Training to reach your peak potential as a distance runner is like walking a fine line between just enough training and too much training. If you don’t train with enough quality and quantity you will end up under reaching and you won’t achieve your peak potential.
If you train with too much intensity or distance you could over reach and end up with over training problems that will decrease your performance levels. The trick is to train just enough to reach new levels of fitness and performance without crossing that line into the over training realm.
Here’s my top ten ways to walk that fine line and avoid over training.
Give it a Break
Hard training doesn’t build you up, it breaks you down. It’s during your recovery from a hard workout that your body builds itself up to new levels of strength and fitness. Make sure your allowing sufficient time between hard workouts for your body to fully or nearly full recover and strengthen.
Treat long runs as hard workouts and aim to take at least 1-2 rest days a week. Rest and recovery is as important as training, so take that additional rest day if you need it. Remember to include rest and recovery weeks in your training plan. Aim for every 3rd or 4th week to be an easy week.
Get Sack Time
When you’re sleeping your body releases a chemical cocktail, including human growth hormone, which goes to work strengthening your muscles and repairing micro trauma caused by your workouts.
If you don’t get enough sleep these compounds don’t have a sufficient amount of time to complete their job. Try to get 8 to 10 hours of sleep during periods of heavy training to keep your body strong and your mind sharp.
In order to properly operate, recover and strengthen your body and muscles need a steady supply of high quality carbohydrates, protein and essential fats.
Trying to strengthen and recover without those compounds is like trying to build a house without wood, brick and mortar. Make sure you eat a sufficient amount of high quality, preferably natural foods every day.
Go Hard Go Easy
Most distance runners like to train hard. That trait is a double edged sword. The hard and long training runs definitely improve your fitness and running performance, but not without the recovery time that allows the strengthening to take place.
You can perform back to back hard workouts on occasion. There are even times when two or three hard workouts in a row can be beneficial. But for the vast majority of your training schedule be sure to follow a hard workout with an easy day or rest day to give your body and muscles the time they need to recover and strengthen.
Mix it Up
One of the causes of over training is performing an excessive number of similar workouts or training runs that target a specific pace or phase of your training.
Heavy emphasis on one phase or type of training can place excessive stress on your muscles and also on the physiological processes that take place. Not only can your muscles react negatively to the excessive stress, but your central nervous system can also rebel.
Follow a year round multi-pace training plan that mixes up your workouts and distributes the stress and training load more equally among all phases of training.
And cross train! I’ve found that my best training phases are when I mix running, biking, spinning, strength work, swimming and walking all together. Keep the runs to 3-4 runs, then add in cross training as additional workouts. Even take total time out from running every now and then to mix it up and give your body and mind a rest from running.
After I recently injured my IT band running long distances, I took 3 weeks off running and replaced any runs I had in my training plan with bike sessions. I came back to running much stronger and my mind was fresh to running again and more able to enjoy it.
Listen to Your Body
Before you become over trained your body will let you know. Your job is to listen to your body. Watch out for the signs of excessive stress in your body including; heavy legs, elevated resting heart rate, excessive muscle soreness, excessive fatigue and increased sense of effort.
When you feel the effects of stress take a couple of days off and consider temporarily reducing your training volume and intensity. The brief break will ward off the dangers of over training.
Listen to Your Mind
Not all indicators of over training are physical. There are many signs of over training that are mental or psychological in nature. One of the first signs is a decreased enjoyment from your running.
If your running and training becomes to feel like a miserable chore rather than a fun activity it may be time to back off a bit. Other psychological indicators include depression, moodiness, and inability to relax. Try other activities and make exercise fun again. Socialise and take the pressure off yourself.
Some distance runners think their training plan is carved in stone. No training plan should be considered that inflexible. Constantly review and revise your training plan based on how your training is going and how you feel.
You need to adjust your training plan according to your progress, your fitness level and your health. Adjust your plan as you progress through it. If you notice signs of over training, take time off to recover.
Don’t blindly follow your plan no matter what. You can always make later adjustments to catch up.
And in the long run, a few extra days off or a few easy workouts probably won’t do you any harm when training for an event, it will probably be good for you!
Ten Percent Rule
The ten percent rule is generic training rule that says you shouldn’t make more than a 10 percent increase in training load in any one workout. This is a good guideline to follow.
If you regularly make big jumps in training load you are setting your training table for a possible visit from the over training monster. So, for the most part, you should keep your increases in training volume to less than 10 percent. It can be done, but make sure you know your body and look out for any signs of injury or over training.
Use your own judgment based on how you react to training increases and try to make all increases in training load consistently but gradually. Take your long runs slow, wear a heart rate monitor and know your heart rate so you know when you’re over doing it. Design running routes where you can bail out if you decide to.
Ice it Down
One of the responses to hard training is inflammation. In fact, one of the more popular theories on over training suggests that over training syndrome is caused by a system wide inflammation. I think you already know that one of best ways to fight inflammation is with ice.
Some suggest an Ice bath to recover. I’ve tried it after a marathon and it was almost harder than the marathon itself! It works for some, it doesn’t for others. You won’t know until you try it.
Fill your tub with cold water, throw in some ice and dive right in. Stay in the tub for as long as you can stand it, but no more than five minutes. You don’t want to add hypothermia to your injury list. The ice baths will help with daily recovery and will also help ward off over training. Get a nice hot shower after it.
Finally – if you find that you are over training, the solution is to to STOP exercising: rest, drink and eat. Eat carbohydrates to replace glycogen in your muscles and liver.
If you have to keep training, cross train with a different type of workout or vary your regular workout, so you give the muscles you’ve been over working a rest.