Overtraining Syndrome – How Much Running is Too Much?

overtraining syndrome

Looking for the best advice on how to avoid overtraining in runners? Then you should know how much running too much.

Here’s the truth.

Consistent training helps you lose weight, improves your conditioning, and will get you in the best shape of your life.

But it’s possible to have too much of a good thing, whether you’re an elite runner or a beginner trying to get fit.

Enter running burnouts, a common issue for those who regularly log in miles.

The trick to dealing with and preventing running burnout is to follow an exercise plan that’s both effective and enjoyable. And how can you do that? That’s where this post comes in handy.

In today’s article, I’ll explain what running burnouts are all about, then share a few tips on managing and preventing them for good.

Sounds great?

Let’s lace up and dig in.

What is Overtraining Syndrome?

Overtraining, also known as burnout, happens when the intensity and/or the frequency of your runs exceeds your body’s ability to recover from the training load.

This is usually blamed on doing too many hard runs in a row without enough rest or appropriate training periodization.

Do that for an extended period, and you’ll be on the verge of seriously hurting yourself.

In other words, you’re running too much. Yes, there’s such a thing as too much running.

The condition ruins your fitness resolve and leads to serious health troubles such as halted performance, injury, mediocre race results, etc.

It can also affect you mentally, physically, and emotionally—in ways, you can’t even imagine.

Running burnout can be caused by two things: either overtraining or under-recovery, and it can result in a plethora of symptoms such as extreme fatigue, injury, and poor performance (more on this later).

You could also get overtrained when you suddenly change your training volume and/or intensity without giving your body enough time to readapt to the new load.

The first step for preventing running burnout is to be aware of overtraining and its warning signs.

Here’s what you need to know about them.

How Much Running is Too Much?

Though logging the miles is good for you, taking it too far can negatively impact your physical and mental health.

The range of too much running depends on your fitness goals and fitness level. It’s not easy to define what is over-running. After all, elite runners will log in endless miles every week.

For example, if you’re chronically sore after a long run, you probably logged in too many miles, then you should.

Who is at risk?

Practically, everyone…

For serious runners, it’s so easy to go over the borderline and do too much—especially if you are aiming to hit an important running landmark or prepping for an important race.

Beginner runners are also at risk of overtraining.

That’s why starting off with the walk-run program is the ONLY way to go if you are a newcomer to the sport of running.

According to research, more than 60 percent of runners experience “serious” overtraining at least once in their running career.

That can be a discouraging statistic.

Just don’t freak out yet.

If you only run three, or even four times per week at an easy pace, you might not be at risk for burnout.

However, if you run a lot and hit the gym regularly (just like me), it’s probably time to assess your current training program.

What Does The Science Say?

According to research conducted at the University of South Carolina, the average runner logs no more than 20 miles per week, spaced out roughly with recovery days in between. They also limit their long runs to roughly an hour.

A series of studies out of the Heart and European Heart Journal reported that runners who logged more than 20 miles a week could die sooner than those who run less.

To further answer this question, let’s look at some side effects of running more than you should.

Running Burnout Symptoms

Pay attention to your body indicators to gauge when to keep going forward and when to back off by learning to recognize these warning signs.

Poor Performance

Has your running performance suffered despite your best efforts?

If it’s the case, then you may be overdoing it.

In an overtrained state, you are not only compromising your running performance but also entering a muscle-burning phase. 

Overtraining diminishes power, endurance, strength, and/or speed during your next runs and races.

You Feel Irritated

Moodiness is another sign that you are pushing it too far.

Overtraining can decrease the release of certain hormones—mainly catecholamine, which impacts your sympathetic nervous system, leading to irritability and stress.

Dehydration

The clearest sign of dehydration, no pun intended, is pee color.

So if your urine color is dark yellow, you are dehydrated, which could be another sign of overtraining.

Elevated Heart Rate

If your heart rate is higher than normal for more than a few days, it might be time to scale it down.

In most cases, the elevated resting heart rate is the by-product of an increased metabolic rate to meet the stresses of running.

Just keep in mind that other factors outside of running can affect heart rate, including caffeine intake, hydration, stress, and sleep.

Don’t fixate on minor ebbs and flows; look for ongoing trends.

Keep tabs on your normal resting heart rate by monitoring your morning pulse before you get out of bed and compare it with the end of the day.

Chronic Sickness

Another clear warning sign of overtraining is a high susceptibility to illness.

Overtraining hampers the immune system, leaving you more sidelined by an illness than usual.

If you find yourself hit by disease more than usual or have had symptoms of an illness—for instance, coughing, runny nose, high temperature, congestion, etc.— more than normal, then maybe it’s time to take a step back from running.

too much running causes running burnouts

Persistent Aches And Injuries

If you have niggling aches and injuries that just won’t go away, then you might need to rethink your running routine.

When you are overtrained, your body doesn’t get ample time to recover between runs meaning that at some point, you start “training in a weakened state.” Do this often, and you will boost your risks of injury and other problems.

Tired All The Time

If your runs feel like a drag, and/or you wind up feeling drained (read: more than usual) at the end of your workouts, then this can be a sign of overtraining.

Stay away from supplements or pills during this time.

You have no more room to push

Insomnia

Overtraining impacts your body’s natural biorhythms, so your sleep patterns can be disturbed.

More precisely, overtraining affects your body’s circadian rhythms, which can lead to serious sleep troubles.

Symptoms include lethargy, waking up much earlier than usual, having difficulty sleeping or staying asleep, inability to fall or stay asleep, etc.

Decreased Motivation

It’s okay to occasionally want to skip a run.

But if you have been a serious runner for some time, then suddenly become disinterested, you are probably overdoing workouts.

