Over Training for a Marathon: How can I Stop and Recover?

Over training during marathon season is something I constantly struggle with. What is over training?  Over training is doing too much exercise without letting your body time to rest and recover between exercise.  As a result, performance can suffer.

 

I am a Type A person, very competitive, and have dealt with eating disorders my entire life; pushing myself as hard as I can is my MO.  I am very susceptible to doing too much exercise, or doing too much too soon, and never wanting any down time.  Quotes like “hard work beats talent” or “success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out” or “go the extra mile” create a culture of always feeling the need to go hard in every workout.

 

Over training can manifest itself in sneaky ways, sometimes counter-intuitive ways, but the body is weird that way.  After toeing the line between good training and too much training, I’ve gotten to the point where I can recognize 3 key symptoms of over training in myself.

 

Telltale signs that I am over training

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1. Increased moodiness, irritability and/or depression

We’ve heard that exercise increases endorphins and feelings of happiness.  I know this phenomenon well; once I hit the pavement and the endorphins start flowing I feel so much better.  Running has also brought me the joy of forming long-lasting friendships, exploring new cities, and losing myself for hours in meditation.

 

Because running usually brings me a happy high, when I begin to feel depressed after a run, or I feel angry, or mopey, or weepy, or cranky, or edgy, or just so blah that I don’t know what to do with myself… Basically if I become a Homer Simpson during one of his explosive outbursts + Grumpy the Dwarf trapped in Eeyore’s body. That’s when I know I am doing too much and need to take a rest.

 

David

 

But why the heck would over training lead to me feeling moody, irritable, and depressed?  Shouldn’t running more often increase my endorphins more and just make me the happiest freakin’ person on the planet?

 

Turns out that when you exercise constantly, the same stress hormones are released as when you experience emotional stress. According to researchers, over training has some of the same signs and symptoms as depression; when you are in a state of chronic stress you can experience feelings of moodiness and depression.

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2. I gain weight, especially around my mid section/abs

Exercising usually means you will lose weight (exercise and diet, but I won’t get into diet).  But basically, you exercise and produce a calorie deficit and as long as you don’t go home and eat the entire contents of your refrigerator, you’ll lose weight.  Usually this is true for me too; I follow the training plan and usually lose some weight.  But when I begin creeping into that over training zone, suddenly I start packing on the pounds, especially around my midsection.  My abs go away and I start to worry.

 

Over Training gain weight

If over training means you are exercising too much, then how can you gain weight?

 

Well, remember that thing from before about stress hormones being elevated if you train too much?  Turns out that an elevated level of the stress hormone cortisol is linked to abdominal fat distribution.  If you were to recover, your body would adapt to the stress and get stronger.  If you skip the recovery stage, then the stress just compounds and compounds.  Your body might also be breaking down muscle for energy, meaning you become less efficient at burning fat.

 

3. I am tired yet an insomniac

Usually after a workout, my body feels tired but it’s the good kind of tired, the tired where I think, “yeah, I kicked ass today!” I can get through the rest of the day, and at night when my head hits the pillow I am asleep with no problem.  The next day, I wake up feeling refreshed.

 

If I tip into the over training zone however, my legs feel heavy.  My hips feel tighter than usual.  All of my runs feel slow and heavy and I am gasping to hold an easy pace.  My body just feels tired.  Yet, when I go to sleep, I find that I can’t!  Or I find that I wake up constantly in the middle of the night and am so restless.

 

sleep

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What’s happening is that my body is worn down from lack of recovery.  Of course my performance will suffer and even easy runs will require so much more effort.  But if I am feeling lethargic and tired, why can’t I sleep well?  Again it goes back to the chronic level of stress I’ve created in my body.  Blame the adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol.

 

So how do I get over the excessive training? Can I get back to normal levels?

 


How I Stop Over-Training

 

1. Call up my running friends.

Ironically, it’s so easy for me to identify over training and my friends and other athletes. I can clearly see the signs and the symptoms and can give the correct advice:  “It’s OK to take a day off, that’s exactly what your body needs, you aren’t letting yourself recover,” yet I have such an issue with taking my own advice. It has to do with my negative body image.

 

When I feel the three signs I listed above, I need someone else to validate what I am feeling, someone else to support my logical brain and say “yeah Becca, you’re doing too much, go sit on your ass and stop running.”  So I call up my friends.  For some reason, I can take their advice, I just need that outside validation.

 

friend 1

 

2. Take a day off.  A TOTAL day off.
This is the hardest for me because the logical part of my brain says, “DUH I’m tired, let me chill” while the eating disorder side of my brain says, “No! we can’t take a day off and do nothing!”  Usually on my off days of running, I still do strength or yoga.  But when I reach a certain point I take a WHOLE day off, and that’s scary for me.  That’s why I call in the reinforcements in step one. It makes this step a lot easier.
3. Go take an ice bath and sit in compression boots at the Edge.

 

Nothing beats chilling in boots with friends!
Nothing beats chilling in boots with friends!

4. Pay more attention to my nutrition.

I’ll increase my protein and dense fruits and vegetable consumption if I feel my body starting to wear down.  Cherry juice, beets, tempeh and kale are some of my go to’s to recharge.

 

5. Go easy for the next week and cut down my mileage.
Again this is hard for me because I feel like if I am not running, I won’t be prepared for the marathon.  But I know that at the point where I start feeling over trained, recovery is more important than a mediocre 10 mile run. I remind myself that I want to be able to continue the training instead of breaking my body down in order to do a solid 26.2 miles in the future.


There’s a fine line between training hard and over training.  It’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms in yourself and to all yourself enough time to recover right.  Over training is NOT something you want to do; putting your body in a constant state of stress can have serious consequences.  Relax, take a break, it’ll be ok.

 

What are your thoughts on over training?

 

Happy running,
Becca

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