We live in a world of overachievers. We glorify pushing harder, being busier, and going as far and as long as it takes. While many of us find something admirable about this attitude and the people who live it out, it, unfortunately, tends to be a very unsustainable way to work and live. Whether you end up burning out at the office or in the hospital with stress-related chest pains, it’s not always good to go as hard as you can all the time.
The same can be said of endurance runners. We all want to be better marathoners. We want to level up. We want to be faster, stronger, and more experienced runners. So we push.
And unfortunately, some of us push too far.
Overtraining is a very real danger for endurance runners—especially those of us who are balancing a full-time, jam-jacked professional life with our running.
The Endurance Runner’s Guide to Avoiding Overtraining
What Exactly is Overtraining?
Despite what it might sound like, overtraining isn’t a result of too much time hitting the gym or too many hours spent on the run: it’s the result of too little rest.
Overtraining syndrome is, in short, the collapse of your body’s ability to perform as it is pushed beyond its capacity to recover.
Unfortunately for many runners, they see their performance begin to dip and they think they must not be training hard enough, not realizing that this dip in performance has actually been caused by a lack of rest in their life. So they train harder, which creates a larger deficit in rest. This cycle worsens performance and makes it more and more difficult to recover.
Neglecting recovery makes it impossible to get stronger.
So how do you prevent overtraining syndrome? You recognize the signs that you aren’t getting enough rest.
4 Red Flags that Mean You Might be Overtraining
1) Climbing stairs wears you out.
Fatigue is one of the tell-tale signs of overtraining. If everyday tasks are wearing you out even though you are in shape, you probably aren’t very well rested. For a runner, zipping up a flight of steps should be a breeze. If you get to the top and feel your heart pounding or are out of breath and feel your muscles burning, chances are you need to take a break.
Most runners who try this test without realizing that this is fatigue and overtraining would likely get discouraged and think “man, I’m out of shape!” and hit the gym extra hard. See how this is confusing?
2) You’re irritable towards everyone.
There are many physiological symptoms of overtraining, from changes in blood pressure and hormone levels to a compromised immune system. But really, one of the simplest signs of overtraining syndrome is the fact that you get moody and irritable.
If you’re fatigued, exhausted, and burned out because your body isn’t recovering, you’re probably going to snap at someone. In fact, that’s one of the common signs that people point to as the point they realized something was wrong. This is why it’s also good to have running buddies or a brutally honest spouse!
They can often spot signs of overtraining before you do because they notice your moodiness first.
3) Sleep isn’t so sweet.
Sleep is such a valuable indicator of health. It also happens to be critical to rest and recovery. If you are training in a way that is healthy, you should be sleeping well. If you are overtraining, you will likely experience disruptions in your sleep: like poor quality sleep, insomnia, and nightmares. Sleep is when your body repairs itself. Your heart health improves, cells regenerate, and brain function improves. It is a critical time, and so the quality of your sleep is critical, too.
A shift in your sleep quality should always raise a red flag.
4) You just don’t feel good.
Because overtraining can compromise your immune system and cause fatigue, it’s of no surprise that you won’t feel well as a symptom of overtraining. But in addition, you may find other symptoms dragging you down: everything from appetite loss and depression to aches and pains and infections.
Overtraining is, overall, just bad for your health.
Have you ever experienced overtraining syndrome? Let us know what helped you realize you needed to rest in the comments below.