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Jogging & Running/Aiming for a sub-1:30 half marathon and overtrained?



Forgive the length of this, but I want to give you as much detail as possible. I've been struggling a bit with my half marathon training lately and would love your opinions. I've got 2 half marathons on my calendar for the year: one was on May 5th and I finished in 1:34, and the other is on August 10th. My goal is to set a sub-1:30 PR (my current is about 1:32) and considering my May half marathon was only my second outdoor run of the year, I figured I was doing really well.

After the race, I'll admit I probably didn't take as much rest as I should have. I did all of the right post-race things (stretching, showering, eating within 15-30 mins of finishing, rehydrating, sleeping). Not wanting to break my usual morning routine the next morning, I headed to the gym. I had an hour to work out, so, wanting to make the most of my time, I did a 30 minute run with some HIITs and then 30 minutes of weights. My body was feeling good, so the rest of my workouts that week were of normal intensity - maybe slightly lower.

I began to get a bit of a cold, which I've since managed to shake (I think) but am suspicious that some of my congestion might be to do with spring allergies (even though I've never had issues with them in the past, the city I live in isn't spraying weeds this year for some reason). I began taking echinacea and goldenseal as a supplement, along with the ones I usually take (omega 3-6-9, vitamin C and a multivitamin). Pre-workout, I take Vega pre-workout energizer and post-workout, I make a smoothie with protein powder, plenty of greens, and a few superfoods like spirulina, chia, and wheatgrass powder. My eating is squeaky clean.

So, the problem: My runs these days feel SO laboured and SO hard. It feels like my V02 max has somehow been cut in half, and I'm breathing way harder than I should be. When I hop on the treadmill and try to run at the base speed that I've been able to train at for the past year or so (8.6mph - I could easily run at it for an hour or more on the treadmill pre-May race) my heart rate soars way higher than it used to and I have to take it down to about 8.3mph in order to be able to complete the hour. The strange thing is that within about 2 minutes of getting off, my heart rate comes back down fairly quickly (which was the case pre-race as well). I run 3-4x per week and cross train 2-3x per week.

I'm roughly 2 months away from the race where I want to break 1:30, and feel like I've got an enormous amount of work to do in order to get back to the training standard I was at before. Has anyone ever experienced anything like this before? Any and all feedback is welcome. How did you overcome it? Did you figure you were just overtrained and did taking a rest seem to work? If I'm going to do that, I think I need to do it now before getting any closer to August.

Curious to hear your thoughts!

ANSWER: I'm glad you contacted us. I have very good news. Your situation is "textbook". (It's always good to be textbook. You don't want to be the first person ever with any condition!) You've overtrained. The signs of overtraining are: HR higher with same intensity of running, general fatigue, and getting sick. The biggest one I always, always look for is the HR being higher with the same intensity of exercise. Here's what to do.

Take 4 days completely off. Don't do anything physically strenuous. Get yourself a massage. Read books. Sleep good at night.

On days 5 and 6 jog for 5-10 minutes at 7.5 mph.

On day 7 do 60-75% of your normal routine intensity.

On day 8 do 90% of your normal routine intensity.

On day 9 get back to full 100% of what you want to be doing.

Continue doing a great job with nutrition and being diligent. You're doing almost everything right. Also, don't worry about the overtraining too much. By taking rest, your body will then derive the benefits from the work you've been doing.

Please don't hesitate to ask me any more questions.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------


This is a follow-up to my previous question about overtraining. As you recommended, I took some time off. I'll admit that not running was almost just as hard from a mental standpoint as running was to me physically at the time. I also got my blood tested. It turned out that my iron is low. I'm not sure if these exact details are useful, but I'll provide them anyway -
Hemoglobin - 90g/L
Hematocrit - 0.29L/L
White blood cell count - 2.3 xE9/L
Red blood cell count - 3.5 x E12/L
Ferritin - <5 ug/L

This was taken on June 22nd. I've since been supplementing with liquid iron (Floradix), and will use the tablet form supplements only when traveling as it's not realistic for me to take the bottle of liquid with me. For the most part, I take the liquid because I feel it's more effective.

My training was going great about 2 weeks after starting to take Floradix. I'd actually managed to return to my usual training pace, and was getting ready to start pushing myself a little bit. But then, about a week ago, my workouts started to feel really hard again. I'm not doing any sort of crazy mileage (about 30 miles per week) and I know my body was much capable of more earlier this year. I'm turning 25 this summer and haven't made any major changes to my diet. It's pretty much squeaky clean, and I've been incorporating things like maca root powder, ginger and turmeric to try to help my body respond to training stress more effectively and reduce inflammation. I take my iron supplement with vitamin C-rich foods and avoid caffeine and calcium-rich foods around the times that I take it. I get between 7-8 hours of sleep per night and don't feel overly tired - that is, until I get on the treadmill or head out for a run and get about 5 minutes in. The only other supplements I take are a multivitamin, omega 3 oil (Barlean's Omega Swirl), and bee pollen with ginseng, which I've been told can help to enhance energy and physical performance.

My half marathon is on August 10th, which means I've got less than 2 weeks. At this point, I'm panicking a bit as to how to approach these final 2 weeks. I'm not a red meat eater, although I'm so desperate that I'm half tempted to buy myself a couple of steaks and eat them over the next week or so! I'm wondering what you would recommend doing. Should I start an early taper? Or perhaps switch to all cross training in order to preserve my aerobic endurance without putting the same repetitive stress from running on my body?

I'd be so grateful for any insight you can provide. Thanks in advance!

Thanks for the follow-up question. Below are my recommendations.

1) All the workouts you do should be running. Cross-training will still stress your body so you need all the training you can handle in the form that you'll be competing in on Aug 10.

2) I suggest tapering now. If a workout is not improving you then it will not help to push through it.

3) I would recommend some red meat. That is the best way to get iron. Try eating 12 oz over the next 2 weeks.

4) If possible, see a registered dietitian (RD).  RDs get a lot more nutrition training than physicians who get close to none often times. You should give them your blood work values and a detailed food diary. (RDs are sometimes difficult to find in private practice. I know of one that works with people over phone and Skype so if you'd like her information I could send it to you.)  

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Nick Rainey


I can answer questions about pain and training program. If there is a question about running that I don't know then I'll do some research and make sure I provide you with an answer.


I'm a Doctor of Physical Therapy. I'm a track and cross country coach. I train clients throughout the year. I've helped prepare athletes for their NFL Pro Days. I've written articles on running. Finally, those that I work with have less pain and run faster.

American Physical Therapy Association- Sports Section

The 6 Week Workout Program- I'm the author of this book Research Made Simple for Physical Therapists- I'm the author of this Kindle book

Board Certified Clinical Specialist in Orthopaedic Physical Therapy Doctor of Physical Therapy BS in Exercise Science NSCA- CSCS and CPT USA Weightlifting Level I NPI- Certified Posture Specialist Total Motion Release Level II Certified Dry Needling

Awards and Honors
National Posture Institute's International Perfect Posture of the Year Award 2011 Clinical Excellence Award- Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions Aegis Therapies Scholarship recipient

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