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7 ways to avoid overtraining and burnout

take a break from running

They say there’s a thin line between passion and obsession. And it can be easy for runners to cross that line – especially when training for a big race.

It can be hard to trust training plans. So we look for ways to improve upon it. Maybe we push the pace a little harder on tempo runs. Tack on some extra miles. Run our long runs faster. Forgo rest days when our bodies are feeling strong.

Unfortunately, training too hard rarely ends well. Not only do you compromise your race goals, but you also set yourself up for injury and burnout.

Here’s how to keep your balance when a race is on the horizon and avoid overtraining:

  1. Run easy on easy days. There’s a reason most training plans only call for one day of speedwork each week – when combined with long runs, that’s all our legs can safely handle to get stronger. Take it easy on the easy days. Don’t worry about your pace and simply enjoy your run. 
  2. Do the majority of long runs slowly. Traditionally, long runs have been run at LSD (long slow distance) pace – which could be a minute or two slower per mile than your goal race pace. This is because running long runs too fast is basically like racing every weekend. Eventually, your body will break down. Of course there’s nothing wrong with doing a few progression long runs each training cycle (when you pick up the pace the last few miles) as long as you don’t do them every weekend.
  3. Respect rest days. Taking days off from running every week is a must. Rest days are needed for tired bodies recover and worn out muscles and tissue to repair and rebuild. Not taking rest days is a surefire path to injury.
  4. Don’t do hard workouts back-to-back.  It takes at least 48 hours for muscles to fully recover from intense workouts. A good rule of thumb is to follow the hard/easy rule. Run hard one day then run easy (or rest) the next. During marathon training, your most taxing weekly workouts are speedwork and long runs. Try to keep those runs separated by a few days – do speedwork on Wednesdays and long runs on the weekends, for example.
  5. Get enough sleep. This one can be tricky especially when training calls for early wake-ups. Still, adequate sleep helps our bodies recover and keeps our immune systems strong. For most of us, the best tradeoff is to go to bed early. It’s hard to miss out on evening social commitments, but remember training for a race is short in the grand scheme of things.
  6. Cross-train. Adding a day or two of cross-training to your training regimen will maintain your fitness while giving your running muscles a break. Yoga, cycling, and swimming are great cross-training options for runners.
  7. Listen to your body. This may be the most overused phrase in running circles, but it’s true. If you feel like an injury or illness is coming on or just feel extra tired, take a day or two off. Respecting your body will only help you come race day. A faster resting pulse, feeling sluggish, lack of energy, and persistent muscle aches are also signs that you may be overtraining.

Have you ever been guilty of overtraining? How did you know you were overdoing it?

Related: 5 signs you may be on the verge of overtrainin