Monday, September 5, 2011

Sand, Sex and Sick– Overtraining 101

Many people, including some of my coaching clients, are hitting the midpoint of their fall marathon training plans. This means mileage has been building for several weeks now and both physical and mental fatigue might be settling in. This is exactly the time when runners could be at risk for overtraining and possible injury (the big “I”).

As most of you know, when I started running three years ago I just ran and ran and ran with no respect given to rest and recovery. I paid for it. I am still learning how to find balance and hope that other runners are too.

Are you headed for the big “I”? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I snapping at the kids, flipping people off when I drive, and crying when the line is too long at Starbucks? Irritability is a sure sign that you may be doing too much.
  • Does it feel hard even though it should be soft easy (TWSS) ? Have your “easy” runs begun to be more challenging both physically and mentally? Be careful, your body may be breaking down!!
  • Am I losing the love? One sure sign of over training is that running starts to feel like chore, one more think you have to do, rather than something that gives you joy. Sure, you won’t feel ecstatic about you do during many weeks of training, but if running starts to bring a sense of dread, this could be a warning sign.
  • Am I sick of being sick? When our bodies are stressed to the max, our immunity can take a nose dive. Getting repeatedly sick or not being able to kick an illness might be a sign you’re doing too much.
  • Every time I pass my bedroom, do I stare longingly at my bed? If you are continually fatigued  and napping has become a top priority, your body could be trying to tell you it needs a break.
  • Do I feel like crap for hours/days after a long or intense workout? If so, your body is telling you that it is not adapting to the stress you are putting on it. It needs more TLC and rest.
  • Do lots of my body parts ache all the time? Watch out. Running with even mild pain and achiness could be building towards the big “I.”
  • Do my legs feel like they are full of wet, heavy sand? It is normal to feel some sluggishness when you first start a run, but if it continues you may have “heavy leg syndrome,” a classic sign of overtraining.
  • Do I want to have sex as much as I want to mow the lawn? Decreased libido can be a true sign of burn out!

  • Am I starting to get obsessed? Do you fear missing one run, cutting a workout short by a half mile? You may have tunnel vision and are not seeing the big picture. This can be a sign of, or a precursor to, overtraining madness.
  • Is my heart beating out of my chest? Have you noticed an increase in your resting heart rate, i.e., you wake in the morning with your heart rate elevated? This is a sign something is wrong and that the body is stressed.

Do any of these apply to you?* When I think back on what was going on with me leading up to my “BIG I” (stress fracture), I know that my body hurt and running was starting to feel like a chore.


*If so, a future post will be devoted to how to adjust your training plan to minimize burn out and over-training.


  1. Sex? Are you sure you're married?

    Good list of things to watch for. Now, to get people to actually understand those things apply to them. Often people that are feeling these things have lost sight of the baseline.

  2. When I had my ITB injury and I looked back over my late summer/fall season that year, I could see the warning signs all over the place. I was sick every other week, it seemed. So stupid that I didn't pay attention and I should have known better!

  3. Do lots of my body parts ache all over?

    Yes, they did. DAMN! Should have paid more attention... Now I live on the Alter G and in the pool!

  4. I am a taller, (built like a man) girl. I am just hitting the 10-15 mile marks on my long runs. Should I try and drop some pounds to help with the over training threat or let the running take things where it may? I worry that cutting my calories below about 1500 a day during high training will hurt me rather than help. But my body is breaking down.

  5. Wym: I can see why you might want to take off some weight, but calorie restriction is tricky when you're training so much. When I was injured, my doc told me to shorten my running stride to lessen the impact of each step (about 180 per minute or so). I think this helped a lot. Just a suggestion.

  6. These are all really good warning signs, smart post. Of course since I like to get injured with flare my only real running injury occurred as I sprinted on chunky gravel to beat a train to the RR crossing (kids, don't try this at home). A stress fracture just waiting to happen took the sudden impact as an invitation. I'm a moron.

  7. omgoodness @ bullet #1 hahaha YES! But I think its because I just want to take a good ole power nap and not be bothered for a good hour. Don't be messin' with my sleepin'!

  8. Great piece today. I am sharing it with my running partner. Something for her and I to pay attention to.

  9. I wish you had posted this like 3 weeks ago, when my overtraining "I" happened :( But those symptoms are beyond true!!

  10. Wait. So you're saying that being sick all of July and August while in peak training mode could have been overtraining?? Ummm, yeah. That could be. I'm just finishing a 2 week vacation with no running (just a slight tendonitis that stopped me dead in my tracks) and only 3 workouts a week. Hm. Go figure. Thank you for spelling this out...sometimes we really do need to hear it from people who've been there and bounced back!

  11. ummmmmmmm i don't think i'm overtraining now but i feel like i'm always at risk for it. it's way too easy to see "pushing yourself always" as a good thing and then make excuses as to why the symptoms crop up. except for the sex one. there really is no excuse for that ;)

  12. Are you on the internet? Yes
    Have you gone 4 or more days without running a single step? Yes
    Have you finished every season of Mad Men on Netflix and are now moving on to Rescue Me? Yes

    I think I am over rested.

  13. Ben there and done that with the overtraining. Let's put it down to my A type personality. It was just awful - especially the heavy fatigue and the heart beat that I was sure everyone could see. Mine came from training hard while I was having an enormous amount of personal stress but I think it was the personal stress that tipped me over the edge because I wasn't training harder than I had in the past two years.

  14. Great tips and questions that really apply to what we all go through!

  15. You're title got me right away: Sand, sex... something else. Sex on the beach much?

  16. OMG-that's my baby. I'm serious, I have one of those- ha ha!!

    Good tips here Beth. I love mowing the lawn. Truly I do.

  17. Great post! It makes me really glad I am just doing a half right now. I feel so much better on my runs.

    Now, if I didn't struggle to wake up in the morning to get my daughter on the bus, perhaps my drive for sleep would go down. I don't think that has anything to do with my training, but my training has suffered as part of my lack of sleep. WHY does a 5 year old need to be on the bus at 7am????

  18. I love how you left the watermark on your stolen clip art. Ha!

  19. LOL

    Well, I think we all have overtrained sometime in our life and thanks for pointing out the obvious-sex!!!

  20. I'm running my second marathon on 2 October, so yes, I'm peaking. My programme this time around is completely different. Last time I was running up to six days a week (including a run off the bike, because I had to get a bike ride in). I was blistered, tired, sore, over running .... I could have said yes to every item on your list above.

    This time - with four to five quality runs a week and plenty of rest, I don't even feel like I'm putting in the kinds of distances I am. I ran 35k on Saturday and was playing beach cricket that afternoon. Sure, the bike is feeling neglected, but my trainer and I have declared next year the year of the bike, so this is a temporary separation.

    Oh, and the regular massages and ostepath sessions are helping as well!

  21. Great post. What does the .1 mean :)

  22. Oh, I figured the libido thing was because of all the time on that hard bike seat...

  23. Big I or the Big O and all revolving around libido....what is with you runners?

  24. So funny,
    I like this post and will recommend all my friends to read it.


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