Overtraining is one of the five most common training mistakes that a long distance runner can make. The drive to excel, beat a time goal, become stronger, place first, can contribute to an athlete running too much and becoming "stale".
This condition can affect any type of athlete but endurance runners are more prone to suffer from it due to the nature (endurance level) that the sport requires.
The definition of overtraining varies from individual to individual because of different capability levels but it can be generalized by:
Overtraining in Relation to an Endurance Runner: performing runs that are too long and/or too strenuous for their level or experience with not enough rest periods to recover
It is normal to experience physiological fatigue that sets in after an intense workout. It usually takes no longer than 2 weeks for your body to get back to a well rested state. The result is an increase in our motor performance (depending on what the workout targeted it will enhance our speed, strength, endurance, etc). This is good for performance improvement and what we aim to do when we add such workouts as speed training to our routine.
However, it becomes bad when we fail to allow our bodies to rest when they are already in a state of fatigue and continue to push them into intense workouts. If we continue to do this all the while postponing our much needed rest to beyond a 2 week period we begin to suffer from the effects of overtraining.
Other causes can be due to emotional factors such as our daily life anxieties, stresses and fears that can begin to creep into our training program. These will end up making us feel burned out in the area of running.
Another common cause is feeling that all your hard work and training is not paying off.
There are 2 main effects of overtraining that can cause serious damage to a runner's career:
It is fairly easy to avoid the negative effects of over training.
Cut down on your training volume rest days!
Take 3 to 5 days. Ignore your training schedule and get some rest. Reduce your mileage for the week. You may choose to keep your pace the same or just run easy. Your body needs a break. Your mind needs a break.
Do not return to your regular training schedule until you feel rested, enthused and ready to continue. If you have big competition coming the best thing might be to pull out instead of pushing your body to an extreme.
If you are a coach it is extremely important to watch out for this condition in your runners. Prevention is, as usual, the best way to avoid the negative effects. Keep in mind that an overtrained runner needs your patience and empathy. It will take a little bit of time but they should snap out of it in a timely manner as long as they are given what their body and mind needs.
Gremion, G., and T. Kuntzer. "Fatigue and Reduction in Motor Performance in Sportspeople or Overtraining Syndrome." Swiss Medical Journal 962nd ser. 10.428 (n.d.): 964-5. Web.
Powers, Scott K., and Edward T. Howley. Exercise Physiology: Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2007. Print.
Prentice, William E., and Daniel D. Arnheim. Arnheim's Principles of Athletic Training: A Competency-based Approach. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2011. Print.