How to avoid training burnout when training for a race

By Dr. Grant Matkovich 

The start of every new year gives a chance at a new beginning and even a ‘restart’. As runners the new year allows us to set new running goals, whether its new races, longer distances, going for PB’s or refocusing after an injury.

An important part of being able to reach your goal is to take the time out now to plan your training. Divide the months and weeks leading up to your event into phases. With each phase focusing on different parts of your conditioning to get you to race day in peak condition. This will help prevent overtraining. The symptoms of overtraining may include tired and heavy legs, slower running times or even injuries start creeping in.

Here is a basic guideline to help focus your training, so that you can avoid overtraining with the unwanted fatigue and injuries.

Phase one: Preparation Phase

This phase is aimed at easing back into training for 4-12 weeks, this should include easy aerobic conditioning and even a bit of cross training.

Goal of the phase:

To slowly improve your general fitness and being able to run at your comfortable pace.

What can be included:

  1. Easy club runs should be the focus during this period.
  2. Cross training may include cycling or swimming

Phase two: Base Training Phase

This phase is aimed at building a solid fitness base over 8 to 12 weeks. The focus is on slowly increasing your training intensity to develop a decent fitness level and to avoid injuries.

Goal of the phase:

To increase the endurance capacity of your fitness. Meaning that by the end of this phase you should be able to run longer distances at your comfortable pace.

What can be included:

  1. Increase the duration of your runs from your preparation phase, these should still be at a comfortable pace (60 -75% effort)
  2. Consider adding in one additional run per week into your schedule
  3. Occasional hill running, however this should be done at a lower effort to avoid injuries
  4. If you have any technique issues (running up/down hill; stride etc) this is the time to address them

Phase three: Building Phase

For the next 4-8 weeks the focus is on building on your base by increasing intensity and race specific training

Goal of the phase:

To increase your fitness and conditioning to be able to run at your desired race pace, but without the risk of constantly running at your highest levels.

At the peak of this phase you should be at your physiological peak. This is when you will be at maximum intensity of training. Shorter distance runners may be able to hold this peak for longer, however longer distance runners will not be able to. The peak of maximum intensity training should last 2 weeks.

What can be included:

  1. Add some tempo runs, runs which are at a slightly faster pace than your comfortable pace
  2. Fartleks and longer interval runs
  3. Runs on terrain like what you will be racing on
  4. Run that is close to or over your race distance, but at a lower intensity (slower than your race pace)

Phase four: Taper

The aim of the next 1-2 weeks is to allow the body to recover after the intense training whilst still maintaining fitness levels.

Goal of the phase:

To allow the body to recover after training so that you are in optimal condition on race day

What can be included:

Rest! This is a difficult phase as you feel strong and want to run, however you need to fight urges of wanting to train or doubts of feeling undertrained, trust your plan!

Shorter runs at a VERY comfortable pace are important.

Phase Five: Race

Phase Six: Recover

Remember to allow sufficient time to recover after your race. Runners are often back on the road way to soon after a race. Take time off and recover properly.

 

Other tips to avoid burnout when training:

1. Choose one race and make that race your priority

Choose ONE race as your goal and design your training schedule to that race. It is difficult to race many races without facing burnout and fatigue. When training for long distance and Ultra races it is hard to maintain your physiological peak for long periods of time due to the strain training places on your body. Choose one race that is your goal race, and make sure your training ‘peaks’ for that race.

 

2. Know your paces:

This might sound a bit obvious but is so often over-looked by runners. Know your comfortable pace, your tempo pace (Slightly faster) and your race pace (faster).

Likewise, realistically the pace of your club run, 10km, 21km and 42km pace can’t all be the same. Get to know what your comfortable pace is for each distance. When training allocate paces to your runs, irrespective of the distance you are running.

Race paces should be done very infrequently (Time trials etc). Tempo paces can be done more frequently. Allocate comfortable pace runs often, to allow your legs to recover especially a run after a hard run or hill session.

If you run every run at your fastest pace you will pick up injuries, varying your pace (to slower paces) allows your body to recover whilst still running!

 

3. Training runs are training runs:

Take training runs easy. Stop for water, chat, regroup. Its about time on your legs. Often runners use road races as training runs, which they plan to run slower. This is difficult as it is easy to get caught up in the atmosphere of the race. The other runners next to you pull you along often faster than you intended. The water table stop you from stopping for water. The crowd support on the side of the road can make you run a bit faster.

This often causes runners to run their ‘race’ on a ‘training’ run, because the legs have not recovered from the training run which was faster than planned.

 

4. Listen to your body

During training the body will get tired and feel heavy. There will be days when you will not want to get out of bed. That is normal during the Base training and Building phase of training. With the correct Taper phase, the body will recover. However, if your body is in pain and you have injuries or persistent niggles that are getting worse, you need to listen to your body. That is often a sign of over-training and fatigue. Often backing off on the intensity, modifying your training or a couple of rest days will do the trick in getting you back on track. Not listening to your body, however, might cause you to stop completely!

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