Reader To Reader: Am I Overtraining?

How much training is too much? Here's what you thought


Posted: 23 December 2006
by Jane Hoskyn


This week's problem may sound extreme, but it's one that many enthusiastic runners or marathon trainees can relate to. In short, how much training is too much? And when you feel you're overdoing it, do you really have to stop completely for a bit, or is it OK just to cut back the miles?

"I have been running for three-and-a-half years, and the last year has been a bit confusing. In terms of racing it's been a success, but training has been difficult. Normally I train every day (70-80 miles a week), and take a rest when I need one. I've had two chest infections which knocked me out for more than two weeks, both after races, and I feel more tired than normal. I'm concerned I may be overtrained. Should I take this complete break or just cut back? What about getting back to proper training? Should I do some light cross-training?"frisp
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Your best answers...

  • You need time out
    You'll get a lot of mixed responses and different opinions here. But I cannot see how your body is finding time to rest and recover. You say you train every day, but it's during the rest periods – when your body repairs itself – that you get the real benefits from the exertions it's been put through. It repairs itself so that it's able to cope with the extra pressures of training, which is why we can build up to run longer distances over a period of time. Rest is very important; without it, the effects can be detrimental rather than benefical. Cross-training certainly has its place, but you still need to give the worked muscles a break. Higher heart rate, feeling of tiredness, a drop in performance and increased susceptibility to viruses are all symptoms that you appear to have. To reverse the effects of overtraining, you should stop training completely for a couple of weeks until you are healthy again. Then you can build the training back up slowly, but this time modify your schedule. You obviously have a good level of fitness, so a couple weeks of will not do you any harm whatsover! – Sean T
  • Get a schedule from an expert
    Frisp, I was training pretty much the same as you when I was left to my own devices. Then a couple of the coaches at my club took me under their wing to help me on the road to some PBs. When they saw my training diary I got a royal b*llocking, because there was nowhere near enough rest in there. It's fine to do the mileage, but your body only actually improves when you rest. This will be so hard for you, because you will feel like you are slacking, but if you change the way you train it will transform your running and racing. I now do one day of speedwork, one fast-paced 7-miler, one 10-20 miler and one other run. I felt I haven't been doing enough, but my running is getting better and better all the time. It might be useful to get someone to do a schedcule for you. It's easier when it's in black and white, and someone telling you what to do. – Jelly Bebe
  • Slow it down and mix it up
    After my last marathon, I tapered back up, then – BANG! Four weeks on, for some reason I felt absolutely shot. No idea why; the body is a strange thing. I did what I'm a great believer in – listened to my body. A couple of weeks of slower, shorter runs paid dividends, and now a few weeks on I'm flying. I'd recommend just listening to your body, and when you're ready to start pushing it again, off you'll go. There's nothing wrong with training every day per se: I've done it for years and no harm done. However, I ensure that I cross-train, take easy days etc, so the body gets its rest. Nowadays I run 2-3 days on the trot, some hard, some easy, then do a day at the gym. Sometimes when at the gym I blast my upper body and give my lower body a complete rest, which it doesn't half need. – Little Lizard
  • Plans some peaks and troughs
    You can avoid this problem in future by periodisation. Plan your year so that your training peaks a couple of times for your key races, but goes right down in between. – Snapstinget
  • See your GP – and this month's RW
    You say you've been feeling more tired of late, and the infections occurred after big events – ie, when you've been pushing to the max. I would suggest an immediate re-evaluation of your goals over the next three months, with a key aim being recovery (not the same as rest) and a chat with your GP. You may be carrying something like a viral infection. Your body is strong enough to fight and control it for the most part, but your immune system is compromised when stressed beyond the norm. Blood tests may shed some light. By the way, this month's Runner's World carries a warning from a doctor that viral infections may start to affect health when mileage is pushed over 70/week. Interesting that you do over 70mpw and the fatigue kicks in when you stress further, such as for races. – Raymond McMillan
  • Your heart rate says it all
    A couple of years ago I went through someting very similar. I had built up my training very quickly, and was racing and doing speedwork in the same week – probably over-enthusiastic after some good performances! I then came down with a throat/chest virus which was completely debilitating. To cut a long story short, I eased off my training (still doing the odd jog), but, like you, my resting heart rate was about 5-6 bpm above normal and more inconsisent, slow to drop etc. Didn't really feel quite right for nearly four months. – Snuffles

