The gentle art of over-training

As I’ve started to ramp up my training for the Chester Marathon in October more and more people have mentioned to me about over-training.

I started my training plan on the 1st of July based on three runs a week. I’ve been using My-Asics for my training and have been logging them both on there and on Runkeeper. At the start of August my training ramped up a little and what with shift work and day to day life it started to feel almost impossible to fit the runs in. It almost felt like it was an imposition on my life and it wasn’t enjoyable anymore. I put it down to the fact that I was entering a dip phase in my training and that a week or so later I’d come out of the other side as had happened to me before during half marathon training. Some running friends had told me I was over-training and I should ease off but I didn’t feel like I was pushing myself too hard it was more down to the fact that I just didn’t have enough hours in the day at the moment and much juggling had to be done to ensure I got my mileage in.

I sat down in the end and endeavoured to work out why running this marathon was important to me.  I was never an athlete at school, I was the short, sickly, chubby kid who got out of breath quickly. My parents were always worried that I would have an asthma attack so exercise wasn’t strongly encouraged. Had they known that exercise would have strengthened my lungs and would’ve actually made my symptoms decrease I’m sure they’d have told me to go out and run. I tried a few sports at school but there was never really anything that I was good at. Co-ordination and balance was never a strong point for me so anything that involved doing two or more things at once was usually out. There was one thing I was good at though, running quickly over short distances. I had to learn to run fast, being the weird looking kid wearing glasses and in the Noel Edmonds style jumpers who liked Doctor Who and Wrestling I was odds on favourite to get a kicking from the school bullies. Unfortunately my ability to run was never encouraged by the P.E. teachers at school and was eventually knocked out of me. There are only so many times that someone can say you’ll never achieve anything before you just give up. I didn’t run again for many years and I often think about what I could have achieved if I had been nurtured properly or had been stubborn enough to carry on with it regardless. Other than a little bit of badminton, which I was pretty good at, my sporting school life amounted to the odd game of football and rugby. I hated rugby with a passion and soon started to miss lessons or forget my kit in an attempt to not have to do it anymore. Luckily rugby only lasted one school term and football was firmly on the agenda again. Much like most things we learnt at school nothing ever seemed to have a purpose. We were told to run but were never told why or how to control pace or breathing…just run. We were told to play football but never taught the basics. We were told to play tennis but never shown how to play tennis. If you were a natural you were nurtured if you weren’t you were forgotten about. If I’d been taught the basics of running at school I would be streets ahead of where I am now. As it is it has only been over the past couple of years that I have really researched running and how to get the best out of my body. The reason why I was running this marathon was because I need to prove something to myself. I wanted to prove that I’m not that short, sickly, chubby kid anymore and I can go out and run 26.2 miles and in thus doing so being part of a small percentage of people in the world who have achieved that.


When that ran through my mind I suddenly had a new vigour and a new zest for training. When I looked at my training log I realised that I hadn’t been overtraining I was just in a bit of a mental funk. But if I had listened to some I would’ve thought I had been over-training so I thought I’d research it a little bit and share my findings. It’s actually a pretty interesting subject to look into.

People still use the term over-training to explain dips in performance that continue after sufficient rest. However, the proper term is now classed as Unexplained Underperformance Syndrome (UPS).

Preventing over-training and signs of over-training

Train to your capabilities

I have personally been running since 2009 and only now, in 2013, do I feel equipped enough to tackle a marathon. Some people seem to jump too quickly from one distance to the next. I started training for  a 10k in May of 2009 and completed the 10k in October of that year . The next year I did one 10k and a 10 mile run. The following year, 2011, I stepped up to a half marathon . Following a few illnesses at the start of 2012 I dropped back to 10k and built myself back up to half marathon distance. 2012 was meant to be the year I was going to tackle a marathon but I felt I needed to step back and give myself a chance to recover from my illness and look to 2013 as the year of the marathon challenge.

One runner I spoke to said that he started running in Summer of last year (never ran before at all) and immediately signed up and trained for a half marathon in October  which he completed in 2 hours 22 minutes. He immediately entered a marathon for April of this year and followed a sub 4 hour training plan. His legs were constantly fatigued and he was having niggles in his knees and his shins and an ache in his back. The first thing I noticed was that he’d completed this half marathon in over 2 hours so what made him think that he was going to prepare his body enough four months later to run double that distance?  In my opinion he’d stepped up too quickly and tried to get too fast too soon. Not enough runners take the time to research what pace they should be running at and then building from there. A running coach or club could help you with this or a specific running personal trainer could help as well.

In my case I know that I can run a half marathon in around 1 hour and 51 minutes. So do I just double that time to get what my predicted marathon time would be? Well no, of course I don’t. I need to add in the fact that I’ll likely be fatigued at some point and my mind may be willing me to give up throughout the run. 26.2 miles will be the furthest I have ran ever and I have to concede to the fact that at some point I will slow down. A more realistic goal for me to train to at this point is probably 4 hours 15 minutes to 4 hours 30 minutes. Who knows, on the day I may go out and smash it and finish well under 4 hours but to get me into the right mind-set and make sure I arrive on race day fit and well I need to train within my capabilities.


Listen to your body

You know your body so are the best person to judge when something is wrong. Has that niggle not gone away or is it getting worse? Well take a day off and see how it feels. It’s better to lose a day recovering now than lose a week or a month or worse. Your body and mind needs rest and if it doesn’t get that then you are opening yourself up to all sorts of problems. You will see performance drop, injuries and niggles will rise and continue to get worse, sleep patterns will be affected, immunity will drop leaving you open to colds or worse, libido will be decreased and you could suffer from depression.  It’s also important to warm up and cool down (or warm down depending on your preference) following a run so make sure you do your stretches otherwise you’re just asking for trouble.

 Listen to the people around you

Have you suddenly gone angrier and moodier than you usually are? The people around you are the best placed to tell you this and it could be a sure-fire sign that you are overtraining.

Is your training failing?

If you are struggling to go out and run a route that you would normally finish then something is wrong and you need to sit down and try and work out what is going on.

You feel down following a run

Usually after an exercise the endorphins released would make you feel great. But if you finish a run and start to feel down and fatigued afterwards then you’re probably over-training.


Recovering from over-training

The most important thing to do is rest. Some people suggest cross-training which is fine but at some point you really do just need to sit back and put your feet up.  You could also look into getting a deep tissue massage or some sort of spa treatment. Get some sleep, try and get your sleeping pattern back to normal as the better you sleep the better chance your body has of recovering.

After a run use a foam roller if you’ve got one. If you haven’t then you really need to get one, I can’t recommend that enough.

Remember that not every session needs to be a hard session. For instance one of my training runs will be fast, another will be at race pace and another will be a jog. Going out and smashing a run every time will have a negative effect come race day as your body will be so fatigued that you won’t be able to perform to the best of your ability.

Getting your nutrition right is important. Obviously if you can get the freshest food in you then  that is all the better. Make sure that you’re putting food back into your body following long runs as not doing so could result in muscle loss. Fresh fruit and veg is a must but mix it up so that you don’t get bored of the same stuff all the time.

Once you’ve calmed it all down again and admitted that you’ve been over-training then it’s time to ease yourself back into it. Just take it easy and don’t try and rush things in an effort to catch up with any training you’ve missed. It’s more important that you hit race day healthy and fit than turn up fatigued or not turning up at all.

If you’re worried about over-training then look into completing this questionnaire if you score high then chances are you’re training too much. It might also be worth taking a look at this questionnaire as well and filling that in to see how you get on. The more Yes answer the more it looks like you’re over-training.



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