First of all welcome to my fifth blog post! My name is Joe and I am a licensed Doctor of Physical Therapy and USA Track & Field running coach. I am also an avid runner, triathlete, and somebody who loves simplifying research to provide advice for endurance and strength athletes! I am excited to start writing new content for all my peeps trying to better themselves. Let's get straight into the topic of today which is " 3 mistakes to avoid with overtraining".
Before I tell you the details about my first race ever, let's put a concrete definition down for what I mean when I say "overtraining". Overtraining refers to pushing your bodies limits beyond what it can handle physically. I don't mean just going out and doing a threshold run or negative splits. I mean consistently making training errors that cause your body, muscle, tendons and ligaments to be unable to repair from the stress you placed on it. As someone who is now equipped with the knowledge to prevent others from making this mistake, I hope you enjoy my reflection of my time before I possessed this understanding. Enjoy!
I can imagine it like it was yesterday. I was ready and excited for my first race ever! I had been planning and doing everything right. I did the long runs, the speed work, and everything else in-between. My nutrition was locked-in and I knew how much hydration I needed to take in down to the minute. So, I couldn’t understand why I kept feeling this nagging pain in both of my hamstrings in the days leading up to the race. I thought it was just a one-off twinge, and I arrived on race day ready to go.
Twenty-five miles into the race and my hamstrings are in agony. I keep rubbing icy-hot and taking ibuprofen but that didn’t change much for me. Also, I developed serious left sided knee pain. My knee ballooned up on me and I couldn’t put weight through my leg. “This is bad, I’m crashing and burning” is what I thought to myself. Throughout my entire prep I had never experienced pain like this before. I was able to complete the race, but it required me to skip/walk through the last 25 miles and I took a mandatory six months off due to the extreme suffering that I had put my body through.
Looking back on that day many years later, I can pick apart the simple training mistakes I made leading up to the race. So here are my lessons from an over trainer on how to not over train!
Mistake #1= Not considering total hours on feet per week!
It wasn’t that I wasn’t doing enough, it was that I was doing too much. The old adage is that you never run the actual distance required of you on race day which I agree with. But I took this to the extreme. So, my race was a 50 miler ultra in Philadelphia. I decided to run two long runs a week. This would look something like the image I placed below where I would be spending anywhere from three hours and twenty-nine minutes to four hours a week doing my long runs!! This is absolutely absurd. Even some of the intros to 50-mile and 100-mile races do not have you putting three to four hours of long runs per week. Why? Because it is unnecessary and puts you at increased risk for injury. An example of run I would perform twice per week leading up to my race is included below.
Figure 1: Strava screenshot of run.
Clip notes summary: Instead of only paying attention to your miles per week. Consider the total cumulative hours spent on feet per week. This principle can also apply to those of you who lift weights and spend countless hours in the gym doing strength training.
Figure 2: helpful infographic to avoid over-training
Mistake #2= Not respecting your pain levels!
DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness is what occurs when you have reaching the capacity of what your muscle tissue and body can handle. This is that classic fatigue and normal level of pain that is expected after an appropriately dosed weightlifting or running session. This can last from anywhere from 24 to 48 hours after a workout. If your pain levels last a lot longer than this, it is a sign you have pushed too hard and may need an extra day off. This means not doing activity, resting and icing, or doing a recovery yoga session. This does not mean continuing to run and push through intense level of discomfort and pain.
Figure 3: Pain levels chart
Clip notes summary: Respect your tissue healing times and also understand that pain lasting up to two days after a workout is normal. Anything beyond that and it may be necessary to take a rest day and re-assess your training intensity.
Mistake #3= Not tracking RPE!
This specific mistake really deserves its own blog. RPE or Rate of Perceived Exertion is something I teach to every single person I work with. It represents the level at which you rate each exercise intensity. The traditional scale is from 6-20 but for the sake of simplicity, I like to teach it on a scale of 0-10. Zero reflects no intensity (sleeping) while 10 is max intensity (running at your fastest pace up a steep hill). The reason this is important to track is because not every single mile is worth the same. What I mean by that is, a 4-mile run on Tuesday can feel just as hard as 8 mile run on Friday even though it is half the distance.
Clip notes summary: You have to track RPE in order to have a true pulse on how your training is going. Not every hour/mile/workout is worth the same because your fatigue levels vary day to day.
I hope you have learned something from this dive into my mistakes and have clarity on what you can do differently. When you learn from other people’s mistakes, you have truly saved yourself from experiencing unnecessary pain and frustration.
Let me know what you think about this topic or if you have any questions, you can comment below. Please share this blog post with a friend or fellow runner! I want to help out as many active individuals as possible. Like, comment, share, and happy running!
Keep Moving Forward!
Joseph Daigneau, PT, DPT, SFMA-1, USATF-1
Lead Physical Therapist, Persevere Physical Therapy