Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Don't overtrain"

Those were the Miracle Worker's parting words to me as I left his office yesterday.  He had just used his elbow backed by his entire body weight to squish the gristle out of my right piriformis muscle.  I screamed like a banshee as he proclaimed, "there we go" and wandered off to get some ice.  Before he ordered me not to overtrain, he told me that I was right on the edge.  He said I wasn't quite there yet, but I needed to be careful.

I sort of laughed when he told me not to overtrain and made some quip like, " if I knew how to gage that."  His simple comment made me think a lot about what it means to be overtrained and how I might go about preventing this state.  I found it helpful to define overtraining with the help of Wikipedia.
Overtraining is a physical, behavioral, and emotional condition that occurs when the volume and intensity of an individual's exercise exceeds their recovery capacity.  
Reading this definition was a kind of breakthrough for me.  I have always thought of overtraining as simply running too many miles at too high an intensity.  My initial reaction, in fact, to the MW's statement was to think about backing off my mileage for the upcoming weeks.  Of course, what determines how many is too many miles is how effective your recovery is.

I think being in a close-to-overtrained state according to the MW is probably right on for where I am (and need to be) in my training program right now.  I am pushing the limits of my running mileage, intensity and strength training, and I can continue to push that upper limit as long as I tend to my recovery needs.  I just completed my hardest training weeks of this marathon cycle in terms of volume and strength work and my body is definitely worked over.  My wise coach included a recovery week in my plan for this week so I can reap the benefits of all of that hard work.  I take my recovery weeks very seriously because I know that it is in these weeks that my body is becoming fitter, not the weeks when I'm breaking it down with the hard work.

I think the key to avoiding an overtrained state in the upcoming 6 1/2 weeks is to make sure that I take care of all of the little things to maximize my recovery.  These include nutrition, sleep, stretching and icing/compression.  I've certainly run this kind of mileage before and done just fine.  I have also sabotaged my hard training by not providing my body what it needs to recover.  The build up to the Eugene Marathon last winter was my best example of what not to do.  I was trying to complete the hardest marathon training program I had ever attempted, work two jobs including travel, maintain a social life and do all of this on 6 hours of sleep per night.  At about this same point in my training program, my left achilles said, "Oh, no you don't."

So, I'm watching my nutrition very carefully right now including my iron levels.  I am super supplementing in hopes that I can increase my iron stores above and beyond the amount of iron I'm losing in my hard training.  I'll have that checked again for progress next week (4 weeks after beginning my higher supplementation regimen).  As much as it pains me, I'm forgoing my early-morning runs with my girlies most mornings in order to get more sleep.  I have such a hard time getting to bed before 10, but that's what has to happen if I want to get up at 4:40 to run with my girlies.

My ice bath: compliments of the American River.
As for icing and compression, I have been trying to jump into the American River after my longer, harder runs to help with recovery, but I'm also icing my butt as per the MW's instructions.  I've started wearing my compression tights to bed, and yes, it is as attractive as it sounds.  I typically wake up at 3 a.m. and find myself wrestling them to the ground because they just get too damned hot and uncomfortable.  Finally, I am rolling out the kinks with my massageballer, doing yoga a few nights per week and some simple stretches throughout the day to keep my body as loose as possible.

I am running a race on Saturday: the notorious Race for the Arts 5k.  Last year it was a 5J.  I'm not sure if they've changed the course to make it the full 5k distance.  If not, I can always compare my time this year with what I ran last year as a benchmark.  After the race, I get to tack on a few more miles to total 22.  Next week, I'm back up to 95 miles before I begin a long, slow taper to October 10th.     

Fashion update:  I've added a bit of flair to my hair with a fierce Anna Pierce racing stripe.  Chicago, here I come!


  1. wow... i can't believe it's almost time for the chicago taper! seems like just yesterday we were all getting ready for the davis mile! well, you know what they say... it's an accomplishment in itself just making it to the starting line of a marathon in one piece. :)

  2. Need some bedtime or "sitting" (ahem) time reading? Almost no one does it better in the realm of no-BS writing on training and nutrition: Lyle McDonald.

    This is a link to part 1 (of 7!) of his Overtraining series. Enjoy, and don't say I didn't warn you. :-)

  3. Yikes! I'm running Chicago too, but don't plan to begin my taper until 3-weeks out. Anyway, you're obviously well coached, so I'll stop typing right now. :-)

  4. Yes, tmeat, it's almost that time. Hard to believe. I hope to bring my entire body to the starting line with me, though I might have my butt removed soon if it doesn't behave;)

    Andrea: thanks for the link. I'll check it out. I noticed tonight that is also running a recovery series:

  5. Mark U. Don't fret! By taper, I am referring to my mileage taper and it is gradual. My mileage in the last 6 weeks goes 95-86-84-76-60-race week. The focus of my training changes to marathon-specific in that 86-mile week.

  6. Looks like you're doing all the right things this time compared to Eugene. I think overtraining is a thick knife-edge. It slowly creeps up and one can't make it good with a few easy days. You seem to be doing OK - have to push near the physical limits to get the performance. I remember Rob de Castella saying he was overtrained going into one of his Olympic marathons (I think '84) - still finished 5th, but didn't perform as well as he expected.

    Canute has researched overtraining quite a bit - one of his posts is here.

    I like the fashion update. A bit more subdued than Victoria Mitchell's colours.

  7. I think you're right about needing to be on the edge of overtraining without stepping over. Your plan for more sleep and proper recovery in general is beautifully smart, those are the details that count, but which we find easy to dismiss because they're not nearly as sexy as a great tempo or interval session, though every bit as important.

    Laughing over "5J", I'm stealing that one. Good luck tomorrow and hopefully it'll be a bona fide 5K this time. Cute 'do, btw, you look faster than ever.

  8. "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

    Or, in the words of David St. Hubbins, "It's such a fine line between stupid and clever."

    A fine line indeed, but sounds like you can see it.

  9. Just wanted to add for Andrea, that's a really great article, thanks for posting the link!