Reader To Reader: Am I Overtraining?


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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