Have you ever had a bad run? Chances are you probably have. We all have! Usually, the next run is a good one and we move on and continue with training. In some cases, the bad runs continue. Run after run, you get the feeling that you just aren’t making any improvements, and maybe you are even declining in your fitness. There is a condition called Overtraining Syndrome that runners should be aware of.
Running, or exercise in general, breaks down the body. This breakdown is normal and with proper recovery after a workout or training cycle, the body repairs itself. Proper recovery allows the body to adapt to all of the stress (volume and intensity of running) you have been placing on it. As this adaptation occurs; muscles, tendons, and bones become stronger and the cardiovascular system becomes more efficient. All of this adds up to fitness and performance gains. The key here is rest and recovery. Without it, symptoms of overtraining can start to set in. Many runners will continue to run through early symptoms, thinking, “It’s just a bad run, I’ll run through it”, or “I’m out shape, I need to train more to get better.” Ignoring these symptoms can make your recovery time longer. To learn the symptoms of overtraining and what to do about it, click here:
Overtraining syndrome is a collection of emotional and physical symptoms that can persist for weeks to months. Fatigue is the most common symptom. This is different than the tiredness that comes after a hard workout. Overtraining fatigue will leave the runner feeling exhausted even after what is normally a recovery period for them. Exhaustion is also commonly present during regular daily activities.
Many of the symptoms of overtraining can mimic regular day to day feelings that are often overlooked. These include:
- sore muscles and joints
- lack of energy
- increased incidence of injury
- increase incidence of colds
- inability to perform at usual level
- moodiness/ irritation/ lack of desire to run
- increased rating of perceived exertion during exercise (a course that is usually easy for you suddenly becomes very difficult)
If you notice any of these symptoms on a regular basis, the best method of treatment is rest. Try taking a week off from running. Recent studies have shown that low to moderate level exercise during this time can aid recovery. The important thing to remember here is that exercise levels should be decreased in volume and intensity. So don’t replace that hour long run with a two hour bike ride! That defeats the purpose of rest. Making sure that you are properly hydrated and eating well during the rest period can also help with recovery. Depending on how long your symptoms have been present, a week of recovery might be enough. If symptoms have been occurring for a few months, you may need weeks to months of recovery.
Since the symptoms of overtraining are subjective, it can be difficult to assess whether or not you really are overtraining. One objective measurement that can help you to prevent overtraining is resting heart rate. Each morning, record your resting heart rate before you get out of bed. If you notice an increase in your resting heart rate from day to day, it could mean that you are not fully recovered from your previous workout and you should take it easy. Using a heart rate monitor during your training can help you to track what your normal rate is during exertion and you can more easily track changes from the norm.
If after a period of rest, you are not feeling any better, you should see your physician. There are certain tests that they may perform to help diagnose you and form a treatment plan. A blood test can reveal increased cortisol (stress hormone), decreased testosterone, increased presence of product of muscle breakdown, and altered immune status. A physician will also be able to rule out other underlying conditions that might be contributing to your symptoms.
The longer you have symptoms of overtraining, the longer your recovery will be. No runner wants to take a long time off from running. Paying attention to how your body is feeling and adjusting your training is the best thing that you can do to prevent overtraining syndrome from occurring. Remember, you can deal with one bad run. If you get a string of bad runs in a row, your body might be trying to tell you something, listen to it!