Coach Jeff

Written by Coach Jeff


Elite Runner Training: Overtraining and learning to listen to your body

In my last post about my training, I detailed a productive two-week marathon cycle where I was training well and recovering from the workouts – despite the high mileage.

This week, I want to share a two-week cycle of training that I tried to force myself through, which is something I find a lot of the runners I coach wanting to do. I wanted to share this particular training block for a few reasons:

First, I think it’s important as a coach that athletes understand you know where they are coming from. It’s always easy as the observer to say, “hey, I think you need a day off”, but I do understand how hard that can be mentally.

Second, I wanted to show that training doesn’t always go great for elite athletes. Often, we see such incredible performances from our running heroes that we often forget that they too have bad days and struggle. However, just like us, runners who are running jaw-dropping times can hit ruts and lack confidence in themselves.

Finally, I think we often learn more from our mistakes than our successes. I hope sharing this piece, and my thoughts on the training afterwards can help you through a difficult training block when nothing seems to click.

So, without further delay, here is a two-week training block from the Spring of 2008. For background, I had just finished getting sick and was training to hit the Olympic Trials 10k A standard of 28:30 (I already had the B standard).

Two-week 10k training block: What not to do

Mon: 2/25/08

AM: 10 mile run (1:06:00)
Felt terrible today, legs were tired and body felt off. Just slugged through this run as best I could feeling like junk. Chest pretty congested still.

PM: 5 mile run (34:53)
Blah! 7 min pace was a chore and I just had to suck it up. Pretty down after this run today, just feel like things are slipping out of my fingers at this point. I am doing my best to be patient with this sickness but it is getting frustrating.

Tue: 2/26/08

AM: 10 mile run (1:07:00)
Still didn’t feel great, got up early for the pool and then it started pouring so took a nap before heading out. Who the hell wakes up and goes back to bed two hours later without doing anything. Legs felt a little better but the run was still at pedestrian standards.

PM: 5 mile run (34:43)
Didn’t feel like I was going to die, that’s a good things I guess. Womped on some high school kids doing their workout, made me feel better about myself until I realized I only ran a 6:40 mile. And the struggle continues

Wed: 2/27/08

AM: 10 mile run (1:08:00)
Starting out I felt better than I have all week and for the first time in a while I feel like a person and not a feeble and sleepy old man. About 20mins in my legs started getting
really tired and sore and stayed that way the rest of the run. Blah 🙁

I needed to learn that being tough didn’t mean beating the crap out of myself on every run or pushing my body through fatigue

PM: 5 mile run (35:14)
Slow and feeling like ass. This was my last run of being a pansy and going through the motions, time to get back to being a runner and getting tough.

Thur: 2/28/08

AM: 3 w/u, 8×300 w/100 jog (25sec) (1st 4 in 52) (2nd 4 in 50), 3 c/d
Total = 8 miles
Just wanted to get out to the track today and get the central nervous system firing and shake some of this shit out. Didn’t feel all that great but got the legs moving and felt the pain of trying to run fast. Good session

PM: 7 mile run (41:35)
Finally getting back to training today and felt decent. Legs were a little tired from this morning but now is the time to stop being a pussy and get the training in.

Fri: 2/29/08

AM: 10 mile run (1:08:00)
Run felt better than I have most of the week, at least I think I was running faster and my legs didn’t crap out on me.
PM: 5 mile run (35:00)
Just took it easy watching the team do the PTR run. Ran a 6min last mile trying to help Jess finish up her run.

Sat: 3/1/08

AM: 3w/u, 10k race [30:55] (4:50, 4:50, 4:50, 5:00, 5:05, 5:15), 3 c/d
Total = 12 miles – Reedy River Run 1st place
Content with the effort today and especially the outcome. With the past week and a half being a wash after being sick I just decided to use this race as a first effort back and try and get back on track. Went out running 4:50’s pretty easily with only one other guy hanging on and we rounded a corner and went up a hill at 2 miles and I dropped him an the rest of the race was alone. The course was a little challenging with lots of turns and a huge hill at 5 miles. The last 3 splits were not what I was looking for but I am not overall pissed with it. Glad to get a win and a check (I got a big one – Happy Gilmore style) and enjoyed Greenville.

PM: 5 mile run (35:00)
Mostly just shuffled this run to shake out the legs from the race and drive.

Sun: 3/2/08

AM: 17 mile run (1:49:37) [avg: 6:26]
Overall a tough long run, my legs were still pretty fried from yesterday, which surprised me as I thought I would recover better. The first 10 miles didn’t feel too bad and I ran a few sub 6’s but the last half got pretty tough and holding 6:30’s was an effort. Whirlpool after

Week in Review: 109 miles (77 singles)

The first part of the week was a wash just trying to get recovered from the flu and get my legs back under me. I am very happy with how the last 3 or 4 days went in terms of effort and getting back into training and not just going through the motions. Time to get back to some training and shooting for the trials standard.


Mon: 3/3/08

AM: 10 mile run (1:07:00)
Put on my exploratory shoes today and found a great new trail to run on. I felt like Brendan, hiking through the trails and looking for where the trail went next, luckily my orienteering skills are much more refined. Felt stiff at the start but great by the end.

PM: 6 mile run (45:00)
Took the team out to the new trail today and ran around mostly trying to make sure everyone knew where they were going. Watched Chandler do her workout and did 6 x 10sec sprints while waiting.

Tue: 3/4/08

AM: 5 mile run (35:00)
Shakeout on the golf course. Felt pretty good minus my hamstrings being tight

Don’t be a slave to your Garmin or your Runkeeper log and tick off training days just because your schedule says you should. Be flexible, listen to your body, and train smarter.