  • (Click here to read Snuffles' full reply)

  • A hard habit to break
    After almost 20 years of running, I still make the same mistakes of overtraining, coming down with colds, then trying to push harder to make up for lost time. I am currently training 6-7 days a week, but like most people I'm addicted to running, so find it difficult to take a day off. It's London Marathon for me next year, so I know I have to be careful about the training because I have had to pull out in the past due to a major chest infection. Like a number of people have said, rest is important, and the guilt you feel over taking time off really is an "all in the head" problem. – Steve Cook
  • Try heart rate training
    It does sound like overtraining – it's what I think happened to me last year. For me, the answer was to concentrate on the aerobic base. I had to slow down a lot and keep all my training at a very low heart rate. It wasn't that I'd been training too much, rather training too hard. This is the article that got me back on the road to recovery: Want speed? Slow down! by Dr Philip Maffetone. It took quite a few months to get me feeling like a runner again. I hope you find your mojo soon. – Chocolate Moose
  • Ease off, then ease up again
    I am currently suffering from overtraing. My physio says it is partly caused by interuptions in my schedule caused by other problems; if I'd continued steadily I might have been OK. He says that if you stop completely, the tissues heal in the wrong way. He advocates cutting right back on both frequency and intensity. I would suggest you cut back to a gentle 20 minutes a day, or alternate days, for a couple of weeks; then slowly increase distance, and finally increase intensity only when you're back up to a decent distance. – Rod Newing
  • Look after your body
    I overtrained, got a back problem and couldn't sit, stand or lie comfortably for nearly two months, let alone run. Now I'm down to four days a week running, one day cross-training, one day really light gym and yoga, and one day doing absolutely nothing at all. I often change my days around, but always make sure I have at least one day of doing nothing and one day of very little. It's preserved my back, and I feel my running is much better. I took 23 minutes off my HM best this year between May and October. I also plan my running year to include peaks and troughs of training, and make sure I have a good rest after anything HM and over. It's worked this year, so I'm sticking to it. – Buzzstar
  • Be patient
    I used to constantly hit it hard, carrying injuries, getting colds whatever... and I'd just run through them. In the end, there comes a point when your body says "no more". I personally think it can take up to six weeks to recover properly if you're overtrained. Like recovering from a marathon, it takes longer than you think! – Pugheaven


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Discuss this article

I have been running for three and a half years and the last year has been a bit confusing. In terms of racing it's been a success (marathon PB from 3:28 to 3:05, HM from 93 to 85) but training has been difficult. Normally I train every day (couple of doubles, one long run a week, 70-80 miles a week when it's going well) to Hadd principles and take a rest when I need one or when life interferes.I've had two chest inections which knocked me out for more than two weeks, both after races. July and August couldn't get HR up, but this sorted itself out when I eased off a bit. Last four weeks or so (which followed second of chest infections) resting HR has settled about 5-8 beats above my normal, all training paces are 40 secs a mile slower than usual, feel more tired than normal (but not a huge amount), no real trouble sleeping.

I'm concerned I may be overtrained and am planning to take a complete break for a fortnight (although I don't really want to) i.e. no running until 2007.

I suppose my questions are :-

does this sound like overtraining and should I take this complete break or just cut back?

what are realistic expectations for getting back to proper training (next race is Liverpool HM in run up to FLM)?

should I do some light cross-training?

any general advice on the whole situation especially if you've been through it.

Sorry for the ramble and thanks in advance.


Posted: 16/12/2006 at 17:56

Hi there frisp. No-one's responded so although I'm not an expert I'll chime in.

It does sound like overtraining. That's what I think happened to me last year.

For me the answer was to concentrate on the aerobic base. I had to slow down a lot and keep all my training at a very low heart rate. It wasn't that I'd been training too much, rather training too hard.

