Last spring, Dorothy Beal set her sights on running five marathons in one year. A lofty goal, yes, but as a seasoned—and smart—distance runner, Beal, of Leesburg, Virginia, didn't think she'd run into any major issues with her stacked schedule. "But by the fifth race, my body was burned out and had nothing left to give," admits Beal, 31. "Usually, it's so easy to jump back into training, but it took longer for me to feel back to normal."
While Beal is used to heavy mileage—she's completed 24 marathons—the toll of racing so much in a short span of time had beaten her down, both mentally and physically. Simply put, Beal was racing too much.
Granted, tackling multiple marathons in a year is a daunting task for most runners. But those who focus on shorter distances, like 5Ks and 10Ks, can be guilty of over-racing, too. And while succumbing to an injury is typically a red flag of overuse, other indicators that you're racing too much may not be so obvious. Here are five signs that it may be time to step away from competition for a bit.
You've Lost Your Giddyup
"A sure sign of over-racing is when runners complain of their legs feeling heavy," says Jerry Alexander, a coach for the Georgetown Running Company in Washington, D.C. "Which is ironic coming from finely-tuned distance runners, who are extremely lean. But 'heavy' is the word that always comes up."
Lacking that spring in your step during workouts or races may mean your body is exhausted, or worse, that you're on the brink of an injury. When it's clear that a few days of rest isn't going to cure the problem, it's time to take some time off before easing back into training and racing. "It may help to switch your focus to base work, which means a fair amount of volume, and low intensity," says Alexander. "That will allow you to develop strength for future races."