Tuesday, May 20, 2014

When You Dig Yourself into a Hole (part I)

Overtraining is a slow and silent killer. When most people think “injury” they think a physical ailment, but what happens when your engine gives out before your body?
You aren’t healthy and you enter into a secret psychological warfare with yourself. That’s what happens.

Pain is useful. It is a mechanism so your brain can recognize when you are doing something harmful to your body. Your hamstring isn’t hurting just to piss you off, it’s hurting to get through to your stubborn, goal-oriented mind that maybe, just maybe, it needs a rest day.

The issue with overtraining is that you don’t have these clear-cut, painful warning signs to ignore. You, instead, have signs that make you question your own mental strength.

Luckily, I am going to give you my list of clear-cut warning signs.

Progression of overtraining:

1.     Easy runs feel hard
Do not force easy runs. The “if my easy runs are faster, then it means I’m really fit and my hard workouts should be faster too” training philosophy is just plain crazy.

Solution: Slow down

2.     You have a stank attitude for a few days.
As a crazy runner, you will probably be inclined to give yourself the Don’t-be-a-baby-and-game-up talk. This is noble. If you do this for more than 3 days in a row, you go from being noble to being a fool. Those hormones that control recovery? They are the same hormones that control your mood. Being Mrs. stank pants is your brain and body working together convincing you to take the day off. 

Solution: Take the day off

3.     You can’t finish races.
Not that you just slow down, but that you slow down and your entire body locks up to the point where grandmas could pass you.
This symptom mimics being out of shape. So that crazy person inside of you will try to convince you that more work is needed for a better finish. This perpetuates the overtraining.

Solution: Take a few days of slow running with strides until your legs don’t feel like they weigh a million pounds.

4.     Your workouts become spotty.
Where you can’t fake races, you can fake workouts. Until you can’t.

That 60 second 400m repeat feels like a 53second 400m. I know it doesn’t make sense. You could cruise 60-second quarters all day one week, and 3 weeks later you regressed. WTF happened? You will probably work hard to convince yourself that you got out of shape while working out over the past 3 weeks. You didn’t. That doesn’t even make sense.

Solution: Take 2 days completely off and don’t even think about running. Just do it (Nike plug), trust me.

5.     You feel tired. All the time. And can’t sleep.
This is bad. You have ignored signs in your running life for so long that now your non-running life is out of whack. Your hormones are about to go into shit-hit-the-fan mode.

Solution: Sleep as much as you can. Cut out all caffeine.

6.     You don’t have an appetite.
Your body trying hard to shut you down.

Solution: Make yourself eat as much as possible. Bump up the calories. Over sleeping and eating will hopefully trigger your stressed-out-of-its-mind mind that it is not in a state of warfare.

7.     Complete apathy.
I have never been depressed, but I assume it is something like being this over trained. At this level you don’t even realize or care that your running has gone to pieces. George Clooney could sucker punch you and you would have no emotional response.

Solution: You, my friend, need a mini retirement from running. You are in a deep hole and time is the only thing to fill it.

Sometimes resting is harder than training harder. Be smart, my friend. 

I know this because I have experienced it first hand in 2011 and 2012. Because I am an idiot. It is not something to mess around with. 


  1. Hang in there Phoebe. All you need is some rest and you'll back under 2 in no time!

  2. Actually, I'm totally out of that hole now! For the first time in a couple of years I'm healthy and fit! But thanks for the encouragement!

  3. I hadn't seen your oxy race until just now, way to go!

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  5. Wish I could "help myself"...alas, I'm at an 80-year crossroads.