It’s a common misconception that taking some time out to recover and put your feet up will set your training progress back and make you lose fitness. If you're on the brink of overtraining, identifying your shortfalls and learning to pace yourself could actually enable you to move forwards.
Are you running too much?
Overtraining is caused by a mixture of things and isn’t just a case of running too much. As with any exercise, rest and recovery are fundamental pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. Runners Connect identify the term overtraining as a result of the individual's inability to recover from their training load just as much as going too hard on the miles.
In order to recover from constant training your body needs time to unwind, rest, and sleep for at least eight hours a night. If you’re working a full-time job, regularly running long distances, trying to maintain a sparkling social life and fit in some proper rest, it’s understandable that your body might come to a point where it says enough is enough.
If you start to feel run down, it’s highly likely that you may be doing ‘too much' yet more importantly, not doing enough in the rest and recovery stakes.
'Overtraining can happen to all of us,' says expert running coach Tom Craggs from RunningWithUs. 'You don't have to be running 100 miles a week to start to notice the signs developing. Busy work, family and social lives can all impact on your ability to recover between sessions and increase the likelihood of reaching overtraining. Watch out for the warning signs, the goal of your training is to progressively overload, not overtrain!'
Spot the symptoms
Overtraining Syndrome, otherwise known as OTS, affects individuals differently and takes many forms. Here are some of the most common tell-tale signs:
- Feeling drained and low in energy
- Irritable and low in mood
- A sudden drop in running performance
- Regularly feeling lethargic and exhausted
- Low immunity - picking up regular colds and illnesses
- A lack of appetite
When to ease off
Treating overtraining isn’t as simple as just grinding your training to a halt. We recommend easing off intense high-impact exercise and cutting down on volume as opposed to stopping completely. Naturally it's common to find the sudden decrease in endorphin's a shock to the system.
So cut back, ease off your training routine and embrace relative rest when you feel like it. Take it easy and go for a gentle swim, treat yourself to a yoga class, or a wander in the local park instead and you will reap the rewards in the long run.
Be kind to yourself
Additionally, if you do feel like stopping for a week or two, embrace the down time with open arms. Try to get outside where you can, take in the world at a slower pace and get plenty of rest. As and when you start to feel back to your energised self, add in the harder sessions in your routine gradually and make sure these are sandwiched between essential chill time.
Unless you're a professional athlete, remember that running isn't your job; it's a hobby. During your rest phase try and replace running with other pursuits that make you happy such as cooking, gardening, being creative or socialising with friends.
Don't make up for lost runs
If you’ve had to take some time out of your training schedule in order to get back to good health, backing up those missed runs will only put more strain on your body and delay vital recovery time.
If you've been resting for less than ten days, all of the miles that you’ve done over the past few months won’t just disappear into thin air. Your body doesn't immediately lose fitness overnight just because you had a rest, so focus on recovery and have faith that you'll be back on form soon.
Take time to reevaluate
If your recovery is taking longer than expected and you have race day goals on the horizon, it may be worthwhile reevaluating your next steps. Whether you've been working towards a PB or a long distance goal, remember that your health is more important than chasing PBs, so consider changing your plans in favour of rest and recovery. There will always be another race, but you only have one body.
Prevent overtraining in the future
The big two R’s are your friend - rest and recovery. But one plus to experiencing the effects of overtraining is knowing how to identify it in future. If you’re in a training cycle and start to feel run down, there's no shame in taking a couple of days off.
This slight pause to your schedule won’t affect your progress, even if your brain is telling you otherwise. Rest and recovery is is essential for keeping you on track with your training and helping you to achieve your goals and identifying the need to step back every once in a while is vital for running performance.