Dear Sports Medicine Counsel,
I am an avid long distance runner and I am currently preparing for a 10 kilometre race coming up next month. Although I have run for many years, this race is special as I have increased the frequency and intensity of my workouts in hopes of running a personal best race time. Although I have been training harder, I am starting to find the workouts more difficult and my performance is beginning to decline. My muscles are increasing in soreness after workouts and I am feeling tired even while I’m not exercising. How could this be? Am I not training hard enough, or training incorrectly?
At first glance, it sounds like you are a highly motivated individual who is committed to improving your results. Since you are increasing the amount of times you are running each week, as well as the pace of each run, I can see why you are expecting to see a continual increase in your performance. Although this may be beneficial for improving performance, it is a common theme for highly motivated trainers to ignore the important concept of recovery in their training routines. Although many trainers think that improvement comes while training their muscles, improvement in performance actually happens during the recovery portion of training routines. This is because after the muscles are done being worked, the body is able to repair muscle tissues stronger than before the workout. Therefore, in your particular training program, a lack of recovery time may have led you into something called overtraining.
Overtraining occurs when you do not give your body enough time to recover, leading to a declined performance, or in some cases remain constant. As previously mentioned, recovery is a very important part of training and is needed in order to improve performance. As a result, you are beginning your next training session while your body is still in need of repairing. You are starting your workout fatigued without even realizing it. This concept of overtraining is also found to lead to other symptoms outside of performance that you also appear to be experiencing. These additional symptoms include ongoing muscle soreness, increased heart rate, lowered immune system, mood changes, and a loss of sleep.
Another suggestion that will help you with your performance next month will be to include a taper into your training routine leading into your race. This means that before the race, it is beneficial to decrease how hard you train during approximately 2-3 weeks leading into the race. Although it may seem like you are wasting valuable training sessions, this will help make sure your muscles are fully rested and ready to perform the best they can. These light runs will not only help your muscles become fully rested leading into the rest, but will allow for your training to show its full effect during the race.
Good luck with your race!
Sports Medicine Counsel