You can’t wait to celebrate the arrival of spring (finally!) by ditching the “dreadmill” and taking your runs outside. But rack up the miles too quickly without letting your body recover adequately and you could end up sick, tired, or injured. Study these common signs that you might be overtraining—and use the pointers from Jeff Gaudette, owner and head coach of RunnersConnect in Boston, to protect yourself as you pound the pavement.
1) You can’t sleep
Find yourself stuck counting sheep, tossing and turning, or waking up much earlier than usual? Your running routine could be to blame. “Excessive training can interfere with your body’s circadian rhythms,” says Gaudette, “which can cause you to have trouble sleeping soundly.”
2) Your legs feel like lead
It’s likely your muscles are not being repaired completely before runs, warns Gaudette. “As fatigue builds and accumulates, your body never has a chance to get back to 100% before you go out on the next run,” he says. “If you’re always starting the run tired, your legs won’t feel up to par—and you won’t be able to perform at your peak.”
3) You’re tired all the time
There’s a reason you’re dragging at all hours, even right after chugging coffee: A lack of good sleep paired with increased stress hormones can result in constant drowsiness.
4) You’re moody
Overtraining can lead to a decrease in the production of certain hormones—specifically, catecholamine, which can influence the sympathetic nervous system. The result? Increased feelings of stress and irritability.
5) You keep getting sick
If you’re sidelined by illness more than usual, especially repeated bouts of the same virus, it could be a sign of overtraining. Amping up your mileage or the intensity of your workouts can impair the immune system, says Gaudette, leaving you more susceptible to contracting colds, the flu, and other viruses.
6) You’ve got nagging aches, pains, or injuries
Think injuries just come with the territory when you’re a hard-core runner? Think again. “When ramping up your mileage or adding tough speed workouts, you have to give your structural system the time it needs to heal the tiny microtears,” says Gaudette.
PART 2: MAKE A PLAN
Stick to these tips to stop overtraining in its tracks.
Add miles intelligently
Throw that old 10% rule out the window, says Gaudette. A study from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands found that one in five runners get injured regardless of whether they increase their weekly distance by no more than 10% or they try a more aggressive jump in mileage. You can consider adding more miles quickly if most of them are at an easy pace; add sprint intervals or other speed workouts more conservatively to give your muscles more time to adapt to the workload.
Give yourself a break
You can’t go at it hard every day. Make sure your schedule incorporates easy-paced workouts interspersed between tougher speed sessions, and take a day completely off every seven to 10 days. Build a cutback week into your schedule every three to five weeks; decrease your miles by 30 to 40% during that time.
Get your Z’s
You can’t attack the week’s workouts if you’re drowsy and dragging. Aim for seven or eight hours of sleep a night. Having trouble unwinding? Gaudette recommends getting in a relaxed state of mind with a soak in an Epsom salt bath or a massage.
Fuel the fire
When you start covering more miles, you’ll likely need to eat more. “Your body needs calories to repair itself,” says Gaudette. He suggests loading up on lean protein, vegetables, and fruit.
Take time to recover
If you suspect that you’re already suffering from overtraining, Gaudette advises taking a break from your running routine for at least three weeks. If you’ve really overdone it, your body could need up to two months of complete rest before it’s fully recovered. “Whatever you do, listen to your body and be patient,” he says. “Otherwise, you’ll just find yourself right back in the same tired, overworked state within a matter of weeks.”