I was running back from the school one morning last week when I met a fellow runner who told me he had not been enjoying his running over the past few months. He ran the Dublin Marathon last October and has been feeling tired and lacks enthusiasm ever since. I could understand as my personality and attitude towards running often resulted in me pushing my body beyond its limits.
I am pretty sure this desire to continuously push the limits is genetically embedded in me. I would like to think that with age I have got a little more sensible and knowledgeable about getting the balance right between putting in the necessary miles and allowing for proper recovery so that you don't overtrain.
Overtraining is a result of not properly recovering between hard sessions on a repeated basis. Some workouts will make you more susceptible to overtraining, but the main cause is always lack of recovery.
Runners overtrain because they want to win races or improve personal times. On a few occasions I tried to make up for a poor performance in a race by increasing training, when in fact I needed more rest. I often pushed through the pain and ignored the signs of overtraining.
A common rule of thumb is never to increase your training mileage by more than 10pc in one week. You should have the same commitment towards your recovery as you do towards your hard training sessions. The intense short-term effort that runners put in during interval training is great for building strength and speed, but too much of it can lead to overtraining. I felt that I could do a lot of easy relaxed miles but the hard track sessions were the ones that I really needed to take time to recover from.
Here are some clues to help you determine if you are overtraining.
Take your pulse for one minute each morning as you wake up. If you find that for an extended period of time your heart rate increases in the morning, you could be suffering the effects of overtraining. Stress, hydration and lack of sleep can also affect heart rate. Don't get too worried if your heart rate is up by three or four beats, but instead look for continuing trends.
You need to ask yourself some of the following questions to determine if you are doing too much running.
Does your normally comfortable pace leave you breathless?
Do your legs feel heavy for longer than usual after a hard session or race?
Do you dread the thought of training or do you have a persistent lack of appetite?
Overtraining can also lead to increased feeling of stress and moodiness and disturbed sleeping patterns. If you do too much running it depletes your immune system and, as a result, you can be more susceptible to colds, flu and other viruses.
Continued training or racing when you are seriously overtrained is counterproductive because your racing performance will be poor and the continued exertion will probably result in injury or illness.
The rest period will depend on how severe your symptoms are and how quickly your body responds. If you catch overtraining at its earliest stage, you can likely remedy the situation by taking a few days off and then just go for some easy runs until you feel like your body has recovered and you are ready to introduce some speed work again.
Poor nutrition can also play a big role in overtraining. It's important that you increase your calorie intake at the right times and with the right foods. Eating an extra helping at dinner or having a handful of junk food at work isn't going to help you recover. By eating the right foods at the right time, you can ensure your body recovers more quickly.
Protein is the main muscle-building nutrient required to repair muscles. It is critical that runners who are in danger of overtraining consume ample amounts of lean protein such as fish, red meat and chicken. Other important power foods you will want to eat are fruit and vegetables because they contain high quantities of vitamin and minerals necessary for muscle repair.
The best advice is to only start running again when you have the desire, and then only run slowly. Sometimes less is more and it is important to feel fresh on your runs so that you get the most out of your training and races. Listen to your body and be patient.