Alarm bells sounded as Paula Radcliffe hobbled over the finish line of the New York Marathon, breaking her three year winning streak as she scooped fourth place. The reason? A bad case of tendonitis, which had been present BEFORE the start line. Thankfully, the running legend has vowed to take a year off her intensive training, and I’m sure we all congratulate her on her decision. Over training, however, is not a condition that affects only the elite running sect; it is a problem that can creep up on club athletes, fun runners, and beginners alike. We ice our knee’s, elevate our calves, top up on painkillers and hit the road – and then wonder why the healing process isn’t going as quickly as we’d like our legs to.
Over training is, put simply, a case of ambition overtaking ability. It happens when an athlete allows their brain to rule over their body, ignoring pain signals in favour of day dreams of that glorious new PB moment. The body, though, is sometimes smarter than the brain.
It’s easy to scoff, and say that over training is a simple problem with a simple solution – do less. But so many of us fail to listen to our bodies, with disastrous results. The physical and mental effects of over training are enormous – stress fractures, anxiety, under eating, trouble sleeping, tendonitis, irritability – all these symptoms are listed among the multitude of nasties that creep in when athletes start creeping over the threshold of their abilities. So, how can the good intentioned runner escape the trap?
A running partner, or better still, a coach is an excellent tool to combat over training. A good willing friend or family member might do the trick, but may well be likely to read good hard work as ‘over-doing-it’. We all have that friend who thinks an hour long run is enough to chuck as into an insane asylum. Similarly, a running friend with a similar complex probably isn’t appropriate either. A coach, or running buddy, who maintains a good training schedule themselves can see your training from an athlete’s point of view, but with a little more perspective.
A good training schedule, which pushes you enough to improve, but not so much it hurts, has a lot to be said for it. Knowing what you’re meant to be doing each day will force you to pick yourself up on sluggish days, and will keep you disciplined on days your exuberance is likely to be stronger than your muscles.
Adding group training sessions in will ensure that you always have your eye on the game. Those runners who know they have to compete with others once a week will be less likely to run themselves down. Also, a session carried out with others has a beginning, a middle, and an end; and once it’s over you can stop and enjoy yourself with other runners.
Some athletes like to train seven days a week, others six, and those crazy daredevils who allow themselves two days off a week come up from time to time as well. Most seem to a agree that one day off a week is necessary – a day to relax, kick your feet up, and indulge in doing nothing physical at all. This is your ‘you’ day, and you need it to maintain a healthy and committed relationship to your sport.
There is much to be said for the values of cross training. With a world of physical activity to explore, so much of which can compliment, replicate, or even improve your running, it seems crazy not to make use of other options. Chucking some variety in means you’ll never get sick of your chosen sport, and will help ensure your body is evenly balanced, cutting the risk of injury.
Despite all this advise, though, there is a golden rule: The body sends out pain signals when it wants you to know you’re hurting it – so listen. Work hard, and you will achieve your goals, regardless. It might take a little longer, but at least the finish line wont be tinged with pain.