How To Iden­tify – And Re­cover From – Over­train­ing

Ob­ses­sive run­ners, read this.

Runner's World South Africa - - CONTENTS - BY DR JOR­DAN D. METZL


about this sum­mer: au­tumn is the busiest time of year in my of­fice. Like clock­work, the phone starts ring­ing off the hook: “Dr Metzl, I’ve got a twinge, and my marathon is in a month. Please help!” Day after day, the same calls come in.

Why? As my friend Ra­mon, a run­ning coach, says, “Marathon run­ners typ­i­cally get hurt be­cause they vi­o­late the rule of too’s: too much, too quickly, too in­tensely.” In other words, these in­juries are the re­sult of over­train­ing. With thou­sands of run­ners train­ing for big late sum­mer events like Two Oceans and Com­rades, peak run­ning mileage hits be­tween spring and mid-sum­mer. After months of push­ing ahead, the body, if not trained prop­erly, starts to break down. There’s a fine line in en­durance sports be­tween achiev­ing max­i­mum fit­ness and go­ing over­board.

As a sports medicine doc­tor, an en­durance ath­lete, and a fit­ness pro­fes­sional – I get it! We all want a good re­sult, and we ride the edge to get that re­sult. But when we go over­board, we can end up with over­train­ing syn­drome, a sur­pris­ingly com­mon con­di­tion char­ac­terised by di­min­ished per­for­mance. It shows up in three key

These two es­sen­tials can help you stay healthy and avoid over­train­ing.

ar­eas – men­tal, hor­monal, and phys­i­cal – and the tricky part is, you might not even re­alise you have it. Let me break it down.

One of the most com­mon symp­toms of over­train­ing syn­drome is burnout. A run­ner who puts so much stress on him- or her­self (think: poor sleep qual­ity, caloric de­fi­ciency, and in­creased anx­i­ety about an up­com­ing race) will feel spent. Men­tal fa­tigue is of­ten over­looked, but it is an im­por­tant part of train­ing. A tired mind goes hand in hand with a tired body. When the en­ergy is low, break­down and in­jury oc­curs.

To pre­vent men­tal burnout from get­ting the best of you, mind your mind. Get more sleep dur­ing long-mileage weeks – rest­ing is when your mind and body have time to heal. Sched­ule ac­tiv­i­ties that are re­lax­ing, such as get­ting a mas­sage or tak­ing a ‘me’ day. It’s okay to give your­self li­cence to ease up. Skip­ping a long run to sleep in is more help­ful than push­ing your­self and ig­nor­ing your body’s cues.

Your body is a finely tuned ma­chine. Hor­mones, pro­duced by var­i­ous glands, are re­spon­si­ble for main­tain­ing home­osta­sis, the body’s del­i­cate bal­ance that con­trols many of our daily func­tions, from sleep cy­cles to hunger cues. When over­train­ing hits, the hor­mones get out of whack, some be­ing pro­duced too much and oth­ers not enough. This ends up caus­ing prob­lems in­clud­ing de­creased im­mu­nity and ab­nor­mal hunger re­sponses and crav­ings. It can even cause amen­or­rhea, the loss of men­stru­a­tion in women.

If you sus­pect a hor­monal im­bal­ance, it’s time to talk to your doc­tor, and maybe see a sports nutri­tion­ist. Your doc can per­form blood tests to check for hor­monal ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties and iron lev­els that give clues for a di­ag­no­sis. The most com­mon is­sues are nu­tri­tional – like not tak­ing in enough kilo­joules for ath­letic ex­pen­di­ture – and can be fixed with a smart nutri­tion plan.

The most ob­vi­ous com­po­nent of over­train­ing is phys­i­cal in­jury. Run­ners limp into my of­fice with in­juries that worsen with higher mileage, in­clud­ing aches and pains in the feet, Achilles ten­dons, shins, knees and hips. The sever­ity of these in­juries ranges from mild overuse in­juries that re­solve in weeks to stress frac­tures that can take sev­eral months to heal.

As with men­tal and hor­monal over­load, phys­i­cal over­train­ing means you’re push­ing too hard for your body. Re­mem­ber that a 15km run is a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence for each run­ner, de­pend­ing on body type, gait me­chan­ics, and pre­vi­ous in­jury his­tory. Pain that changes the way you run and al­ters your gait me­chan­ics needs to be checked out by a doc­tor. Small aches and pains can quickly turn into more se­ri­ous prob­lems if they aren’t prop­erly di­ag­nosed.

In the end, struc­tured train­ing plans, smart nutri­tion, and re­li­able gear are all im­por­tant to run­ners. But they’ll all mean noth­ing if you don’t pay care­ful at­ten­tion to your body. If the signs of over­train­ing syn­drome are caught early, it’s more likely that I’ll see you on the start­ing line of the marathon – and not in my of­fice.


Headspace / Free app Dodge burnout and stay in the game men­tally with daily med­i­ta­tion geared to­wards ath­letes.Garmin Fore­run­ner235 / R4489 Keep tabs on your over­all mileage with this watch. Plus, built-in al­go­rithms sug­gest how long you should rest be­tween work­outs.

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