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How to Avoid Overtraining for a Marathon

Jan. 8, 2020 - Katie McCallum

When preparing for marathon, it can be easy to fall into the trap of overtraining. Maybe you don't know (or don't want to admit) that you're body needs rest between workouts or competitions. Maybe you're nervous and think being over-prepared is better than being underprepared. Or, maybe you got a late start on your training and you're playing catch up a little too aggressively.

"Overtraining occurs when a person fails to recover adequately between exercises," says Dawn Stuckey, athletic trainer at Houston Methodist. "Preventing overtraining is important since it can stave off injuries that can keep you sidelined for weeks or months."

Stuckey recommends the following three tips to avoid and recover from overtraining.

Know the signs of overtraining

Training for a marathon means staying dedicated to your training plan, but it also means listening to your body and being aware of the warning signs that you're overtraining.

Signs you may be overtraining include:

  • Burnout
  • Declining performance
  • Decreased motivation
  • Frequent injuries
  • Frequent illness
  • Mood changes

 

One of the most telling, albeit ambiguous, signs of overtraining is declining performance and fatigue.

"Are you getting slower as a runner when your running times should be improving? This may be a sign that your body isn't getting enough time to recover in between sessions and weeks," explains Stuckey. "Asking your body to do too much on too little can put it in shut-down mode, and your performance will decline."

Avoid overtraining by focusing on recovery

If you notice the signs of overtraining creeping in, or want to avoid it altogether, Stuckey recommends making recovery a priority.

"Recovery is critical when training for a long-distance race such as a half marathon or full marathon," she says. "Things like overzealous escalation in weekly mileage or too much running overall — without time to rest and recover — are sure ways to prompt an overuse injury."

To prevent overtraining, Stuckey recommends you:

  • Give plenty of time to rest in between workouts (i.e. don't follow an evening workout with an early morning one the next day)
  • Hydrate before, during and after training
  • Fuel your body correctly — eat good sources of protein and carbs before and after training
  • Make time for dynamic stretching before and after your training sessions
  • Practice yoga or other low-intensity cross training exercises to help your body recover
  • Build core fitness via planks
  • Try foam rolling specific areas that are sore

 

Hydrating is an easy one to get stuck on, since it's hard to know if you're drinking enough water.

"When it comes to hydrating, an easy rule of thumb is to drink half an ounce of water for each pound you weigh — plus, add 15 ounces for every 30 minutes you exercise," explains Stuckey. "If you're sweating more than usual, drink even more than water than you think you need."

Prevent re-injury by getting the right treatment

If overtraining tendencies are left unchecked, it can result in injury. Stuckey says that the most common overuse injuries in endurance athletes are:

  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Achilles tendinitis
  • Patellofemoral pain
  • IT band friction syndrome
  • Stress fractures

 
"Ideally, you want to correct overtraining habits before they result in injury. But, if you do get injured, getting proper treatment is critical," says Stuckey. "Two of the most important ways to treat overuse injuries are rest and physical therapy."

Relative rest is a fundamental component of treating overtraining injuries. The duration and extent of rest depend on the severity of your symptoms and the nature of your injury — as well as the fact that you're an endurance athlete. A sports medicine specialist can help you understand what caused the injury (so you don't repeat it) and navigate what type of rest and recovery you need.

Physical therapy can offer several great benefits to treating overtraining injuries. Eccentric exercises, stretching and effective modalities can all offer relief, and an athletic trainer can help you determine which movements and exercises are right for you.

To maintain fitness while your injury resolves, avoid activities that are painful and substitute them with alternative exercises that are low intensity and pain-free, like swimming or elliptical. A gradual return to sport-specific activity is essential to avoid re-injury.

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