Neil Featherby: Dangers of over-training are real during this crucial phase
Spot the warning signs now as it's better to under-train than over-train, insists Neil Featherby
The saying you only get out what you put in is so very true.
However, sometimes with athletes, we can put in too much whereby more actually becomes less. When training smartly, it is all about breaking the training down into building blocks to reach peak performance at specific points through a season or for target races.
During the last week or so, I have had to cover this area with two of the athletes who I advise with big races and events now just a few weeks away for them.
Amazingly enough I have been there before with them covering the same old ground, but I am also more aware of it with them as they are both two characters who like to get their heads down and completely zone in for which it can sometimes be a little difficult to get them back on to planet earth to actually see where they are at or indeed heading.
Marathon running takes a lot of effort and commitment, which you do need to be very dedicated, but it is also just as important to be aware when things are potentially in danger of going wrong.
I very much recognise this having been there myself in the past whereby the obsession with piling in even more miles was the way forward as far as I was concerned after not hitting the times in training and racing which I was hoping for.
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The truth was that I had already gone past my peak or indeed reached it too soon for which all I was doing was increasing the levels of fatigue which needless to say led to more frustration and undoubtedly into what is known as over training.
Obsessional behaviour, which I have always suffered with, didn’t help and in truth low confidence made for an even more vicious circle. Despite the fact that others could see what was happening and even nodding my head in agreement with them, I still too easily brushed aside what I didn’t really want to hear.
However, and on the plus side this now helps me use what may have been my downfalls to help warn others who I can see the same traits in.
Whilst certain demands need to be met, when you start to feel progressively heavy legged, drained and not exactly looking forward to the sessions ahead, the warning signs are there. Over training is far worse than under training and can take weeks, even months, to fully recover if you let it go on.
Having a coach onside who can see these signs developing allows for immediate action to be able to make any necessary quick changes whilst helping prevent what could turn into a big issue. At the same time it also allows for a good coach/athlete relationship whereby I believe by being able to discuss things constructively most certainly plays a crucial part in keeping things on track specifically when there are aims and targets to be met.
I was lucky enough to have some really good coaching during my running career and looking back on it I can also see how frustrating it must have been trying to work with me especially as I was fixated by high mileages week in, and week out.
Ironically, my best marathon time actually came off a period when not in marathon training having spent four months focusing on lower mileage with regular racing at distances between 10k and half marathon. This all came into place on the back of what I considered at the time to have been a failed marathon (2:21:20) after several weeks of 140 miles plus.
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That really should have told me something and deep down whilst it did, my nature and personality soon saw my weekly mileage creeping up again. I even ridiculously ran just short of 100 miles the week before my first ever GB outing at the Kosice marathon and whilst I produced a reasonable finishing time of 2:22:30, the truth is that I never actually got going. My legs would not let me. I had just got used to running tired and heavy legged all the time.
There are several signs and symptoms to look out for and not be confused with what is just assumed as being normal when in heavy training to suggest that the athlete might be heading into an over training syndrome i.e. negativity and a loss of enthusiasm, feeling constantly fatigued (mentally & physically), heavy leggedness and laboured breathing when running at paces normally associated with a more relaxed pattern, very drawn features in the face, disturbed sleep patterns, elevated heart rate, gastrointestinal problems, weight loss, lack of coordination and constantly picking up colds and infections, to name but a few.
For those who are all aiming for half and full marathons during the next few weeks, training is or should now be closing in on those peak training weeks. However, this is where it is so very important to listen to your body or indeed your coach and if any of the mentioned signs have become noticeable, then just back off a touch or even take a couple of days extra rest to allow your body to recover before going forward again.
Your body will thank you for it and give you a much a greater chance of being your true best when it really matters.