Recently, I wrote an article about ‘RUNNING and INJURY’ and how fine the balance is between the two (here).
In summary, training is about adding stress to the body and with rest, the body adapts and we come back stronger. Get the balance wrong and we get injured.
The secret is planning and usually we will have an A race or target event that provides an end date for training with maybe one or two, B/C races or Prep events: This is a Macrocycle – typically 1-year but it could be longer. For example, an Olympian may have a 4-year Macrocycle.
This training year is then broken down to Mesocycles, these can be 2-weeks in the shortest scenario or several months, or even a year, in the longest scenario.
Finally, a Microcycle will be one week within the Mesocycle plan, with a plan for each day.
A year plan could look like the following and for simplicity, I am starting in January and ending in December. A Macrocycle though could run, August to August for example:
The above provides an overview of the year. This helps one prepare meticulously knowing how to plan stress and recovery and importantly, it enables one to understand when one needs to peak.
Progress in training is a delicate balance. A failure to not add enough stress and one will not meet potential. But, adding too much stress without relevant rest and recovery, and one risks injury or in an extreme scenario, *overtraining.
But, and this is a big but. For the experienced athlete, overreaching can be an excellent way to make significant progress gains.
WHAT IS OVERREACHING?
Overreaching is often common among the dedicated, obsessed and addicted athletes and in many scenarios, they do not even realise they are doing it. If unmanaged and not planned, it can be a slippery slope that leads to overtraining, so, caution!
Short term periods of overreaching followed with strategically planned recovery, can result in significant gains in endurance, speed and/ or a combination of the two.
This is ‘Functional Overreaching.’
In the Macrocycle above, you will see four periods of graded boxes, June, August, October and November.
These four periods of 1-week have no recovery, they are specifically planned periods of running too hard and/or too far to bring on significant performances gains. This is ‘Supercomensation.’
“Supercompensation training is the act of dramatically increasing your training load for a short period of time and then compensating by going very easy to maximize recovery and absorption.” ****
However, these gains will only come with a week or weeks of recovery and de-stress. Continue to add stress with no rest or recovery and injury is likely… If this continues for weeks/ months, then overtraining is distinctly likely.
A good way to understand an overreach week like this with super supercompensation gains is to imagine one of the following scenarios:
- Someone running UTMB as a target race and then doing the UTMB route over 4-days in an overreach week.
- Signing up and joining a specific training camp for one week that provides one or more training sessions per day for a 7-day period.
- Having entered a 100km race and then specifically planning 3 back-to-back days of running 30km per day.
- Maybe entering a multi-day race like Marathon des Sables and then replicating a percentage, say 60-75%, of the daily MDS distances and re-creating a mini MDS week in training.
“If the stress and recovery are sufficient we can improve performance and fitness and gain a host of positive physical and mental adaptations. However, if the stress is too high or the recovery is insufficient we may see impairment in performance and fatigue and it may be a significant factor in the development of running injury.” **
In an overreaching phase, it is not unusual to feel depleted, have disrupted sleep and feel mood fluctuations. Everything returns back to normal during the recovery/ rest phase.
Remember, food and nutritional needs, just like training, should be adapted and planned to coincide with training stress.
After a block of planned overreaching, place an emphasis on the following:
- Massage/ physiotherapy
Overreaching depends on the individual and recovery/ stress levels should be assessed on an individual basis.
“It is commonly known that fatigue can be either positive or negative; everything depends on the scale. On one hand, with more training and exercise, the more trained the athlete will be. On the other hand, if the level of fatigue is not monitored, the athlete may receive an “overdose” of fatigue…” ***
We can all have off days, but if you notice for extended periods you can’t run as fast, run as long, you are moody, constantly tired, seeing fluctuations in resting hear rate, legs are always sore… Chances are you are on the edge of overtraining. You need to kick-back immediately, de-stress and recover.
Remember, the reason for planned functional overreaching is to increase performance. Anything else and you are in non-functional overreaching or in danger of overtraining syndrome. Overtraining syndrome can be difficult to treat and, like many things, prevention is better than cure.
Finally, planned training, taking time to look at a macrocycle, plan mesocycles and and then implement structured microcycles will improve performance and reduce the likelihood of injury by maintaining a balance between stress (both physical and emotional) and recovery.
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* – ‘It involves a barrage of symptoms such as decreased motor coordination, force production, and glycolytic capacity, alongside the possibility of recurring infections, sleep disturbances, and depression.’ – Mike T Nelson PH.D
** – Running Physio – https://www.running-physio.com/stress-recovery-balance/
**** – Runners Connect – https://runnersconnect.net/coach-corner/supercompensation-training/
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