Overtraining is something that all runners from true beginners to the champion level experience at some point. We all know that over-
training is bad, but how does it happen?

It isn’t something that happens overnight but rather a gradual process that builds upon itself in successive workouts until it manifests itself
in the form of reduced performance, fatigue or injury.

We will discuss both the physical and mental components to this problem.

Understanding how it happens from both perspectives is essential to preventing overtraining so that you can identify what causes it and
be on the lookout early to prevent it.

Understanding A Workout Cycle

The fitness level of a human body in a workout cycle can be broken down into four segments: initial baseline fitness, training, recovery,
and supercompensation.

Everyone starts out at their baseline level of fitness before any training begins.  When you are not actively training this is the level of
fitness your body tends to move towards as your natural ability.

Upon engaging in a workout, your level of fitness actually begins to decrease while performing the workout and you end at a state of
having less fitness than when you began.

If you run a marathon you are not going to be at the same level of fitness to run another one at the same effort the following day or even
the following few days.

After training, the body enters a recovery period responding to the workout you engaged in.  During this time your level of fitness
increases back up to the initial baseline fitness level you began at before you conducted your workout.

Once it reaches that point your body will then enter a period of supercompensation in which it builds itself to a higher level of fitness in
anticipation of the next training session. The supercompensation period is when your body is at a level of fitness higher than when you
started. This is your body’s response and adaptation to the training stimulus so that it is able to perform more efficiently next time.

If there are no further workouts over a period of time, the body’s fitness level will slowly decline back towards the initial fitness level. You
must use it or lose it over time.

The Cause Of Overtraining

There are several ways that a runner can overtrain:
  • Increasing mileage too soon
  • Conducting successive hard training sessions
  • Conducting hard training sessions after long endurance sessions
  • Training harder than prescribed (i.e. running recovery runs at race pace, adding miles)
  • Not taking rest days

Engaging in any of these behaviors does not allow the supercompensation cycle to run the course and instead of making measured
improvement from adaptations from training, you actually decrease your fitness with each successive workout.

While fitness levels continue to decrease with each successive workout the risk of injury increases.  A point is eventually reached where
injury or burnout occurs that forces the runner to stop training or to take time away.

When the cycle of overtraining is finally broken, your body does not improve as a result from your hard efforts.  Instead, it gradually
recovers to your baseline level of fitness that you started with.  Essentially, all of your efforts were for nothing.

Most runners enter the cycle of over-training and only recover from it when an injury occurs or time away from running such as a vacation
takes place.  For runners that consistently overtrain, little progress is made towards achieving their running goal.

When a lot of work is put into training without seeing good results this can be one of the causes.

Hopefully this illustrates the importance of not only adhering to a well planned Training Program, such as
Coach Bob's PR² Training
but to value your rest, recovery and easy days.  Simple things such as adding more miles to your short  recovery runs or running
easy runs at race pace will not make you a better runner but instead put you on a path of decreased fitness and at higher risk of injury.  
Neither are productive to achieving your running goal.

Physical Signs and Symptoms of Overtraining

Knowing the signs of overtraining and identifying them early is key to preventing a situation from negatively impacting your running.
Common warning signs include:

  • Chronic fatigue, feeling drained all of the time, lack of energy
  • Mild soreness in the legs that does not resolve
  • General aches and pains that are ongoing
  • Specific pain in muscles and joints
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased incidence of injuries
  • Headache
  • Sudden reduction in performance (Training voulme and intensity, race results)
  • Decreased immunity (increased number of respiratory infections, sore throat)

The psychological factors of overtraining are just as important if not more important than the physical factors. It is often the mind that
drives an athlete into an overtrained state, rather than a poorly designed training program or too much stress on the body at any given

Most psychological reasons for overtraining are a combination of fear, lack of confidence, a more is better mindset and competitive

All of these factors are with good reason. Formally training for a race of any distance is a large commitment of time, lifestyle, in some
cases monetary considerations and putting yourself out there to be publicly measured in the form of race results. You want to do it right
and obtain the best result you are capable of.


Fear is perhaps the most powerful of the psychological factors. Fear can be due to not feeling that you are doing enough to prepare, not
having a relevant experience to compare to for validation of what you are doing or fear of doing the wrong things to prepare.

If you have a social circle that includes other runners you are undoubtedly discussing your training strategies, races and more amongst
each other. You may hear how someone that you perceive similar to your ability level is preparing and compare it to your own efforts
leading to questioning what you are doing which leads to fear.

Fear can lead to overtraining by incorporating more into your training than outlined in your Program. It could include adding many
elements from outside sources that when added to your training regimen becomes just enough to cause an overuse injury.

Lack of Confidence

If you are training for a new race distance for the first time you don’t have a baseline to compare it to. For example, training for your first
marathon is mentally more challenging than preparing for subsequent ones as you then have prior experience to take into consideration
when planning your preparation.

You may start off from the beginning with the idea that you don’t think you can accomplish the task ahead causing you to decide to do
more than necessary to prepare in order to make sure there is no chance you will have under trained and fail on race day.

The fact is if you follow even 75% of your Training Program for a marathon there is little doubt your body will be able to complete the
distance, but if you over-train the risk of developing an injury during the race from being on the cusp of injury from your training is very high.

More Is Better

This most commonly manifests itself in the form of modifying training to be more rigorous than prescribed.

For example, an easy run of just a few miles at a slow pace during a marathon training program may seem like a waste of time or not
providing you any benefit compared to the latest long run you recently conquered or a speed workout that left you feeling as if you really
accomplished something. It can be easy to fall into the pattern of running a short workout hard or adding a few more miles on.

Your mind will convince you that more is better. The cumulative effect of running easy and recovery workouts as hard training runs is one
of the top reasons a runner becomes injured.

For many this attitude towards exercise has been ingrained upon them since a young age. ‘No pain no gain’ may have been a mantra you
were taught.

When combined with fear, lack of confidence and competitive forces this is a recipe for over training. As you develop as a runner, you
will train your mind to value the rest and recovery days as much as the key workouts you perform.

Competitive Forces

Competitive forces whether they be against yourself or against other runners are powerful drivers of sticking to your running, but they can
often lead to overtraining.  Similar mental factors are at work here as in the ‘more is better’ mentality.

Many runners think that if they put in more work than the runner they are competing against they will outperform them. Perhaps, but only
to a point. Each runner is unique as to what their ability is, what needs to be worked on to improve, years of experience in the sport and
total volume that can be tolerated without injury.

When you only account for what more you can do instead of considering the why for your preparation efforts it can lead to over training.

Psychological Signs and Symptoms of Overtraining

Overtraining often presents itself first with psychological signs before any physical signs become present. Here are some of the common
psychological signs of overtraining:

  • Changes in personality
  • Unable to concentrate on a task
  • A compulsive need to exercise
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Lack of motivation to exercise
  • Difficulty concentrating during school or work
  • Fear of competition
  • General apathy
  • Giving up when faced with challenge
  • Mood swings and general irritability
  • Depression (in severe cases)
  • Loss of enthusiasm for the sport
  • Repeatedly searching for new training methods or plans

Identifying these warning signs and taking corrective action immediately by contacting
Coach Bob.
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