In my most recent running column, which publishes most Mondays in The Forum newspaper, I touched on a subject that’s been on top of my mind for quite some time: overtraining syndrome.
Quite honestly, it’s a topic that a lot of runners probably don’t know much about. It’s probably also something, while they may not know the technical term, a misdiagnosis by a lot of runners looking for answers about ailments or poor performance. On the other hand, experienced runners probably discount overtraining syndrome and its symptoms.
Overtraining syndrome is difficult to self-diagnose, and shouldn’t be mistaken for an overuse injury (plantar, IT band, Achilles problems, etc.), even though the two have correlations and might be easily confused.
Personally, my life as a runner has produced some of the best years, the best memories and best friends in my life. After a string of several personal bests in the marathon, coming within a few seconds per mile from qualifying for Boston and pushing through (or ignoring) injuries, it became more and more evident what my problem was. Along the way, I made the conscious decision to push myself to the limit, find out my boundaries and then see if I could push through them.
I limped to the starting line of the 2010 Chicago Marathon, and set a big personal best. Then, instead of taking time to recover, I was excited about the result and kept on training. Eventually, I ignored the problem and somehow pushed myself to within seconds of my best at the 2011 Grandma’s Marathon.
A planned to trip to Oregon – the mecca of running – a month later kept me going. And then numerous friends trained for races in Chicago and the Twin Cities, and while I didn’t have a marathon planned, I couldn’t resist running with them. For a year, my muscles burned – my quads and hamstrings aching like someone had taken a vegetable peeler to them – and I pushed forward with a winter marathon on the horizon. A year later, the same aching feeling remained, and I knew the cold, hard truth: I should have taken time to rest and recover, but there was always another race to run.
A month before the Twin Cities Marathon, this past Sunday, I strongly considered taking my first real break. For about a day, I convinced myself that I’d adhere to the plan for my long-term health. But I couldn’t stay away – in large part because I signed up as a charity runner and didn’t want to let all those people who donated to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation down.
Heading into the marathon, I wasn’t concerned about finishing the race. I knew I would, especially since I’ve followed the same pre-race routine that had always been so good to me. However, I wasn’t willing to set a time goal, knowing that my overtraining over the past 2 years had put me in a deficit mentally and physically.
Many people have asked how the marathon went. It’s a difficult question to answer – the race itself was great in all aspects, but my performance was subpar compared to many of my previous finishing times. At 3:29, it is not a great time for me, but I’m aware there were a few significant factors contributing to the result. Overtraining, with the lack of proper rest and recovery from several hard efforts over the past 4 years, is one factor, which in turn impacted my quality of training.
With some rest and active recovery, which will include more swimming and cycling, I’ll be ready to build both my base and fitness again to new levels. The best is yet to come.