The Signs of Overtraining Syndrome: Q&A with Pro Ultrarunner Travis Macy

Overtraining Syndrome is the arch nemesis of hard-working runners everywhere.

Casually mention to a friend that you’re suffering from overtraining syndrome and you’ll be met with gasps, hugs, and warm condolensces.

With crushing fatigue and plummeting performances, overtraining can sap your energy and potentially put an early end to your season.

But what exactly is overtraining syndrome?

It’s not understood very well, but we can understand it as the body’s inability to perform exercise at the level that used to be comfortable. Through some combination of excessive exercise (either very high volume or intensity – or both) and inadequate rest, the body enters a tailspin and stops responding.

Outside further describes overtraining syndrome (OTS):

OTS can affect everything from hormonal balance to neurological function. Some athletes describe mysterious pains, loss of appetite, and diminished libido. Others experience strange heart arrhythmias or a debilitating staleness in their legs. (One runner told me that for days on end he couldn’t get his heart rate below 130 beats per minute.)

Researchers say that OTS can mimic a host of diseases, including leukemia. But the most common symptom described by athletes is simply an ineffable, confounding lack of ability.

It’s important to understand that OTS is not just fatigue. Being tired, sore, or fatigued is a normal part of training – and indeed, it’s desired to help the body adapt to that training and get stronger.

Instead, being overtrained is like stepping into a time machine and going back to when you were just a beginner runner (or before you were a runner at all!):

  • Easy runs skyrocket your heart rate
  • Running any type of faster workout feels impossible
  • You simply can’t run as fast or as long as you used to

In college, one of my cross country teammates suffered from OTS at the end of the season. His workout times got significantly slower and his heart rate during easy runs was the equivalent of a tempo effort.

It was his body’s way of saying, “Easy there, Tiger. Time for some R&R.”

For more details and nuance on this condition, I invited an accomplished ultra-endurance athlete to help with your overtraining questions.

Travis Macy on Overtraining Syndrome

Travis Macy ultra runners

(R to L) Jason Fitzgerald, Travis Macy, Marshall Ulrich, & Lisa Smith-Batchen

Travis Macy is a professional ultra endurance athlete, having finished over 120 events in 17 countries. He’s the Leadman record holder, speaker, and coach.

His sponsors include Hoka ONE ONE, Vitargo and Injinji, among others.

He’s also the author of The Ultra Mindset: An Endurance Champions 8 Core Principles for Success in Business, Sports, and Life

We’re also giving away a copy of this book, so be sure to enter below.

Recently Travis invited me for a run on some of Evergreen, Colorado’s beautiful trails. Afterward, we recorded Q&A with Coach – with mountains in the background!

Watch Episode 19 below to hear both our thoughts on the signs of overtraining syndrome (and what you can do about it):

Show Notes:

:10 – Ooohh, a new fancy intro!
1:10 – Travis’ experience with overtraining syndrome
3:30 – The signs of overtraining
4:00 – What is the difference between overtraining and normal fatigue?
4:40 – The mental side of OTS
6:30 – Intensity vs. Volume (and hills, too)
7:55 – Why experience is crucial for knowing whether you’re overtrained
8:15 – Don’t be a Lone Wolf!
9:10 – Strategies to combat overtraining syndrome
14:00 – How to think about your “total stress load”
14:40 – The Ultra Mindset and where to find Travis

Win a copy of Travis’ book

The Ultra Mindset has a 4.7 rating and the foreword is written by the “ultramarathon man” himself, Dean Karnazes. Sports journalist Matt Fitzgerald says of the book:

In his wise and engrossing book, Macy shows how the same ‘Ultra Mindset’ that enabled him to win some of the world’s toughest races can make anyone a winner in everyday life.

I’m a big believer in this book. I haven’t even read it yet, but looking through my copy and hearing Travis’ stories in person have me more excited than ever to use running to live a richer, more exciting life.The Ultra Mindset

And I want that for you, too. So we’re doing a book giveaway!

To win a copy of The Ultra Mindset, just click the link below to share this interview on Twitter.

Click here to share on Twitter.

You can also share this post on Facebook using the little blue Facebook button below.

I’ll randomly choose a winner on Wednesday, 11/18 at 5pm MT so enter before then.

Thank you Travis for sharing your story, book, a run with me, and expertise about overtraining syndrome!

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