Try a link thingy... This is the article that got me back on the road to recovery.

It took quite a few months to get me feeling like a runner again. I hope you find your mojo soon...
Posted: 17/12/2006 at 12:38

Frisp: I don't think it's overtraining as that's quite a serious state. Hard training can sometimes effect the immune system which could make you susceptable to illness or inection. I suspect that you are just a bit run down - probably not enough variety in your training, not enough periodisation, and not enough programmed recovery due to too much one paced running.

If you address some of the above issues that should help, if you don't, you could find yourself heading towards an undertrained situation within the next six months. When you are suffereing from overtraining you'll certainly know it.
Posted: 17/12/2006 at 16:09


CM Most of my training is concentrated on the aerobic base and is under 75% maxHR.

To attempt to address the situation I was planning:-

2 weeks off then
3-4 weeks easy mileage then
12 week P&D 70 mile marathon programme (which schedules a rest day on a Monday).

Thanks both.




Posted: 17/12/2006 at 16:43

Hi Frisp,
Obviously you are going to get allot of mixed responces here, as different opinions are put across. But I cannot see how your body is finding time to rest and recover. You say you train everyday , but it's during the rest periods when your body repairs itself that you get the real benefits from the exertions it's been put through.It repairs itself to be able to cope with the extra pressures of training ,which is why we can build up to run longer distances over a period of time. Rest is very important as without it the effects can be detrimental rather than benefical. Certainly cross training has its place but you still need to give the worked muscles a break.
Higher heart rate,feeling of tiredness,a drop in performance and increased susceptibility to viruses are all symptoms of which you appear to have. Surely its worth considering that it's a high possibility . To reverse the effects of over training you should stop training completely until you are healthy again . Then you can build the training back up slowly, but stop before you reach the level which caused the overtaining to occur by modifying your schedule.
You obviously have a good level of fitness so a couple weeks of will not do you any harm whatsover!
Posted: 17/12/2006 at 19:05

Thanks Sean

As I say I have stopped completely for a couple of weeks before I ease back into things. The rough plan I outlined would hopefully fix things in the longer term (especially taking scheduled rest days as part of training, which I haven't been doing). I'm just concerned about the length of time things will take to sort out but I realise that's an impossible question for anyone to answer.

One of the things I think I've done wrong this year (which I didn't include in the original post) has been being in too much of a hurry to build training back up again after tough races i.e. because I've felt OK I've launched right back into training, normally after a week-this, I'm guessing, may have been too much.

A real issue for me is balancing the short term pleasure (because I really enjoy my daily running) with the long term consequences (this two week lay-off and subsequent impact on training) and I just hope I improve at it with more experience!!



Posted: 18/12/2006 at 13:44

Some good advice from Tom and Sean :)

frisp - you can avoid this problem in future by periodisation; plan your year so that your training peaks a couple of times for your key races but goes right down in between.


Posted: 19/12/2006 at 07:51

Hi Frisp.. I found this thread by accident and it's very interesting. A couple of years ago I went through someting very similar. I had built up my training very quickly and was racing and doing speedwork in the same week etc, probably overenthusiastic after some good performances!. I came down with a throat/chest virus which was completely debilitating. I took numerous courses of antibiotics but it was sort of 'non specific' so didn't really respond - took almost 8 weeks to recover. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I eased off my training (still doing the odd jog), but like you, my RHR was about 5-6 bpm up on normal and more inconsisent, slow to drop etc. Didn't really feel quite right for nearly 4 months. Then spent the next 12 months with recurrent sinus, chest and throat infections and somewhat sporadic training. I even had sinus surgery and considered a tonsillectomy! I had loads of blood tests and saw numerous consultants.

I did an MSc in Sport Science some years ago, so looked up all my research on overtraining or UPS as it's now called (Under Performance Syndrome). There is no real answer as each individual is so different. Symptoms are so different in each person and there is no one set recovery plan or definition. Overtraining should probably be called 'under resting'as we all can manage different training loads, it's how we recover from hard sessions and races, and also what else is going on in our lives which makes us more susceptible to UPS. It sounds to me like you've over raced a bit - do you have any other major stress going on in your life? With hindsight, at the time I was ill, I also had a 2yr old and 4 yr old (not getting a great deal of consistent sleep) and a terminally ill father. I failed to realise the impact of this on my stress levels and ability to recover from training - it's only now (without these major stressors) that I can see how they contributed. You don't say whether you're male or female?

