The Plods: Overcoming a Case of Not-Quite Overtraining

Feel like this when you’re running? You might have the plods. Image via wikipedia.

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 Runningdescribes 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
  • malaise
  • diarrhea

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.

  1. Insufficient recovery between sessions
  2. Insufficient “downtime” between training segments
  3. 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.

Napping is good for kittens and for runners with the plods who could also stand to cuddle kittens to treat their malaise. Eat bananas if you have the diarrhea. Image via wikimedia.

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?

R.E.S.T!

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?

An ultrarunning gal from sunny South Africa... I'm a mummy of two kiddos under 5, wife, runner (and attorney) from the balmy shores of South Africa. Although I am definitely a mid-packer I have the soul and aspirations of an elite athlete, sadly without the pedigreed legs! But every day I dream and work towards loftier goals... maybe a sub 20 5k to start?

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8 comments

  1. I love this term! It sounds like the title of a horror movie! Haha.

    I seem to get THE PLODS if I don’t take enough recovery time after a long training cycle capped off by a long goal race – usually a marathon. Training is a struggle. I’m slow. Feel kinda blah about it and question what the hell I’m doing torturing myself with it. When I had low iron I also felt this way, interestingly. It is a very similar feeling. I kind of wonder if when you’re body is lacking something essential like that it makes it super easy to feel like you’re overtraining. Garlic was pretty convinced I was borderline overtraining by my symptoms, but I know it was iron and not THE PLODS because after iron supplements I feel back to my old enthusiastic runner self 🙂 one of those things you can only know the cause in retrospect.

    1. You may be on to something here Salty! I think that it is always important for runners to be very aware of their health status (e.g. iron levels, hormonal status etc) particularly women where wacky hormones can have such a major effect on how we feel. I am hypothyroid (my thyroid has been non-functional since birth) and the symptoms of hypothyroidism can be exacerbated by high mileage training. In my case, I got all of my health markers checked first, they were all normal and so I could not blame my “funk” on anything except “the plods”. I have no doubt that any kind of imbalance, whether it be iron, hormones etc, would contribute to a plod-like feeling.

  2. I definitely felt this after many months of a long training cycle last year. For a few weeks I tried to push through it, thinking that was what a great athlete would do. When I finally mentioned it to my coach, she ordered me to immediately cease running for four days and REST. I felt like a lazy bum, but couldn’t believe how light my legs felt after the respite. It’s important to remember that rest and recovery are as integral to success as the ‘active’ work.

  3. You did the right thing by backing off Amy. Sometimes it takes another person, like your coach or a family member, to see what you as a committed runner cannot or will not see – that you need a break! I am glad that you had a positive return to running!

  4. Well, I am glad there is a name for it! I have had the plods for a couple months now coming off of a June marathon. Finally over the last couple weeks I find myself “wanting” to run mostly for my mental wellbeing and to get my dog her exercise. Pace doesn’t matter, I just go for 30-ish minutes and call it good. Good luck coming back from the plods 🙂

    1. Thanks Holly. It has taken a while but I am definitely on the road to recovery and enjoying running again. Before you know it you will be signing up for your next marathon!

  5. Yup – this is where I ended up this fall and couldn’t finish my goal race because I was beaten down and hurt. I have allowed myself to take a big break to recover – both from my injury and from overtraining / underresting. Right now, I am enjoying sleeping in and not running at all. I am hoping I’ll soon be eager to lace up, but am giving myself room to relax and recover.

    1. Hi Mint, Sorry you had a bad goal race, I know the feeling well… it definitely takes time to get the “mojo” back, but if you don’t rush it you are back to normal quicker. Good luck and enjoy the rest and relaxation!