Ultrarunning: Overtraining

November 1, 2011

This article is part of Endurance Planet’s ultrarunning article series. If you have questions, comments or feedback about “Overtraining”, please leave it below in the comments section…

Training takes your capacities as close to its limits as possible for the purpose of stimulating your body to adapt to the pressure. This is how you gradually realize your potential and increase your chances of success on the targeted event.

On the other side of this reward is the risk of overtraining, injury, and burnout. The problem here is that ‘limits’ is a very subjective term. It is really up to the runner, or any other athlete for that matter, to know what his limits are, to use the necessary tools to pinpoint where they lie, and to have the discipline to back off when he overextends himself.

Warning signs

Your body is going to tell you when you’ve demanded more than it can provide. One of the early signs that you’ve gone beyond the edge is a noticeable drop in performance. You’ll start noticing that you’re already hitting your anaerobic threshold despite running at a slow pace. This is another reason why it’s important to constantly monitor your heart rate inside and outside training sessions. Studies have shown that an increased resting heart rate is indicative of incomplete recovery. Check for this every morning and see if it’s any higher than previous readings. If it is then you’re likely overtraining.

There will also be mental or behavioral changes. You’ll find yourself feeling burned out, unenthusiastic about easy or routine tasks, and maybe even start having a negative attitude towards the sport itself. This will be accompanied by loss of appetite, loss of body weight, and possibly insomnia.


Runners fall into the trap of overtraining because it’s not really easy to notice when you’re about to cross that line. Training creates a positive reinforcement of confidence and capability. The more you train, the stronger and faster you do get and feel. It’s this great feeling that can actually mask the early warning signs of overtraining.

Being in a state of peaking physical and mental condition, you naturally tend to keep pushing. Increasing the time or distance of training runs, putting in more sessions per week, increasing the pace – it’s easy to overdo these parameters of your training when you’re feeling very strong. You can have a training partner or a running coach but ultimately it’s up to you to keep yourself in check and maintain a balanced training regimen.

The long view

There’s nothing wrong with being a competitive ultrarunner. An ultramarathon is still a race after all. But you don’t have to limit yourself to this perspective. Veteran runners who still actively participate in races tend to think of running as a lifelong endeavor. One observation you’ll occasionally hear from them is that young runners often take the competitive spirit too far. These runners are likely to end up as shooting stars. They join a lot of tough races and peak early then, likely due to overtraining, injure themselves or get burned out and leave the sport. If you really love running then you should be wise about the events you join and train for so that you can still be competitive in the long term.


Do you have questions about overtraining, or what you’ve read so far? Do you have any ultrarunning pointers of your own to add? Please leave your feedback, comments and questions below, and we promise we’ll respond.

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