There are various theories, but the best advice I was given was to monitor and score a variety of 'overtraining markers' each day.. RHR is only one of them. Things like stress levels, quality of sleep, tiredness, muscle soreness etc.

Anyway.. to recover at the time, I reduced intensity completely and basically kept my heart rate under 75% ALL the time. Even if it meant walking up hills! but it worked and I came back after nearly 7 months and ran a 10k PB off no speedwork. I think at this point, you've got to take the pressure off yourself, forget goal setting, race plans and just RECOVER and LISTEN to your body. Even if this means missing races - hard as it may seem. They'll still be there another time.

This year, I have managed a year of consistent training and have ran PB's at half marathon and 10k this year, as well as representing GB at the European Duathlon Champs. However, now I don't follow a set training 'programme'. I listen to my body and periodize my training into blocks, taking PLANNED rests, rather than when I need them. I take loads of Vit C, antioxidants, a product called Elagen, and make sure my nutrition is spot on - esp recovery nutrition. Making sure I have enough protein and carbohydrate. I eat barrow loads of oranges, get loads of sleep and obsess about hand washing and using alcohol hand rubs! So far it's working...

However, I really can sympathise. It's incredibly frustrating and depressing. Take it easy and let your body recover. It will let you know when it's time to race again. I've got loads of info and links on the web so email me off-thread if you wantsazrussell@aol.com. Sorry to ramble on, but it's one of my most interesting topics! Hope you start to feel better soon.
Posted: 19/12/2006 at 10:15

After my last marathon, I tapered back up then BANG! Was going great, then four weeks on for some strange reason I felt absolutely shot. No idea why, the body is a strange thing. Anyway, I did what I'm a great believer in - listened to my body. Took a couple of weeks of slower shorter runs and ended up doing less than week two of my taper up plan. It paid dividends though and now a few weeks on I'm flying.

I'd recommend just listening to your body and when you're ready to start pushing it again, off you'll go. And as for training every day, I've done it for years and no harm done. However, I ensure that I cross train, take easy days etc, so the body gets it's rest. These days I run 2-3 days on the trot, some hard, some easy, then do a day at the gym. Sometimes when at the gym I blast my upper body and give my lower body a complete rest which it doesn't half need.
Posted: 20/12/2006 at 08:24

Morning All,

I was training pretty much the same as you when I was left to my own devices and then a couple of the coaches at my club took me under their wing to help me on the road to some PBs and the first thing they did when they saw my training diary was give me a royal b*llocking- nowehere near enough rest in there. Its fine to do the mileage but your body only actually improves when you rest. Now this will be so so so hard for you cos you will feel like you are slacking but if you change the way you change it will transform your running and racing.

ME BEFORE - Running/training everyday unless life got in the way and took natural rest days rather than scheduled (ie when I was tired)

THE TIME TO REST IS WHEN YOU ARE AT YOUR BEST COS YOU ARE ON THAT THRESHOLD

ME NOW - I run generally 4 times a week - 2 days in the gym and a full rest day. Sometimes it goes down to 3 days running and an extra rest.

Running now is 1 day speedwork, 1 day fast paced 7 miler (ish) both of these are with the club. Then I do a long run of anything between 10 and 20 miles depending on my schedule and then another run which varies in length and pace.

I swear to you that this has almost killed me and I felt Ihavent been doing enough but my running is getting better and better all the time. Its all in my head. Good luck and I hope this helps.

JB x
Posted: 20/12/2006 at 08:37

Interesting to read everyone's views.

I'm trying to relax about the situation but I find it difficult (it's just my nature, no patience). Just not running (and doing no other exercise) at the moment is incredibly frustrating-I also actually feel more tired now (after five days off) than I did when I was running and not getting anywhere!! Resting HR is also up a little bit.

