Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rest Days and Overtraining

Rest days are important. So much so, I'm placing this section ahead of the actually training ideas. When you decide to run an ultra, there's usually some degree of panic that sets in. It's not uncommon to have a “OH MY GOD I'M NOT GOING TO BE READY FOR THIS!” feeling. That sometimes drives us to train again and again without giving our body time to recover.

Most of the plans have build-in rest days. TAKE THEM! Your body needs that time to recover.

If you don't rest, there's a chance you will develop overtraining symptoms, which include:
  • A higher-than-normal heart rate, which can be measured when waking up in the morning (before those eight cups of coffee),
  • Constant muscle soreness,
  • Insomnia,
  • Depression-like symptoms,
  • Loss of appetite,
  • Loss of motivation,
  • Irritability.

The tricky part of diagnosing overtaining is the symptoms are hard to distinguish from other negative life events, like your favorite reality TV show being canceled or your pet gerbil dying.

I've encountered overtraining occasionally. My challenge has been deciphering the symptoms of overtraining from my natural procrastination and laziness. Lack of motivation? Check. Irritability? If I'm trying to kick that eight cup-a-day coffee habit: check. Insomnia? If there's a SpongeBob marathon on Nickelodeon: check.

For me the tell-tale sign is loss of appetite. It never happens. I once ate an entire large pepperoni pizza in the middle of a bout with the stomach flu. It wasn't pretty.

If you start experiencing overtraining symptoms, what's the best solution? Take a one week vacation. No matter where you are in training, take a week off. Do nothing. The effects on training will be minimal and you'll come back stronger than ever.



  1. As a new(er) runner, I have never used a training plan aside from c25k which got me started, so my question will sound super stupid:

    Can you elaborate on what exactly a rest day is? Does that mean I should skip my daily 5k run commute to work and walk it instead? What if I have a hike with friends on the agenda? What if I normally bike 15k to work and back each day?

  2. Can you count a short run like 1 miler as a rest day? I have been doing that lately so I don't go too crazy. I mean, what do you do when you really don't enjoy taking a rest day?