Running Overtrained Vs. Undertrained; Which is Worse?

Getting to race day optimally trained doesn’t always happen. Life does happen though, and sometimes you wind up racing under trained or over trained. Whether it is injury, stacking too many miles in or having races too close, there are lots of ways you might wind up over trained or under trained. Is one better than the other?

Running Overtrained

Over training your running bears the short term risk of becoming injured. Sometimes, these injuries go away quickly on their own. Other times, these injuries can be things like stress fractures, tendinitis, or plantar fasciitis, which can take months to heal from. Don’t tempt injury by training through pain. Make sure you take time to recover properly.

In the long term, overtraining can lead to the more serious Overtraining Syndrome. OTS is signified by chronic fatigue, loss of energy, insomnia, depression, and potentially heart arrhythmia. 

Symptoms of Running Overtraining

  • Extended fatigue
  • Constant muscle soreness
  • Heavy, unresponsive legs
  • Sleepiness, or inability to sleep
  • Mood swings
  • Appetite swings (hungry or not hungry)
  • Increased resting heart rate
  • Stagnated performance

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Running Races When Overtrained

Can you race while overtrained? You certainly can enter a race. Your performance may also be sub-optimal. You may not have the endurance you’d expect while racing. For example, you might start strong and on pace, but then quickly start fading and find it hard to hold on to your typical pace. 

In worse cases, you may exacerbate an existing injury or ignite a new injury while racing over trained. 

Running While Under Trained

Undertraining has its challenges as well, and they revolve around which degree of undertrained you are. Somebody who is a prior marathoner will probably find little issue jumping into a 5k with months off from training. However, a 5k-er is unlikely to jump into a marathon after months off without negative repercussions. 

Undertraining presents less immediate chance of injury. The body typically gives fair warning signs before an injury occurs, such as more soreness than normal. You may experience soreness and slower pacing in a race when undertrained, and you may even find it possible to push through. The key is not to overdo it, or strain your muscles into injury. 

Symptoms of Under Training

  • Higher perceived effort than desired
  • Not achieving intermittent goals
  • Noticeably slower times on benchmark workouts from last season/year
Overtraining and Undertraining in Running

Finding a Balance Between Life and Running

Professionals who have jobs with low physical demands and 40/hr workloads are more likely able to go out for dedicated 50-70 mile weeks than nurses who walk on their feet for 12 hours a day, 3-4 days a week (We’ve coached nurses who walk 10-12 miles a day just at work!). Consider time on feet at work as a factor in your training, and in your recovery. A 20 mile long run followed by a zero-running day but a 12 hour day on your feet at work does not constitute proper recovery!

Look at the 24 hours of your day holistically. Are you moving or resting? Stressing or relaxing? Exposed to the elements or in shelter? Apply these factors when planning your training or racing.

How to Train Adequately

Running is a fun sport when you recognize your limits and listen to your body. Some rules of thumb:

  • Increase your weekly milage by a maximum of 10% per week
  • Take a planned recovery week every 4 weeks, with 30% less miles ran that week
  • Don’t do speed workouts or long runs when sick
  • If you are feeling sluggish, focus on running the miles, not the speed.
  • Talk with your coach about how to reorganize your training plan

Prioritizing Running Workouts

If you have to choose workouts due to time constraints, what running workouts are the most important ones to do? How should you prioritize your runs?

  1. Long Runs
  2. Mid Week Aerobic Runs (moderate, easy distance)
  3. Anaerobic workouts (speed, tempos)
  4. Hill sprints
  5. Hills at natural effort
  6. Easy runs (low milage)

These also follow the same spectrum of how taxing the workouts are on your body. If you are overtrained and risking injury, elimate the top of the list first. If you are undertrained, start at the bottom of the list and work upward.

Finding a balance in training is key to optimal performance. Make sure to take time to put in the work, but also recover well!

What do you do to find that happy medium in training? Leave a comment below!

Four Pass Loop

Just outside the mountain town of Aspen, Colorado lies one of the pinnacle trail running experiences in Colorado: The Four Pass Loop. Enveloped by flowered tundra, alpine lakes, jagged peaks, lush grasses, streams, and every color in the spectrum, this giant loop takes you for a ride, as its name claims, over four separate mountain passes.

Leadville 100 Mile

Rich with mining history, the Race Across the Sky is one of America’s original 100 milers and one of the most competitive. Bring your high-altitude lungs!

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