PM: 10 mile run (No time)
Was supposed to do 6 x mile today but the weather was atrocious. It was pouring rain and there was a tornado watch and some pretty nasty thunderstorms around. It would have been interesting to do the workout with 30mph winds on the homestretch. I think moving the workout until tomorrow will make it a more productive endeavor and won’t screw up the training week at all. It’s nice to be flexible! The run itself was ok, the rain and wind were entertaining but the run was on all concrete with old shoes.

Wed: 3/5/08

AM: 5 mile run (35:00)
Trying the whole shakeout thing over again

PM: 3 w/u, 6 x 1600m w/3min rest (4:32, 4:38, 4:39, 4:42, 4:45, 4:37), 3c/d
Total = 12 miles – Track
What a terrible workout, the worst one I have had in quite some time. I was really pissed and disappointed after but I talked with Scott and he reminded me that I had almost 3 weeks off of hard workouts and training and I can’t expect to set the world on fire my first track workout back. In retrospect I should have started with a couple of 4:40’s and perhaps I would have been able to work my way down to the 4:30’s. I guess I get a little stubborn sometimes and today I just went for it. Gotta keep the head up and keep pushing through, getting frustrated and worried it won’t come in time, or ever again for that matter. It has been a long slump.

Thur: 3/6/08

AM: 5 mile run (34:55)
Made up a new loop today that is exactly 5 miles. Felt ok considering I ran slow yesterday

PM: 5 mile run (34:00)
Was exploring some new trails and rolled my ankle pretty good. Not the most intelligent decision to explore today but I have to live with my actions. Decided not to run on it as I was limping.

Fri: 3/7/08

AM: 12 mile run (1:16:00)
First and last mile in 7min and the middle 10 in 1:02:00. Felt heavy and flat, just couldn’t get the pace down where I wanted it.

PM: 5 mile run (33:00)
Felt like I was running close to 6 min pace

Sat: 3/8/08

AM: 5 mile run (35:00)
Early morning but it was almost 60 out. Felt ok

PM: 10 mile run (1:05:25) [paced 900m at 4:16 pace]
The run was crazy. Up at VTech and it was crazy windy and snowing. The wind was so bad at parts I mine as well have been walking. Found a sweet bike path and went out in 35 and came back just over 6min pace. Still feel heavy and flat, perhaps the weather today. Jumped in and paced the 3k for 900m, didn’t feel too hot.

I’ve never once said “boy, I wish I had trained harder”, but I have looked back and wished I would have trained smarter.

Sun: 3/9/08

AM: 10 mile run (1:03:00)
Was supposed to do a long run/tempo combo today but I just plain suck. The first 10 was supposed to be at 6min pace and then start the tempo. I couldn’t even hit 6min pace during the first ten and took off for the first mile and hit a 5:20 feeling terrible and bagged it. Still just feel very heavy and legs are tired. I am so absolutely frustrated I don’t even know how to put into words.

Week in Review: 100 miles
A terrible week of training, the inconsistent training continues to mount. I know I just have to brush this week off and get back to putting in the work wherever my current fitness is at the moment. Heading up to Zap for the weekend as it is the school spring break.

My thoughts 3 years later

It’s very obvious that my body was rundown and I wasn’t giving it enough time to recover. With a big goal race on the horizon, I stopped listening to what my body was trying to tell me and soldiered on, hoping I could fight my way through it.

How many of you can look back at a training segment or look at your training now and see yourself doing the same thing?

Perhaps the hardest lesson I had to learn as a runner was that being tough didn’t mean beating the crap out of myself on every run or pushing my body through fatigue. That mentality was ingrained since childhood, which it is for many athletes. I grew up in a football-crazed town, which meant I played hurt and water was for sissies, but that mentality couldn’t be further from the attitude needed to be a good distance runner.

Instead of driving myself further into the ground, I should have had the confidence in myself to rest for a few days and put in a week of easy 4-6 milers, and just let my body recover. I wouldn’t have lost any fitness, but I would have been able to train harder when it counted and put in the specific work I needed to succeed.

My stubbornness only lead to a season of up and down workouts and race results and ultimately ended with a torn plantar fascia. Looking back at all my training, I’ve never once said “boy, I wish I had trained harder”, but I have looked back and wished I would have trained smarter.

Learn from my mistakes and listen to your body. With the technology available these days, we have unlimited opportunities to track and record almost every facet of our training. Don’t be a slave to your Garmin or your Runkeeper log and tick off training days just because your schedule says you should. Be flexible, listen to your body, and train smarter.

I hope you enjoyed this reflection and the training that I shared. Please let me know what you think or send in questions via the comments section.

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3 Responses on “Elite Runner Training: Overtraining and learning to listen to your body

  1. Good question. I did have a coach and it’s probably what kept me from going insane when the workouts weren’t going well. Most of our conversations were me complaining about feeling bad and him telling me to just relax and let it come. I am sure he told me more than a few times to back off and rest and I probably didn’t listen – I had a bad habit of doing that as an athlete myself (tisk tisk to me)

  2. Again, great insight and comforting (in a way) to know that there are some ‘basic truths’ in running / training regardless the level of competition! In hindsight, I made a huge mistake last spring singularly focused on finishing the training segment rather than listening to my body. In my mind, I recall rationalizing that there would time to heal (foot) – afterwards. In all probability, that decision likely extended the required healing time from several weeks to several months. Ironically, it was the couple of races after the marathon that really opened my eyes as far as my hugely improved fitness level although my plantar fasciitis so aggravated by then that I could not continue running / training.

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