Out There: Overtraining? No, Not Me!

Overtraining can lead to injury ... and also misery for people around you. Illustration: N.C. Winters

Sometimes it’s better (for everyone) to resist the urge to do an extra workout.

I slammed my coffee down and glared at the barista behind the counter.

“This isn’t a latte!” I snapped. “This is a cup of foam! Get me your manager!”

A look of panic spread across the face of my best friend, Carlos.

“Sweet mother Mary on a goat,” he cried, “It’s starting again.”

Carlos pulled me away from the counter, throwing an apologetic $5 bill at the shell-shocked teenager I had just berated. I grumbled a series of expletives as I sat down in an overstuffed chair. Carlos sat down across from me and sighed.

“You do this every time, you know.”

“Huh?” I raised an eyebrow. “Do what?”

“Whenever you start training for a big race, you always get ahead of yourself and do too much, too soon. You’re overtraining again, Susan.”

“I am not!” I huffed.

“It starts with the grumpiness.” He interrupted. “You just reamed out that poor girl back there, Susan. Are you sleeping well?”

“I’m sleeping just fine.”

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“Really? Because Facebook time-stamps your status updates, and most people who sleep well aren’t posting cat videos at 3 a.m.”

I pouted and slurped my cup of foam.

“Next comes the rage and the cold that turns into an infection that won’t go away. Before you know it, I’ll find your crying, snotty, un-showered butt on the couch, surrounded by two weeks’ worth of chocolate wrappers and despair.”

I thought about what I had just heard. Overtraining? No way. Sure, I was training a lot, but it wasn’t like I was going from couch to marathon in a week.

Besides, I had a lot of ground to make up. Coming back from a six-month injury meant I was light years behind my fellow racers. Sure, I was doing a little bit more than my plan called for — an extra 15 minutes of swimming here or a spontaneous 5K run there, but overtraining? No way.

Carlos reached forward and looked into my eyes. “Take a couple of rest days. Please.”

I batted his hands away, my eyes filling with angry tears. “Stop it! You don’t know anything!”

As soon as the words exited my mouth, I knew he was right. I was dissolving like a popsicle on a hot summer day. A really witchy popsicle.

The typical training plan for a race covers weeks. But too often, runners are impatient. When the results of training are slow to reveal themselves, we assume we must not be doing enough. Rather than trust the plan designed to get us to the starting line months away, we modify our plans right now — an extra mile or two to a run, or a workout when we’re supposed to be taking a rest day.

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Our logic: If a little bit of work is good, a lot of work must be even better!

It’s easy to overdo it on the zeal and ignore the classic signs of overtraining. When those who know us best point out that we might be doing just a little too much, we go on the defensive, because how dare they say I’m acting like an irritable pissy pants?

Step back and examine their concerns. Chances are, they’re seeing something you’re not — or worse, that you choose not to see. It’s OK to admit they might be right.

Your friends, family, and baristas everywhere will thank you for it.

This piece first appeared in the June 2013 issue of Competitor magazine.

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About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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