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Am I Overtraining for My Marathon?

Q I’m running my first marathon since 1990, though I’ve been running consistently for nearly 30 years and ran two half-marathons last spring. For support, I’ve joined a local runner’s group, and our coach had us run this week 15km, 8km, 15km, 6km, 6km, 16km (that 16km is on very challenging mountain terrain). Next week our long run is 30km.

I’m completely exhausted. I’m hydrating, getting lots of sleep, taking multivitamins, and carbs are my favourite food group. I’m finding I can’t complete that last run, so this week, I cut back. I ran a great 12km, then speed workout (treadmills), then another great 12km, then could only run 3km before I had to walk yesterday.

My dream goal is to get near my mother’s marathon PB – 3:46 at the 1985 NYC marathon when she was 44 years old. I’m 46. I have three questions:

1. Am I running on “tired” legs, i.e. my years of running?
2. To what extent is it possible to run faster with fewer running workouts?
3. Am I being unrealistic in my time goal? I ran a 1:53 half-marathon in March and a 1:51 in May; both races were super-hilly.

 

A Develop a plan based on your running regimen and life, your current fitness, your goals and how your body responds to the training. Group training is a great way to get in the long runs and push for the harder runs, but one schedule doesn’t match everyone’s needs.

Not being able to finish workouts due to fatigue is a classic sign of overtraining. It sounds as if you’re running too many hard kilometres during the week for your current fitness and for your body. I’m an advocate for cross-training, especially for runners over 40 years old, as it takes longer to recover from harder workouts. Of course it also depends on the efficiency of the runner and many other variables like sleep, nutrition, stress, body alignment and balance.

I’d follow your instincts and train four days per week.

1. A long run (make it at a conversational effort, please).
2. A hard speed workout with the group.
3. Two easy-effort runs.

If you’re unable to make it through the week of workouts, your body isn’t recovering efficiently. By scaling back the number of runs to four per week – and including two hard runs (long and speed) – you’ll allow your body time to recover, so you’ll be able to complete the workouts, adapt, and improve this season.

Weave in cross-training activity that focuses on body strength, balance and flexibility (Pilates, yoga, or a general strength/flexibility workout). Your body needs to balance the high-intensity workouts with more calming activities that balance, lengthen and strengthen the body. That way you flow from hard to easy and recover more efficiently. Your schedule could look something like this:

Monday: Easy Run
Tuesday: Cross-Train
Wednesday: Speed
Thursday: Cross-Train
Friday: Easy Run
Saturday: Long Run
Sunday: Rest (or light restorative flexibility exercises)

Let this season be about your love of running, and pace yourself on race day by your body. If that turns out to meet your target goal – great! If not, celebrate the finish. As you gain more marathon fitness in the future, you’ll gain a better sense of what your times are based on the course and weather, and you’ll be able to progress your training in seasons to come. Your half-marathon times are well within your target goal and within your reach. Train wisely now, and your body will evolve into a 3:46 marathoner.

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