You might not have heard of two-time Comrades Marathon winner Lindsay Weight, nor are you probably aware that the South African sports scientist this month mysteriously died at the age of 44. An investigation has been launched to determine what happened before she collapsed in front of her home computer. She reportedly was training for an Ironman competition at the time.
Weight was a college student in 1983 when she entered the rigorous 56-mile (90k) ultramarathon and won it in 7:12:56, earning the first gold medal for a woman in a race that dates back to 1921. She broke her own record, coming in under seven hours, the following year. She competed at Comrades for another nine years before turning to race commentator. Over time, she became as well known for sharing her personal experiences and professional advice with South African college students and radio and television audiences.
Weight was candid about her life, including her battles with overtraining. In Tim Noakes’ 2001 book The Lore of Running, she lamented all the “unnecessary miles” that later limited her running opportunities. “I could live with my extravagance if all those miles had been good ones, but many of them were just the endless foot slog of a neurotic fixated on her logbook,” she said.
Runners suffer from overtraining when they repeatedly don’t allow enough recuperation between hard workouts. Mileage is relative; but there’s a reason to rest weary bodies, whether following a training schedule for beginner, intermediate or advanced levels.
There’s plenty of information online and in books about this common phenomenon. One well-known expert, Pete Pfitzinger, lists numerous signs that you aren’t getting enough rest from running. Here are five of the most common:
- Trouble sleeping;
- Frequent colds;
- Increased resting heart rate and resting blood pressure;
- Decline in racing and training times; and
- Dwindling enthusiasm for running.
There are others, too, such as a lack of appetite, irritability and depression and, for women, changes in the menstrual cycle. But the five listed above are special in that most of us run precisely to prevent them. We generally sleep better if we exercise regularly and build up immunities to ward off colds and other infections. We smile when the nurse at the doctor’s office compliments our low pulse rate and asks: “Are you a runner?” Many of us compete in local races and therefore hope to improve our times. And, of course, we look forward to running.
So what should you do if this article is sounding eerily familiar?
Pfitzinger suggests sufferers “reestablish a positive balance between buildup and breakdown. You can only accomplish this by reducing your training (shudder).” That reduction might last longer than anticipated. “How long it takes to recover depends on how deep a hole you have dug,” he writes. “Overtraining can typically be remedied in 10 to 14 days. Long-term overtraining syndrome or staleness, however, may require several months for full recovery. Fortunately, long-term overtraining syndrome is relatively rare, and usually is related to additional stresses such as eating disorders or anemia.”
That last point is important. Proper nutrition is a key component of running. You need to be eating the right foods and in the proper amounts, even if weight loss is one of your running goals. You also need to drink enough water throughout the day. Lindsay Weight reportedly battled an eating disorder during her lifetime—a condition some speculate contributed to her competitive decline. It remains to be seen if it also eventually contributed to her death.