When Less is More: Recognizing overtraining and what to do about it when it happens

Post by Silver Sage sponsored, Reno WheelWoman Laurie Marlowe.

Last month I had the most incredible opportunity.   I met with the eight-woman “Bike Like a Girl” RAAM team for a weekend training camp in Death Valley.  Joining us was Julie Young, Director of  Silver Sage Sports and Fitness Lab and  Head Coach at O2fitness.  Our group was rounded out by another dozen or so cyclists from Reno, and now included 3 of my female Reno Wheelman teammates that I regularly train with. Needless to say, fueled by the energy of an amazing group of women, the spectacular setting, and exhilarating climbs and descents, I worked myself over pretty hard that weekend.   Especially given that it was only January; my mileage base was extremely limited and my climbing base almost nil since October.  Not sure how I did it, but I dug deep and managed to hang in there for 2 grueling days of climbing that totaled 14,000’ vertical feet in 103 miles and with grades that rivaled the Mortilolo.    Oh, and did I mention the Santa Anna winds?


When returned to Reno I was grateful to have had the opportunity to jumpstart my training.   I felt strong.   Unseasonably warm weather allowed a lot more outdoor riding.  A week later I did a particularly grueling 90-minute indoor interval training session.  The next day, a 4-hour endurance ride with plenty of hills.  Still feeling good . . .

In yoga on Monday, I felt weak.  Kind of weird, since I’ve felt a lot stronger in yoga since starting Julie’s workouts last fall.   Wednesday’s core class had me crying for mercy.  The next weekend on my rides I noticed a couple of things.   #1, I couldn’t get my HR up.  My threshold HR at this time of year is around 165 but I was struggling to get it above 150.  On a short hill, I picked up my pace, challenging my husband to a sprint to the top.  Big mistake, my heart rate hit 160 and I cratered.  He pulled away easily, leaving me in the dust and with nothing left in the tank.   I noticed a couple of other things too that week.  I was sleeping like crap.  And not surprisingly really tired during the day.   And I was having aching pain in my hands, which I have come to recognize as a signal that my diet could be better, i.e. inflammation.  Cytokines?

I contacted Julie and let her know what was going on.  She confirmed what I suspected. I had unintentionally ramped up my training too quickly on a limited base—essentially leading to an overtraining response.   She suggested that I take it easy for a week or so. Additionally, she recommended that for now we alter my workouts to include only one threshold workout per week, and to substitute a strength vs. threshold workout in my weekly plan.   She also made an interesting observation.  She told me, “I always do a better job of making sure I fit rest into my workout plan when I have a dedicated event that I’m training for.”

Followed her advice and I’m back at it.  Took a couple of weeks to feel like myself again, but I’m there; and a little wiser.   And I’m going to make sure that from now on my training plan includes REST, as well as quality time and my bike.