The Shocking Truth About Over-training

How To Run Properly

Over-training! Often a buzz word used by runners when the wheels come off. Almost always, those who mention the word, follow it up with a long explanation about how you have trained too much.

Yet, there is a shocking truth. Over-training has more to do with a lack of rest than it does too much training.


Let me explain.

Back in 2011, when I was training for my first Comrades Marathon, I remember having a chat to a guy who was aiming for a Silver medal (sub 7hrs 30mins) finish. When I asked him how many kms he was clocking weekly, he casually answered “minimum of 120kms”.

Immediately I thought to myself, this dude is over-training.

At the time, I was aiming for a Bronze medal (sub 11hrs), at best a Bill Rowan (sub 9hrs). My weekly mileage averaged 85kms. I peaked at around 100kms.

Six years down the line, with four Comrades Marathons under my belt, I’ve gone on to discuss the issue of over-training with many athletes.

From my discussions, I can tell you this much: the topic is trickier than it seems at face value.

Whilst clocking 120kms weekly is considered over-training for the average athlete aiming for a mere finish in the Comrades Marathon, that same mileage is considered under-training for elite athletes and those wanting to get a Silver medal.

As such, it is quite clear that too much training is seldom the issue, especially when you consider that we all have different running abilities and thresholds of fatigue.

The real issue is a lack of adequate recovery between training workouts. As a consequence, many runners try to avoid over-training by training less, when in fact you could still suffer from over training, running a very low mileage.

In this post, I hope I can assist you to deal with over-training proactively by highlighting 5 tactics.

1. Be Time Wise

One of the best ways of pro-actively managing over-training is mastering your time usage.

Life is hectic. There’s work, family, church. The list goes on. And then, you’ve got to fit you’re your training into this schedule.

The issue with over-training is that if you are unable to schedule “down time” into your life schedule, you’ll definitely suffer from over-training.

2. Improve your running gradually

Whilst we are all encouraged by tapping into hidden talents and improving our running performance, it is always advisable to improve your running gradually.

For a novice, it takes a few years for you to fully understand your running patterns and ability.

Rather focus on following training programmes that helps you build a solid running foundation. You can worry about running personal best times later.

For the experienced runner as well, trying to achieve gigantic gains is a sure recipe for over-training.

Be realistic and err on the conservative side when it comes to improving your running. Trust me, you’ll enjoy your running that much more.

3. Cross-Train

You’ll often get told as a runner, the best form of training for a race is to pile on the mileage.

Well, that’s half the story. It is completely idiotic not to cross-train as a runner.

Let me explain why.

I did a little bit of an experiment in 2015 (a not so mart one). I trained for Comrades without any form of cross-training.

Instead, I piled on the kms. Between the 17th of January and 26th May, I ran a total of 1200kms. That, was more than enough for a comfortable 10hr run. Instead, I ran my worst Comrades. I finished in a time of 11hrs 13mins, 1hr 49mins off my personal best on 9hrs 24 mins.

This was after I had run a 4hrs 57mins 50km and a 5hrs 24mins 56km in March.

I felt really sluggish on Comrades day, despite the ‘adequate mileage’ I had piled on from January to May.

Adding cross-training to your training programme increases body strength, flexibility and overall balance. That way, you are able to get much better returns from your mileage.

Ultimately, you are able to train your hard sessions with less effort because you are stronger. Equally important, you recover much quicker from those hard training sessions.

4. Take breaks between training cycles

It might sound cool to constantly be on the road, without breaks. But, it’s one of the quickest ways of messing up your running.

Personally, I prefer training programmes that are geared at running certain races at close to full pace. Although I’ll run a number of races in a training cycle, some of those will be run as a training run. Not too slow. And definitely not at full pace.

I will then schedule breaks in between the races I run at full pace. Because I run all-year round, my races are marathons and ultra-marathons. I seldom race half marathons.

Given the above, my breaks happen between certain marathon races. I will rest for a full 2 weeks, with the exception of Comrades. With Comrades, I take 3 – 4 weeks off. By taking breaks, you get the much needed benefits of rest.

Ideally, you want to take 1 week off after racing a 10km or half marathon, and 2 weeks off after racing a marathon.

These are mere suggestions. We have different running abilities and goals. In addition, our levels of experience differ. With time, you get to understand your abilities a bit better and you can then adjust your training cycles and the length of your breaks accordingly.

5. Involve your family

Although there are numerous physical symptoms of over-training, one of the best give away signs of over-training is your attitude.

Because over-training decreases hormone production, you gradually start to become moody, stressed and easily irritable.

As runners, we tend to be stubborn. As a result, it takes us a while to admit fatigue and over-training. However, one of the benefits of running is that it is a family event. As such if you involve family members – especially those you are intimate with – they’ll be able to pick up on increased irritability pretty quickly.

Allow them to speak openly when you experience these mood swings. Be agreeable and take remedial action. Take a few days off your training or drop the intensity.


Often when things go wrong, the buzz word “over-training” will pop up. And we all know that things can go horribly wrong where running is concerned.

When things go wrong, the last thing you need is further confusion. As I’ve already highlighted, many runners attribute over-training to too much training, when in fact it is more to do with a lack of rest.

Ultimately though, you want to pro-actively manage your training load. That way, you’ll be in a position to avoid over-training.

I hope this post will help you do exactly that.

God Bless!

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