I am an addict. My addiction is one that is likely familiar to you. It’s running.
It could be worse. As far as addictions go, running is about as good as it gets. Running slows the aging process. It stimulates brain cell growth. It bolsters your immune system. There are innumerable benefits to running.
But, too much of anything can be a bad thing. Running is no exception. It’s entirely possible to overdose on running. I’ve done it.
Overdosing (aka overtraining) can lead to a litany of issues. It can lead to injuries. I’ve seen it lead to some people hanging up their running shoes forever.
Many runners don’t even know they’re overtraining until it’s too late. But, there are always warning signs. There are plenty of yellow flags that can help you avoid overtraining. Pay attention to them and you might avoid overtraining (and potential disaster).
Years before I had any idea what I was doing, I trained like a maniac. I averaged in excess of ten miles a day most days. Most of these miles were far from easy. Most of them were relentlessly fast and hard.
I’d collapse at the end of each run, curl up in the fetal position, and resist the urge to cry. I desperately wanted to run faster. But, I was operating under the misguided notion that longer, faster, and harder every day would help me notch my next personal best.
My torpedoes be damned, no pain, no gain approach to training got me faster for a brief period. But, then I started to reap what I had sown. Odd things began to happen.
I started waking up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat. Not only was I covered in a thick sheen of sweat, my sheets were drenched as if I had just completed an interval session at the track. This was uncharted territory for me.
While it didn’t happen all the time, it became a fairly regular occurrence. Upon doing a quick Google search, I stumbled onto ‘night sweats’. It turns out, night sweats are not uncommon for those who are overtraining.
If you’re waking up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat, this may be a yellow flag. You might be asking too much of your body. This could be an indication that you need more rest and recovery.
Disrupted sleep patterns
When I was overtraining, waking up drenched in sweat wasn’t the only odd thing going down. My sleep patterns were wacky. More specifically, I found it difficult to sleep despite the fact that I was completely exhausted.
Some nights, I would struggle mightily to fall asleep. I would toss and turn for hours. Other nights, I wouldn’t have problems falling asleep, but would randomly wake up in the middle of the night and never drift back into unconsciousness again. It was maddening.
Disrupted sleep can be very problematic if you’re training seriously. During the rest and recovery phase, your body heals, adapts, and gets stronger. So, if you’re not getting quality sleep, it’s harder for your muscles to recover from your previous run. It’s also hard to build muscle if your sleep is compromised.
If you’re struggling to get quality sleep despite the fact that you’re exhausted from your training, this is a yellow flag. Disrupted sleep patterns are not uncommon with those who are overtraining.
Flat and fatigued
Around the same time I was waking up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat, I was dealing with something else that was disconcerting. On those rare nights when I would get a solid 8-10 hours of sleep, I’d wake up thinking I would have a stellar run. But, even when I did sleep well, my running just didn’t feel right.
I’d lace up, head out, and fall flat on my face. My legs felt heavy, sluggish, and leaden. I felt flat and fatigued most of the time.
This wasn’t an anomaly. It became a frighteningly common pattern. It was a challenging pattern to remove myself from.
If you’re in the middle of a demanding training cycle, there will be ups and downs. Some days you will feel spry and raring to go. Other days, not so much.
But, if you find yourself in a space where you feel flat and fatigued most of the time, that’s something to pay attention to. Consistent fatigue (despite adequate rest) is a yellow flag.
You’re in a funk
Overdosing on running can put you into a funk. If you’re dealing with night sweats, persistent fatigue, and disrupted sleep, you’re probably not going to be in the best of spirits. It would be surprising if you weren’t in a foul mood.
To be clear, I’m not talking about having a bad day. I’m talking about feeling irritable, grouchy, or down for an extended period of time while you’re training seriously. This is yet another sign that you may be perilously close to overdosing on running.
Just as you can’t perform your best when your body is compromised, it’s tough to perform at a high level if your head is out of sorts. Feeling grouchy, crappy, or down will inevitably make all of your runs more challenging than they already are. Being in a funk will also make it hard to simply enjoy the act of running.
If any of the yellow flags I’ve indicated above sound familiar, you might be overtraining. Depending on how long you’ve been dealing with these symptoms, you might simply need to dial back your training for a short stretch. But, if you’ve been burning the candle at both ends (and the middle) for awhile, more drastic measures might be in order.
While it may be the last thing you want to do, you might need to take a break from training entirely. Losing a few days (or weeks) of training is tough. But, giving your body the time it needs to rest, recover, and recharge is critical. It will help you steer clear of poor race performances or injury.
Avoid overtraining and you will reap the rewards down the road with better running, fewer injuries, and more personal bests.
Want to hear more from Marathon Matt? Find out more about his coaching and running experience at www.marathonmatt.com!