At what point does training become overtraining? How many miles are too many miles, and how fast is too fast?
Unfortunately there is no set scale, no concrete number to go by. An individual’s training capabilities are just that – individual – and what might be one runner’s recovery week is another runner’s highest peak. There are ways, however, to judge your personal tolerance and identify the signs of impending problems during a training period.
Overtraining is essentially an imbalance of work and recovery. When your body is pushed past its ability to recover, your energy levels and performance will collapse, causing you to fall further and further behind. This doesn’t only refer to excessive running; too many hours at work, too little sleep or family stress can cause problems for even the lowest-mileage runners.
There are key indicators that you should watch for; identifying too many is a sure sign that unless you make some changes, injury will strike. Here are several things to look for:
Mood swings and irritability
Lack of enthusiasm; running just isn’t fun anymore
Chronic muscle soreness/tightness
Sleep disturbances: you fall asleep easily, but have trouble sleeping soundly
Elevated morning heartrate
Depressed immune system; chronic colds, a nagging sore throat
Extreme sugar cravings
Fatigue that lingers throughout the day
If any of the above symptoms really hit home with you, it’s probably time to take a break. This could be as small an adjustment as sleeping in one day and running a few hours later than usual, or as big as needing an entire week off to recoup. Again, everything is specific to you and only you can figure out what you really need. Recovery is one of the most important training tools, and you will gain far more from taking needed rest than you will by pushing your exhausted body through yet another workout.
Just use common sense. Increase mileage and intensity slowly, take the time to ice and stretch and eat properly and sleep. Really listen to your body – it will, in no uncertain terms, let you know when it needs a break, if you can slow down enough to hear it!
Ignoring the warning signs will inevitably lead to a breakdown; injury is your body’s way of telling you that it’s had enough! If you feel that maybe you’ve been pushing it a bit too hard, talk with your coach and let he or she help you make adjustments and get back on track. Despite what your high school football coach might have told you, an all-or-nothing approach won’t get you anywhere. Train smart, listen to what your body is saying (not your training partner’s!) and you will find yourself a happy, healthy and consistently improving runner.