I like the 'under resting' idea-which I think pretty much sums up where I am.

Thanks again.

Posted: 20/12/2006 at 19:23

Classic overtraining symptom frisp - when you are more tired and HR slightly up when you stop. You have suppressing your immune system that when you stop it has time to catch up and makes you feel run down. I am exactly the same as you and feel like a lazy slob if I am not doing something (I am ok when its a weekend and I am busy with other things but on a week night I still find it hard - is a rest for me today so have been busy doing the xmas baking until normal running finish time about now when I dont feel guilty about chilling). But I know its the best for my running and that it will keep me injury free and I have done all my best races when I have done them on very little training which must tell me something!

Would be useful if you could get someone to do a schedcule for you - you ina club? It helps me no end cos if it says I rest or I gym and not run then thats what I do. Its easier when its in black and white and someone telling you what to do. Just a thought.

Hope ytou get on ok frisp and all the best! JB
Posted: 20/12/2006 at 19:37

Not in a club!

Having things written down works for me also. Hence the plan for the Pfitzinger and Douglas schedule when I'm better-I've also written out a gentle schedule to ease back into things at the start of Jan-two rest days a week to start with and nothing over 75% maxHR. Hopefully even if I'm the one who has written it down the obsessive side will follow what's written.

..and for those who advised to let the planning go completely-I hear what you say, I just can't at the moment!!
Posted: 20/12/2006 at 22:37

frisp - totally hear what you're saying about planning.. i was there and felt exactly the same. It's difficult when you're in it.. but try to relax, take the pressure off and then you'll find you get better! You will get better.. if you rest - not completely, but just do the sub 75% stuff for a few weeks.

Yes, you do need a goal and a plan for when you're 'better' and to know in your mind that it will improve - otherwise it's difficult to cope. However, the type of person (driven, goal orientated, high achiever) who makes a successfuly competitive runner is also a prime candidate for UPS - so you have to learn what your body needs, how to train progressively and how much rest you need - when to push hard and when to back off.. The problem with following a schedule is that it's not written specifically for you and you can easily get overtrained. Agree with JB - you need to get someone to put together a specific plan for you which will help you improve without getting burnt out. Good luck anyway..
Posted: 20/12/2006 at 23:39

I am currently suffering from overtraing. My physio says it is partly caused by interuptions in my schedule caused by other problems. If I had continued steadily I might have been OK.

He says that if you stop completely the tissues heal in the wrong way. He advocates cutting rigth back on both frequency and intensity. Continued running will keep the tissues stretched.

In my words, I would suggest you cut right back, maybe to a gentle 20 minutes a day or alternate days for a couple of weeks and then slowly increase distance but not intensity. Increase intensity only when you are back up to a decent distance. The physio suggests that recovering runners should cut back on distance when they increase intensity, but that is hard advice to follow.
Posted: 21/12/2006 at 06:27

Frisp, i started to up my training added more running in prep for a half marathon nearly two weeks ago, that is partly down to why i have had a foot injury and have hardly done any training in the last two weeks due to the injury, i have had to take a two week break, and i dont like the fact that i cant do much, just starting to get back and christmas is coming up., so by the time i get back on track to somewhere near where i wass it will be near four weeks, it's made more look at only doing three or four runs a wek noit 5 or six various distances over a week, trying to improve to quickly caused me to have an injury, i'm going to meet up with Jelly over the crimbo period for a drink hopefull and see if i can join the running club that she is a member of in the new year, so i can get the right advice and help
Posted: 21/12/2006 at 07:49

Thanks everyone for the good advice I'e been reading. After almost 20 years running I still make the same mistakes of overtraining, coming down with colds, then trying to push harder to make up for lost time. I am currently training 6.7 days a week, but like most people I'm addicted to running, so find it difficult to take a day off. It's London Marathon for me next year so I know I have to be careful about the training because I have had to pull out in the past through a major chest infection. Like a number of people have said I agree rest is important and taking time off is "all in the head" problem. Thanks everyone for your comments
Posted: 21/12/2006 at 08:27

