An important thing to remember when training for any athletic endeavour is to be aware when you’ve overdone it. Overtraining in running or even in the gym can lead to injuries. Sometimes they’re not so bad, a little “tweak” here, a “light sprain” there. However, sometimes they can be debilitating.
I found myself in that position a week ago when I was poised to start my race season in the “Spring Run-Off 8K”. I had not overtrained when it came to running, quite the opposite, I actually haven’t been able to do as much as I would have liked.
First, some back story. I spent the winter working on my overall fitness outside of running. I figured I shouldn’t let the bitter Canadian weather keep me from staying in shape. This meant hitting the gym after work, playing other sports, and maintaining my cardio. It was going well overall, and when I attempted some longer runs, my times were improving significantly compared to the year before. This made me even more motivated for my race season.
Last week I had a fairly tough gym session with a lot of upper body exercises. This is not typically a big deal, but I must have found a way to exhaust my chest muscles a little too much. I had no pain and there was no indication of injury. The next day I went to my weekly dodgeball game. While dodgeball is an intense game to play, muscle soreness has never been an issue after a workout, even on the same day. It was a couple hours later when taking a deep inhale brought sudden, sharp pain inside my chest.
I thought to myself, “Chest pains? This can’t be good.”
As we all should know, chest pains should be taken seriously. You should be calling 911 if experiencing heart-related pain, rather than muscle pain. But something about these pains told me that it wasn’t my heart – which would be surprising as I am a fairly young, healthy guy who is active, and has never smoked. While in bed, turning to the side brought the same pain, and it seemed to be coming from a specific spot.
At this point, I was happy that it wasn’t serious, but it was still awful and annoying.
The next night I took it easy, trying to stretch it out and expedite the healing process. I was hoping that I would be feeling better on race day, which was the next morning.
Wishful thinking for sure.
When my alarm sounded on race day morning, I reached for my alarm and felt that newly familiar pain.
Well, I thought, I spent money to sign up for this race, so I may as well go and walk it. I was absolutely deflated by this prospect, but I was determined to at least show up.
It was a bit chilly in the morning, -4°C with the wind chill feeling somewhere around -10. I would have been able to warm myself up had I been running, but I would need to bundle up a lot more for my walk. I put on a few extra layers, plus a pair of thick gloves. I figured this would do.
As I got to the location I started to resent my decision to walk. I was in good shape and I didn’t want my injury to sideline me. I began to bargain with myself. I decided that I’d start the race at a slower than usual run, at the back of the pack. This way, if I definitely needed to walk, I wasn’t going to get in the way of the people who showed up healthy and fast. I reasoned that if I were going slower, I wouldn’t need to take such deep breaths, which caused my chest pain. And if even that were too much, I would admit defeat and go for that walk through the park.
Good to go, right?
It started fairly well. I kept my breathing in check and managed to get through the first 3km before I lost focus and took a deep breath.
The pain, it was real.
I looked to my right and made sure I wasn’t going to get in anyone’s way. Slowly, I made my way to the side of the road and slowed to a walk. A race volunteer spoke to me as I passed him, “Keep running buddy!” In response, I gasped something along the lines of “GASP-pulled-GASP-muscle.” I don’t think I articulated actual words, but he could tell that I was struggling and looked at me sympathetically.
I walked the next 2 km feeling pretty crappy and disheartened. Once I’d gotten to the 5 km marker, I decided I would try again. This was probably not the smartest idea when already flirting with disaster – I guess I’m pretty stubborn. It’s not like it was my heart that was the issue, right?
Luckily, my determination didn’t make things worse as I was careful not to push myself to need to take deep breaths. I chugged along the remaining 3 km and got to the finish line without additional issues. I felt a sense of achievement in that I was able to jog it out and completely control my breathing on the fly – something runners can struggle with.
The lesson here is that being a fit spectator sucks, and that we should all strive to get to the finish line healthy. I was lucky that it was only a chest muscle that kept me from running my best that day. Those who push their training too far will find themselves risking more severe injuries. Overtraining injuries could even prevent runners from being able to walk a race that they paid their hard earned dollars for.
Always listen to your body. If you feel like you’re toeing the line between training hard and overtraining, err on the side of caution and take a rest. Losing one or two days of training is nothing compared to losing weeks or months because you couldn’t stand to take a break.
Keep that ego in check – stay healthy, and off of the sideline.