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How to Prevent Over-Training and Running Fatigue (Or, How to Feel Great Every Day)

Posted Feb 16 2011 9:17pm
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Too many runners fall victim to over-training and excessive running fatigue. I see a lot of new runners making mistakes with their training that put them at an increased risk for injury and feeling less than their best.

My college coach used to say, “Avoid the 3 too’s – too much, too soon, too fast.” His advice  is true now as it was then. One of the keys to feeling great every (or almost every) day is not to push yourself beyond what you are physically able to handle.

Running Fatigue

Prevent Running Fatigue, Feel Awesome Every Day

There are other training principles you should keep in mind when you’re designing your program that will help you enhance recovery, maximize your training, and keep running fatigue to a minimum. If you’re excessively tired or constantly fighting aches and pains, here is how you can prevent burn out.

1. Don’t race too frequently. Running races puts a lot of stress on your body. Without taking time to recover from frequent racing and devoting time to train, your performances will plateau.

Since racing is a 100% maximum effort, you’ll quickly peak your current fitness and have trouble running significantly faster. I recommend no more than 1-2 races per month for distances of 5-10k. If you are doing 10 milers or half-marathons, take at least one month in between each race (and even that is aggressive). Marathoners shouldn’t race more than 2-3 per year depending on their ability level.

2. Sleep as much as you need. This is a no-brainer, but I think we all need the reminder. Getting faster happens when you sleep and recover because that’s when your body adapts and super-compensates from your training. Do yourself a favor and make sure you get at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night.

If you can, take a nap after a particularly difficult workout or long run. Elite marathoner Ryan Hall calls his frequent naps “business meetings” because they’re a crucial component to his training.

Once a week, I try to go to bed very early and wake up without an alarm clock. It’s often difficult to fit in to a busy day, but it helps me get enough sleep and wake up feeling incredibly refreshed. Try it. You won’t be disappointed.

3. Eat real food in the right quantities. Your diet provides the fuel you need to train and it helps your body recover from the workouts and long runs that you’re doing on a weekly basis. The best advice I can give you is a quote from Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto – “Eat food. Mostly Plants. Not too much.”

The first part of that quote is what needs the most explanation. “Eat food” simply means eat real food like meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts and grains. If your great great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it (think Fruity Pebbles, Little Debbie Snacks, or food products like cheese whiz), then avoid it.

4. When training, don’t focus too much on one thing. Some runners get convinced they need to do long runs every other day or run interval workouts three times every week. You’re going to get over-trained if you put too much emphasis on any one type of training.

Training should be like a soup: there are staples like easy distance runs, ingredients you use a moderate amount of (like strides), and then runs like long runs, interval workouts, or hill sprints where you only need a dash. Variety is important, so don’t get stuck doing too much of one thing for too long.

Some runners find it hard to run different types of workouts out of fear, complacency, or a simple ignorance of the variety of workouts that exist. If that sounds like you, check out my 52 Workouts book for ideas and inspiration.

5. Recovery runs should enhance recovery, not fitness. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to “get a good workout” from a recovery run. That’s not the point of these easy runs and if you try to run too far or too fast, you’re not becoming a better runner.

Once a week, I run an easy recovery run of 5 miles to help myself recover and stay fresh. Even when my weekly mileage is 75-80 miles, I keep this easy run short and slow to promote recovery. I’m not getting that much fitness out this short run, but it helps me feel great for my long run the next day.

Know the purpose of every run and stick to your plan. Most runners run too fast on their easy days and too slow on their hard days. Strike a balance and know when to push the pace and when to take it easy.

Small changes to your current training can eliminate that nagging pain, reduce your running fatigue, or bring you to a new level of running performances. It’s important to get an outside opinion on your training (just like writers need editors), so have a running friend look over your last month of training to spot anything that could use updating.

Are you exhausted from running? Are you too tired to finish some of your runs? Let us know in the comments and we’ll try to help!

Recommended Reading:

Performance Nutrition for Runners: How to Fuel Your Body for Stronger Workouts, Faster Recovery, and Your Best Race Times Ever

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