Sylvia Cashmore (Peterborough, Ontario) was training for the 2012 Boston Marathon. She was running 6 days per week. Being an avid triathlete (often placing first in her age group), Sylvia was also cross-training 2-3 times weekly. Unfortunately, all of her hard work resulted overtraining and developing a severe nasty cold which jeopardized her training and racing plans.

Sylvia realized she had to change her regimen. She came onboard as a Coaching Client. After recovering from her illness, she cut her running frequency by 50% (from 6 down to 3 days per week), limited her cross-training to two days weekly and implemented two days of complete rest (the latter may have been the toughest change for her to make – we’re sure some readers can relate).

The result? Sylvia ran a personal best in the Peterborough Half Marathon (1:50:43, 1st place, women 60+). Then, she successfully completed her first Boston Marathon, despite temperatures approaching 90F (32C) and stomach problems.

Overtraining occurs when you push yourself too hard for too long – in the short, medium or long term. Too hard usually involves one or more of the following: too much intensity, volume, distance or racing. Inadequate Rest and Recovery are always significant contributors to overtraining.

How to spot symptoms of overtraining?

  • Repeatedly not looking forward to training – not just for the occasional run
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Elevated heart rate (10 beats per minute above normal heart rate when awakening)
  • Chronic heavy legs
  • Chronic pain and achiness
  • Illness
  • Unhealthy weight loss
  • Continued poor performance in workouts (that is not attributable to other factors e.g. hormonal)

If you are showing signs of overtraining:

Take a minimum of 3-4 days off from training. This practice has always worked for Bennett. Don’t worry! This rest period will not hurt your race preparedness. Au contraire – it will prevent you from completely ruining your training and racing plans.

Get more sleep. This cannot be over-emphasized. Immunity boosting growth hormones are released during sleep. Research shows that the highest levels of killer cells that fight infection (and promote recovery) are produced after eight hours sleep.

If you don’t feel refreshed after your 3-4 day break, take as long as you require.┬áThis is one of those times when you really have to listen to your body.

How to avoid overtraining in the first place?

Follow a training plan that includes plenty of rest and recovery in the short term (microcycle), medium term (mesocycle) and long term (macrocycle). It’s not possible to have a detailed discussion on training plan design in a brief article. Make sure that your training plan includes:

  • Two days of complete rest every week
  • One week every 3-4 weeks where you reduce your total mileage by 25% – 40%
  • After every goal race for which your training has peaked, wait several weeks before resuming hard training. A good rule of thumb is waiting one day for every kilometer raced (1.6 days for every mile raced). That would be 3 weeks for a half-marathon and 6 weeks for a marathon.