue by making sure you refuel after a hard session – some healthy protein (eg a banana and some nuts) as soon as possible after training and some complex carbs for your next meal. Add up the calories you are eating daily and make sure you are eating enough to replenish those you have burned. Consider increasing your intake of antioxidant-rich food.
As mentioned above, runners need more sleep than non-runners. Don’t let training get in the way of sleep. This means that unless you’ve gone to sleep early enough, it’s probably best to skip those 7am runs – at least until you’ve recovered from your overtraining symptoms.
If you’re struggling to sleep at night, it may also be a good idea to look at what training you’re doing in the evening. Many runners need a few hours for the endorphins to subside so they can get to sleep.
The more training you do, the more you need to massage, or be massaged: Many elite athletes have an incredibly close relationship with their foam roller and even plan in times for extended rolling sessions. If you’re regularly putting in a lot of miles then you need to regularly book in a professional sports massage. This will help remove some of the heavy or stiff legged symptoms over overtraining.
Remember why you run – because you enjoy it. Nobody is forcing you to log a certain number of miles or hit particular time.
Symptoms of over training can include; an unexplained drop in form, legs taking longer to recover than they ordinarily would, feeling tired all the time, a poorly functioning immune system, a lack of motivation to exercise (seeing it as a chore), stress or mood swings caused by training or thinking about training
Plan a month every year where you don’t run – maybe 2 x 2 week blocks
Make sure you are eating the right things at the right time and sleeping the right amount
Massage – either by using a foam roller or, better still, with a professional sports masseuse
Remember that you run because you enjoy it, not because someone is forcing you to do it