Snuffles - two interesting and very informative posts, thank you
Posted: 21/12/2006 at 08:41

Completely agree with Jelly Babe, this is what I did and now do. I overtrained got a back problem, could sit, stand or lie comfortably for nearly two months let along run. Now four days a week running, one day cross train and one day really light gym and yoga with one day doing absolutely nothing at all (usually a Friday because it feels good not to have to get up early for the gym). I often change my days around but always make sure I have at least one day of doing nothing and one day of very little. Its preserved my back and I feel my running is much better ... I know its not much but took 23 minutes off my HM best this year between May and October. I also plan my running year having peaks and troughs of training and making sure I have a good rest after anything HM and over. Its worked this year so I'm sticking to it.
Posted: 21/12/2006 at 09:50

Think it's about being in control of your training, not the other way round. Profound or what?!

YOU dictate the rest days and take planned time off.. not when you're so knackered and run down you have no choice.

All good advice from everyone..
Posted: 21/12/2006 at 13:37

Snuffles Best advice I've sene in ages, and I completly agree...

I constantly hit it hard carrying injuries, colds whatever... and just run through them, it's bad and in the end, there comes a point when your body says no more...
By thw way, when overtrained, I personally think it can take upto 6 weeks to recover properly... like recovering from a marathon,.... longer than you think!


Pug
Posted: 21/12/2006 at 13:54

First thing I've always been told about training is "listen to your body". You say you've been feeling more tired of late and the infections occurred after big events ie when you have been pushing to the max. I would suggest immediate re-evaluation of your goals over the next 3 months with a key aim being recovery (different from rest!) and a chat with your GP. You may be carrying a viral infection (for example) but your body is strong enough to fight and control it for the most part but your immune system is compromised when stressed beyond the norm. Blood tests may shed some light.
Posted: 22/12/2006 at 16:45

As a follow on from my comment above, this months Runners World carries a warning from a Dr that viral infections (herpes "shingles" virus is the one featured) may start to affect health when mileage is pushed over 70 per week. Interesting that you do over 70mpw and the fatigue kicks in when you stress further i.e. races.

Posted: 22/12/2006 at 22:32

Really fantastic answers, guys. You've made me feel a lot better about the time I took off after my last marathon - back then I thought I'd "lost it" and was being lazy. From what you say, my body was just desperate for a complete rest.

I'm just editing the Reader to Reader article now to include your advice. Snuffles gets a whole extra page!
Posted: 23/12/2006 at 14:48

After nearly a year out from running I am finally back to training again. I really felt like giving up, as numerous blood tests, mis diagnosis(cronic fatigue syndrome) and even seeing a doc from the English Institute of sport couldn't find what what the matter with me.
I am 17 year old female and finally after so many blood tests (I lost count), heart scans and an ECG it was diagnosed I had been suffering from a virus that I just couldn't get rid of.
Its a struggle after all his time-people I used to streak past in training are now ahead of me so its obviously going to be lots of hard work to get back to the standard I was at before.
I am targeting my County XC Championships or the South of England XC Championships both in January as my "comeback races" but this may well be too soon-I'll just have to see how I'm doing then.
I used to laugh when people said they "were unwell with a virus" but not any more I know just how hard they can be to get rid of!
Posted: 28/12/2006 at 22:58

Thanks for all the advice, everyone.

Took the fortnight off (and felt rubbish-two migraines in that period normally get that many in a year if I'm unlucky), resting HR is now higher still.

Blood tests are all clear as are chest x-rays.

Just back from a 40 minute run under 75% maxHR. Lovely to be running again-felt as it should for that HR i.e. easy- but pace is way way down. Next three weeks I intend to run only five days a week with absolutely nothing over 75%.

Will be interesting to see how it goes over the next couple of weeks-I also need to get some tricks sorted for not thinking/obsessing about pace.

Happy New Year!
Posted: 01/01/2007 at 16:24

Well done Frisp and Happy New Year to you too. Stick with it.. you'll be amazed how quickly your sub75% pace comes up.

Be secure in the knowledge that you are absolutely doing the right thing.
Posted: 01/01/2007 at 17:50

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