In some extreme cases, you may start losing interest in running altogether.

Unwanted Weight Loss

When you set your intentions on losing weight, then it happens, feel great.

But it’s not the case when you lose weight because your body is under too much stress.

So watch out for unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite during your training stages.

You can also monitor your weight through the BMI scale.

Contact your dietitian if you feel you dropped too much or too soon.

For an in-depth dive into overtraining syndrome, check the following resources:

How To Measure Running Burnouts?

Now that you know the many signs of overtraining, it’s time to put it into practice.

Green Light: 0-1

No reason to panic here.

You are safe to push it a bit further.

You’re barely pushing your body.

Do more.

Be Careful: 3-4

Go ahead with your training program, but reduce the duration and intensity of your runs until some of the red flags subside.

Danger Zone: 5 or more

This is where you risk hurting yourself if you keep it up without taking the right recovery measures.

Counting more than five warming signs means you’re definitely in danger.

For the most part, your recovery time depends on how overtrained you’re.

The more symptoms you suffer from, the longer it’ll take for your body to recover.

This could range from a couple of days to a few weeks, or you may even need to visit a doctor.

How To Avoid Overtraining In Runners

So what else can do you do to keep burnouts risk low? Simple.

Make it a rule to approach your running recovery the same way you do your training. Yes, recovery is that important, even more so.

Here are a few strategies to give you a recovery edge.

Recovery Days

The first step to prevent running burnout is to take plenty of rest days.

Add forced recovery days into your running program and vary your training intensity, especially any form of active recovery exercise.

As a rule, plan at least one to two days of exercise each week to prevent burnout.

On your non-running days, feel free to cross-train, opting for low-impact activities, such as low-intensity biking, yoga, aquatic running, and rowing.

Rehydrate

Your first step toward recovery post-run is to replace fluids you lose through sweating.

Water is essential for every nutrient transfer and metabolic function in the body; therefore, drinking plenty of it will improve your bodily functions.

As a rule, shoot for 20 ounces for optimal recovery.

To assess your hydration levels, use the pee test.

Dark urine means you need more water.

You’re probably well-hydrated if it’s the color of lemonade or lighter.

Go for chocolate milk if you want to take your recovery strategy up a notch.

The drink contains the recommended ratio of 4:1 carbohydrate to protein—almost the amount your body uses up during exercise.

What’s more?

Avoid taking too much diuretic agents during your recovery time.

For example, you might consider reducing your intake if you usually have more than one cup of coffee daily.

Additional resource – Best sources of electrolytes for runners

Rest

The exact amount of time you need to fully recover from an overtraining episode depends on how severe your symptoms are and how quickly your body can bounce back.

But as a general guideline, I urge you to take as many recovery days or weeks as you need before you start running again.

If you are severely overtrained, take at least 4 to 6 weeks of complete rest before you even think about running again.

Of course, you can cross-train during this time by doing low-impact activities, such as walking, low-intensity biking, swimming, and yoga.

Here are some cross-training routines that can help:

6 Bodyweight Glute Exercises For Runners
The Yoga for Runners Guide
The Seven Best Strength Training Exercises For Runners

Stretch Post Run

Although the science on the effectiveness of stretching post-run for recovery is still debatable (check this research and this), I’m still a big advocate for it.

Maybe it’s just the placebo effect or the force of habit, but I usually end up feeling—and performing better when I stretch regularly.

Invest at least 5 to 10 minutes in static stretching.

You can use props to optimize your stretch.

Why is it better after run?

It’s obvious you need strong muscles for running, and you don’t want to run when your body is too loose or relaxed.

Focus on your main muscle groups, such as the hamstrings, hip flexors, quadriceps, piriformis, and low back.

This should help you feel strong and loose the next time you go out for a run.

Refuel

Just as it’s important to replace the fluid loss, you should also refuel your body with the right nutrients.

After burning your energy stores, replenish them to help your body repair tissue damage, bounce back, and prepare for the next workout.

This is especially true if you’re logging in some serious miles or trying to build muscle mass.

As a rule, consume something within 60 minutes of the end of your run. During that period, your muscles need two main nutrients:

(1) carbohydrate, which is stored as glycogen and function as the primary source of fuel while running, and

(2) protein, the building blocks used to repair and build muscle mass.

Most research recommends opting for a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein.

The suggestions also vary depending on the type of training you do.

Good examples include hard-boiled eggs with a banana, an omelet with a smoothie, etc.

Better Sleep

A healthy sleep pattern is the backbone of superior performance, whether you’re an elite athlete or a 500 company CEO.

The better you sleep, the better you will perform in all areas of life.

Your body recovers best when at rest during the rapid eye movement—or REM—sleep cycle.

During sleep, your body releases the growth hormone essential for tissue growth and repair.

Get at least eight hours a night for your overall health.

Sleep more following hard runs.

You can also add naps to your schedule if that suits you.

Avoid screen time for at least 30 minutes before sleep.

You can use an eye mask or dim the light for a deeper sleep.

Add a Recovery Week

Periodize your running program by introducing a lower-intensity, lower-duration week—also known as recovery week—into your training program every third or fourth week.

During that week, aim to significantly reduce your running in terms of intensity and volume so that your body can bounce back and adapt better.

This will help you increase your performance without running the risk of injury or burnout.

What’s more?

You can also cross-train, doing any of these alternatives to running workouts.

Consult A Professional

And in case you feel seriously depressed, see your psychologist, physiotherapist, or doctor for a thorough assessment of your condition.

Overtraining in runners – The Conclusion

Every serious runner needs to learn how to deal with and prevent running burnout when training. But, don’t let your problems eat you from the inside.

Remember that there is such a thing as too much running.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.

Keep training hard.