Running and Over-training syndrome

Watching runners who continue to push themselves, work harder and fail to see the desired training results is hard.  Trying to convince someone that slowing down, or doing less will actually increase athletic performance is often met with disbelief.  However, many runners, both amateur and elite will experience levels of over-training.

What is over training?

It seems like the name over-training would be self-sufficient. However, the title is a bit misleading.  Over-training occurs when the body is pushed to its limits and can no longer adequately recover in what would normally be considered a timely manner.  Over-training isn’t really a training load issue, but more a struggle to recover.  Another term for over-training is under-performance syndrome (UPS).

Why does it happen

Simplifying things, the body is pushed into a level of deep fatigue.  Often hindsight can offer some clarity for runners, as to what let to or contributed to the plateau and eventual decline in performance.  The key to making gains is the bodies ability to recover from the applied stress of training.  Factors that can lead to over-training include;

  • Increasing mileage to quickly
  • Increase or jump in speed/quality session
  • limited recovery time between speed/quality session
  • Running easy/active recovery days to fast
  • Inadequate sleep and/or nutrition

While the term over-training implies stress specifically stress causes by your workouts, your body doesn’t necessarily differentiate types of stress. So, even well-trained and knowledgeable runners can find themselves brought down from, not only workouts but also life stress that add compounding fatigue leaving the body over worked and unable to recover.


Identifying signs and symptoms of over-training (or UPS) is key to getting back into quality effective training.  Some common signs or symptoms of over-training include;

  • Elevated Heart Rate
  • Drop in athletic performance
  • Loss of sleep
  • Increase in anxiety
  • Lack of energy/constant fatigue
  • Lack of appetite or weight loss
  • Frequent illness/immune suppression
  • Increase in aches, pains and injuries
  • Perceived effort increases at usual paces

I believe over-training was a large factor in my struggles this fall. Getting sick more frequently, lack of sleep and the worst anxiety I have ever managed as I moved through the fall leading into my CIM goal race.  As I neared the race, my workout load increased and I became unmotivated, struggling to mange daily work and family life task and a general disinterest in things I loved.

How to correct and avoid over-training

  • Periodized training, especially for runners who are high volume runners.  The periodized training can help develop different energy systems while allowing appropriate recovery
  • Allow your body to adapt to current fitness levels before increasing, many of Jack Daniels plans will have runner \ maintaining the same mileage for 4 weeks before increasing again.In his marathon plans, the volume has already been established during the base phase and then while the race specific training is taking place he adjusts volume between 80-100% to allow the body to recover.
  • Monitor quality of sleep and resting heart rate. Something as simple as taking your resting heart rate each morning can help give you warning signs. An increase in 10 beats per minute should signal its time to back off
  • Build in cut back weeks- both in volume and quality
  • Recognize non-training stress that can add additional fatigue
  • Take appropriate amount of time to recover after races
  • Slow down your easy runs! Slow Down! Running Your Easy Run, Easier
  • Be deliberate in your recovery efforts. Focus on Recovery

If you struggle setting up an appropriate training plan/balance it may be time to consider working with a running coach.

The key here is your body has to recover fully before moving forward. Training through the deep fatigue will only further progress the symptoms until you are severely hurt or sick and you are forced to take prolonged time off. Listening to you body,you can back off the training enough to allow the recover without loosing the fitness gains you have clearly worked so hard for.


Published by RunCanvas

Avid Runner, mother, wife and teacher. On a wonderful journey, taking it one mile at a time.

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