Saturday, January 19, 2013

Runners,Don't Overstress!

I've referenced Tom Osler on this site previously.He is one of those people who are a part of the fabric of American distance running.An accomplished ultra runner in his own right,Tom's gift to distance running has come in his writing of his two classic publications,The Conditioning of Distance Runners and Serious Runner's Handbook.If you do not have a copy of Serious Runner's Handbook I would encourage you to get one.Thankfully,used copies of this book published in 1978 are still available on Amazon. For some reason, the book is offered there under, The Serious Runner's Handbook which is not the real title,but as they say,whatever.At least it's still available.It says alot about the state of American distance running thought  today when you see the absurdly low price it's selling for.
Osler is one of those rare individuals who has a real knowledge and aptitude about all aspects of distance running.In part, I'm sure this comes from his 55+years of running.
In keeping with the last post that pertained to runner's health and their maintaining it,Osler gives some practical advice on not just preventing injuries but avoiding illnesses.He writes:
"If we train too little,we do not improve.If we overtrain,our bodies not only fail to improve,but injury and/or illness are likely induced. How can the runner decide upon the quantity of training which produces improvement?
I believe that a practical determination of this optimum quantity can be arrived at by first learning the symptoms of initial overstress.The optimum quantity of running is,then,the largest amount which fails to produce these symptoms.In practice,the amount varies from day to day,and the experienced runner learns to 'feel in his bones' the appropriate training for that moment.Here is a list of key symptoms:
Symptoms of Overstress
1.Mild leg soreness.
2.Lowered general resistance(evidenced by sniffles,headache,fever blisters,etc.).
3.Washed out feeling and I don't care attitude.
4.Poor coordination(evidenced by general clumsiness,tripping,stubbing one's feet,poor auto driving,etc.).
5.Hangover from previous run.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of this list.If any of these symptoms is observed today,it is likely that yesterday's run was too hard to allow the body to adapt effectively to its stress and improve.Instead of getting a little better,you've gotten a little worse.Easy running should now commence,and harder running be resumed only after all these symptoms disappear.One should also note that all these symptoms are quite mild.They are not dramatic and are,unfortunately,all too often ignored because they seem trivial.But remember that when training effectively you should feel good." At this point I would like to offer a few comments in relation to what Tom has written.First off,it is a most common fallacy that training 'through' fatigue and soreness is simply the reality of distance training. The overstress symtoms that he refers to are frequently the result of many workouts,not just yesterdays'.There is a type of misguided machismo that seems to be a part of distance training that says you should ignore what your body is telling you.Sure, there are times in training and racing where we take it to a level where it is uncomfortable but I am not referring to such a time here.As Osler says:"The runner must be aware of his body's fine tuning" in order to discern what is really going on. Secondly,I like his comment,"when training effectively you should feel good." This is an often forgotten truth in distance training. Back to Osler:
"The first symptom,mild leg soreness,is perhaps the most important.It means that the legs are too tired for any real work.It is in this fatigued state that the opportunity of injury becomes fertile.If the runner continues training hard for several days ,so that this soreness remains,an injury will likely be born.If he rests or runs easily until the soreness disappears,injury will likely be avoided.
Runners must avoid following a predetermined training schedule with ascetical zeal.A flexible mental attitude is required so that necessary corrections can be made."
As I have said so many times on this blog before,the reluctance of a runner to back off in training is most often due to fear and anxiety.They are so worked up mentally they can't do the right thing and ease up.
Osler offers this warning to those who habitually ignore the signs their body sends out and he's not referring to a short term injury.He cautions that continued overstress can produce problems from which the athlete never fully recovers.
I close with a summary and words of wisdom from Osler:"When we feel good,look good,and are alert and productive,our bodies will be adapting effectively to stresses(like running)which we place upon them. If we feel tired,pain,and are washed out,we need rest not stress."
With all that said,I say we go long,and easy,Sunday.


  1. Nice post, Dave... great reminders of how to train properly.

  2. Thanks---like me, you've been around running a long time--how many of the people you started with back in the 70's are still going at it? So many I know gave up the sport because they didn't take care of themselves and basically abused their bodies for years.

  3. Pictured above is a runner who should be an inspiration to everyone who lives for the run---Ric Sayre---
    Ric qualified for 5 Olympic marathon trials--won 12 of the 50 marathons he competed in and won the National U.S Marathon Championship in 1987. Sadly,he died shortly after finishing a run.

    1. I remember the name. Was not aware he passed away.....

  4. I don't stop by here very often but when I do there's always some interesting tidbit of info. Interesting note about Ric; he qualified 5x for the USA marathon trials plus a long time vegetarian with a 2:12:59 p.r., who was cut down I believe just before his 58th birthday by a heart issue. You just have to enjoy each & every day; there is no assurance that running is some sort of protection from early death or illness