Running is such a fantastic sport—the health benefits are undeniable, training is fun, and competing is a thrill. Many new runners find themselves becoming addicted to training: First it’s a 5K, then a 10K, next a half marathon, and soon a marathon is on their race schedule a mere four months after they started.
But too much of a good thing can be harmful. Every runner needs to follow the principle of progression and if you don’t, you may find yourself unmotivated to reach your goals, overtrained, and even injured.
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To prevent overtraining, avoid the three too's: too much, too soon, too fast.
But how do you know if you’re overtrained or running too much? Look for these signs that signal you need a break from running.
1. Climbing a flight of stairs is exhausting.
A simple, quick way to determine if you need more recovery in your training is if you’re fatigued from everyday tasks. Climbing a flight of stairs shouldn’t be a physical feat for a runner—if you get to the top and your quads are burning, you’re panting, or your heart is pounding, consider taking some time off to let your body rest.
2. You’re grumpy, irritable, or unhappy with your training.
If you have no running goals and find yourself grumpier than usual, it might be time for a break. Running should be a source of inspiration. If it’s not a positive part of your life, you may be doing too much and need a well-deserved recovery week.
Another option is to reduce your volume and cut out all of your hard workouts. A reduction in intensity and volume can give you just enough exercise to feel good without being a significant stressor.
3. The majority of your mileage is "quality."
Of course, fast workouts and quality mileage are important. After all, if you want to race fast, you have to run fast in training. But a little intensity goes a long way.
Most runners should only be doing about two hard workouts per week, including their long run or a race. There are obviously exceptions, but this rule works exceptionally well with the runners I mentor as a running coach. Performance and health are bound to suffer with such a high-intensity schedule, so cut down your workouts and you should start feeling better.
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4. You’d rather sleep in or attend happy hour than go running.
A dip in motivation is normal, but if you constantly find yourself preferring another (or any) activity to running, you could be in trouble. Runners too often find themselves physically overtrained when they try too hard to push through a motivational barrier. Reward yourself with an extra 3 to 7 days of rest and you’ll come back eager to train.
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5. Your heart rate soars during easy runs, even though the effort should be easy.
A dramatic reduction in performance with significant, lingering fatigue is a clear warning sign of overtraining. Don’t treat this problem lightly or try to "run through it."
Start by taking a week off and really focus on recovery: Get a lot of sleep, eat the healthiest diet possible, wear calf compression sleeves, and, if possible, take a few naps. Your body repairs itself when you sleep so that has to be your number one priority. You need a lot of rest and a smaller workload when you come back to running.
Use these signs to evaluate your training and how you feel on a day-to-day basis. Make sure you prioritize recovery, observe the principle of progression, and run at a comfortable pace, or you could find yourself overtrained.
You may just need to cut back your volume, intensity, or even take an extended period of time off. Ultimately, being healthy and motivated to train well is more important than pushing through needless mental and physical fatigue.
More: What to Do on Rest and Recovery Days
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