A few weeks ago I was feeling very low about my running. I had a major event, an “A” race, scheduled for the 25th October and I had absolutely no desire to put on my running shoes at all. In fact, if I was honest with myself, I had been going through the motions with my running programme for about two months up until that point, gritting my teeth and getting through the workouts by sheer willpower alone. And I was not getting through all of the workouts either. I was trying to figure out what was wrong with me. Every workout, every race, every mile was suddenly a huge struggle. It was like a switch had gone off and I was DONE. In the words of Salty herself I had “jumped the shark.”
Was I overtrained? Not quite: I had a case of the plods.
According to those in the know, the plods, like jumping the shark equates to pushing a little too hard for a little too long to the detriment of training your body and your mind. Runners navigate a very fine line every time they embark on a training program between pushing their body enough to elicit a proper training response and thereby get fitter and faster, and going too far where the body cannot recover adequately. There is definitely truth in the saying that there is “too much of a good thing” when it comes to training.
In truth, real overtraining, which is extremely debilitating and can take months to recover from, is usually only seen in the highest level professional athletes. This does not mean though that the average novice and indeed, sub-elite runner, cannot suffer symptoms that, if ignored, could develop into full-blown overtraining syndrome. Dr. Timothy Noakes, in The Lore of Running, describes the “Heavy Leg Syndrome” where athletes refuse to acknowledge that a fall in performance may be due to too much training and try to do more. They start to suffer from the plods. Symptoms of the plods are:
- sore muscles
- a heavy-legged sluggish feeling
- generalized fatigue
If the athlete continues to push through these symptoms they may be unlucky enough to develop, according to Noakes, the scary sounding “super plods” which is described as “persistent muscle soreness, loss of interest in training and competition, increases in heart rate, and changes in sleeping patterns.” Noakes goes on to say that once those symptoms are present an athlete will have to take at least 5 to 8 weeks off from training and racing in order to fully recover. Interestingly Noakes mentions that it is not just training that can contribute to an overtrained state and says that factors which may exacerbate the symptoms include “poor nutrition, drug use, lack of sleep and inadequate rest, adverse climactic conditions, “irregular living”… work pressures, emotional conflicts and emotional turmoil, monotonous training, and miscellaneous stress.
Jeff Gaudette over at RunnersConnect says that there are three main reasons that runners at a serious level of training can creep into the sphere of overtraining.
- Insufficient recovery between sessions
- Insufficient “downtime” between training segments
- Too much hard speedwork
He states that it is important for runners to try to improve on a “step-by-step” basis rather than in one training segment. He lists moodiness, elevated heart rate, susceptibility to sickness and interrupted sleeping patterns as key indicators that a runner is entering the plods territory.
I can definitely attribute my lack of enthusiasm to symptoms of over training. I may not have taken enough of a break after the Comrades Marathon ultra in June 2014 and work stress, a very busy family and lots of colds and flu had pushed me to my limit.
Obviously, avoiding the plods is the best way to deal with the plods! Take recovery seriously and learn to listen to your body and mind when they’re trying to explain their limits! But, if you do find yourself living with the plods, what is the magic bullet to get your sorry self out of the mess you’ve created for yourself?
And eat healthy, nutritious food in abundance.
Take a step back from the training and wait until you want to run. Trust me it will happen. One day you will want to lace up your shoes instead of feeling that you have to lace up your shoes. And then be kind to yourself and take it slowly. Running is not going anywhere, and most of us, luckily, only do it because we love it and not to earn a living.
Have you ever had the plods? How did you get over it? Do you think there’s a difference between the plods and overtraining?