How Do you Know when to Take a Break from Your Training?
Running should come with a list of side effects. In my experience, those include nausea, dry mouth, constipation, diarrhea, fatigue, drowsiness, difficulty sleeping, dizziness, body odor, muscle soreness, annoying your friends and family, loss of appetite and overeating.
Some runners may also experience heightened reactions such as anxiety, nausea, nervousness, severe diarrhea and insomnia, especially the night before a big race.
If you have experienced any of this, relax, it happens from time to time. That said, it’s not good.
Recently, as I was preparing for my seventh marathon, I had a few of the above symptoms. My left Achilles was tender, my right hamstring was tight, I was constantly tired, and having a hard time hitting my times during key workouts. I felt discouraged, cranky and finally, about 7 weeks before the big race, decided I needed to take a break from running. If something didn’t change, my race was doomed.
This was probably the absolute best thing I could have done.
I was accidentally drifting into the waters of overtraining – a dangerous and often unexpected situation runners find themselves in. While my situation will vary from yours, here are a few signs to look for to determine if you need to take a break from your training.
Why we Overtrain
As runners, we get addicted to the high that comes from pushing our bodies further and further. There is a certain level of “pain” that comes from all the “gains” we make. This is why it can be difficult to determine when we’re on the verge of some sort of physical, mental or emotional breakdown.
Listening to your body is the best way to avoid this. The problem, however, is that we don’t listen. Like a toddler chasing a ball into the street, we’re so focused on what we want, we ignore potential dangers signs. We think aches and pains are normal, and assume that a day or two off to recover will completely derail the past several weeks or months of hard training.
That’s exactly how I think, but it simply isn’t true.
When to Take a Break from Running
But how do you know when you’re entering into a state of overtraning, vs just having an off day? Look for patterns. One day out of 20 isn’t something to worry about. Many days is. Between all of our different life obligations, the goals we have in mind (like qualifying for Boston), may not be inline with the type of training required to get there.
Sarah Russell has a very helpful article on Runners Connect talking all about this. She quotes Dr Mark Wotherspoon, Consultant in Sport and Exercise Medicine at www.spireperform.com who says;
Your body isn’t a machine and it can’t cope with a full day in the office then 3 hours of training on top. We’re seeing more and more recreational and club level athletes who are trying to juggle families, a full time job, and trying to train like a professional athlete. It’s just never going to work and will inevitably lead to breakdown’.
The real problem is our ability to recover after the training. In other words, if you didn’t have a full time job, family, etc. you might be totally fine at the same volume of training.
She goes on to lists a number of symptoms to watch for (italics mine). Do you have any of these?
- History of heavy training and competition (relative to lifestyle)
- Decrease in training capacity (especially ability to recover from sessions) – if you can’t do high mileage weeks anymore without feeling like death, this is a good sign you need to slow down
- Drop in performance – maybe you’re supposed to do a 5 mile tempo run at 8:30 pace, but can barely get until 8:45
- Fatigued, washed out, drained and lacking in energy – all day, even after sleeping a lot
- Loss of appetite and weight loss – this is tricky to spot, since if you’re training at a high volume, you often loose a little weight
- Increased anxiety and irritability – getting annoyed at friends, family, co-workers for no good reason?
- Sleep disturbances (found in 90% of cases) insomnia, nightmares, poor sleep quality – can’t sleep even though you’re tired?
- Frequent infections (particularly upper respiratory tract) – can’t shake that cold?
- Elevated resting heart rate
- Mild muscle soreness, general aches and pains – take one to three days off and see if it gets better
- Increased incidence of injuries
Some common running injuries include Achilles Tendinosis, Plantar Fasciitis, Shin Splints, and Runners Knee. The key to becoming a “real” runner, is knowing when you’ve got something more than just the usual, and seeking help when necessary.
How to Prevent Overtraining
To prevent becoming overtrained, simply decrease your training or quit your job… Ok, so maybe that’s not helpful. In seriousness, there are a few things you can do to ensure that your marathon training (or whatever race you are preparing for), goes as smooth as possible.
If you identified with any of the symptoms above, take a few days off. Rest, sleep, eat well, hydrate. If symptoms go away, you can resume training. If they don’t, I highly recommend finding a medical professional to help whatever your most painful symptom is. If you need to bail on your race, there’s always another one.
Fix.com, a website that has simplified infographics on tons of topics, has this great one for runners. It’s overly simplistic, but sometimes we just need the basics. It’s geared toward the marathon, but the same applies to whatever distance you’re training for.
Source: Fix.com Blog
Are you Overtrained?
Do you desperately need to take a break from running? If so, I give you permission to take tomorrow OFF from whatever you had schedule. It won’t impact your overall running goals, and may be exactly what you need to achieve them!