Aching hamstrings: Neurologic fatigue or overtraining?

About seven or eight miles into my last three marathons both hamstrings began to ache. The farther into the race I get the worse the aching becomes. My stride shortens and I slow drastically. I've gone from consistent 3:08 or better to about 3:48.

I've been diagnosed with neurological fatigue due to tight hamstrings. I went to a physical therapist and worked on them until they improved. The therapy improved my shorter race times, but did not help in my last marathon.

I run 50 to 75 miles a week on six or seven days. I run about 25 races a year, with a spring and fall marathon. I take a week off after the marathons. I run eight minute pace for long runs and 6:30 for tempo runs. Since I race often I don't usually run intervals.

Am I pushing too hard, would an extended layoff help? Is there some other explanation for my problem?


Neurologic fatigue
The term neurologic fatigue is a condition caused by degenerative nerve diseases. This is not likely in your case.

There are several reasons for hamstring discomfort and sometimes it is not easy to pinpoint the cause. A bad lower back or disc can give posterior leg pain. Tight muscles such as the piriformis can irritate the sciatic nerve and cause hamstring pain. Fluid filled bursa sacs can become irritated and cause referred pain. And the hamstrings themselves can become injured. Defects in your feet can also lead to leg muscle overload and pain.

You need a comprehensive examination of your back, legs, and feet by an experienced sports medicine professional to find out what is causing your aching legs.

If your problem is diagnosed as in the hamstrings you may find yoga classes helpful. Have you changed anything in your training since you began slowing in your marathons? Do you build your long runs slowly, for example like Jeff Galloway teaches?

You run six or seven days a week, for 50 to 75 miles, and race on average every two weeks. I think this is too much for someone who has symptoms, and you may simply be overtraining. Take a couple of days off each week, and cut your mileage to 30 to 40 miles a week on average for a while.

It's okay to train hard for short periods, say up to three months. But you should try to peak once or twice a year. Train in cycles; hard for a while, then taper for three weeks, race well for a few weeks, then back off for a period of recovery. Too many recreational athletes overtrain. Often you'll find that less (training) is more (performance); give your hamstrings a break.

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