How to Avoid Over Training

overtraining syndrome

Chances are, you’re reading this because you want to improve your running performance. And chances are,  that improvement is to be measured by either running a particular distance faster than you ever have before, or being able to complete a race distance which is longer than you have ever done. For many of you, the answer will be that you need to do more running (the right type of running that is). 

But for some of you, what you really need to do, is less.

What is Over Training?

Simply put, Over Training Syndrome occurs when you train your body beyond its ability to recover.  It’s a fine line between enough training and too much training. The right amount of training is different for everyone. What’s important is not the amount of training you are doing per se. It’s the amount of training you do relative to everything else that is going on in your life, and relative to how well you recover from that training. A 21 year old university student (who doesn’t stay out till all hours of the early morning – is there such a thing?), has no financial pressures and has been running for several years, is likely to be able to do more training than her mother, who looks after said uni student and her three younger siblings, has a full time job as CEO of a mid-sized company, and looks after her aging parents… and on top of that wants to find time to nurture her relationship with her husband. 

This is how training works

  1. Stress your body through running
  2. Let your body recover
  3. Repeat

Unfortunately, many people are in too much of a hurry to get to step three, and they miss step two  all together, or at best, pay lip service to it.

Note that step one involves stressing your body. Also note, that for most of us, our training is not the only stress we place on ourselves. Each of the stressors (such as work, partying, social media) contribute to the total amount of stress we are absorbing, so the more stress you have outside of your training, the more conscious you need to be of recovering well.

More and more recreational runners are showing signs of over training. It’s unrealistic to expect to be able to train like a professional athlete if you have a lot of competing pressures in your life, which limit the amount of time you have for recovery.

Signs and Symptoms of Over Training Syndrome

There’s no “test” for over training syndrome and often it is only uncovered in hindsight. Many of the signs of over training syndrome can be explained away, but when these signs and symptoms are coupled with a decrease or a stagnation in performance, it’s time to re-look at your training plan. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your under performance is a result of not training enough. If you up the training when what your body really needs is a rest, it can take months, sometimes years to recover.

It’s important to note that as you age, your performance will not advance ever upward. At some point, you need to start measuring your performance relative to your age. You can check out how to do that using the age-graded percentage tables. 

Here are some of the things you should watch out for if your performance has stagnated or is declining. 

  • Elevated resting heart rate. If you’ve been doing too much, your resting heart rate is likely to be elevated. Of course, you can only tell if your resting heart rate is elevated if you have a base line to compare it to. To measure your resting heart rate, take your heart rate as soon as you wake up. That is, before you stretch, before you start to think about the day. If you wake up to an alarm, wait a couple of minutes for the shock of waking up to wear off. If you find your heart rate is elevated over an extended period of time, it could be a sign of over training. Remember a few things other than too much training can cause an elevated morning heart rate, such as too much caffeine or alcohol the night before, changed sleep patterns, dehydration, so if your heart rate jumps up for a morning or two but then settles back to its normal level, you’re probably fine.
  • Feeling tired, washed out, or lacking in energy – for no reason
  • Leg soreness and general aches and pains, that are not related to injury
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • An increase in the number of minor illnesses such as colds, sore throats, running nose
  • An inability to work hard in training
  • Feeling like you are training at an increased level of perceived exertion when you are training at similar paces to those which have felt easy in the past – feeling like training is harder than it used to be, even though you’re doing the same kinds of workouts
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • A compulsive need to exercise

How to avoid over training

The underlying cause of overtraining is always a lack of recovery. So as you add more training to your program, you need to make sure you’re ready for it, and make sure you have enough recovery built into your plan. To make it tricky, the amount of recovery needed is going to differ from person to person, so you need to be very much in tune with your own body.

Don’t try to improve too much in one training segment

If your current 10k time is 55 minutes, don’t expect to get down to 45 minutes in 8 weeks of training. Train at your current fitness level, not the level you want to be at in six months time.We generally have our runners work on a certain level of effort on the Rating of Perceived Exertion  and work out a pace range for each different type of session which is likely to correlate with that level of exertion,  based on current race times or a 3 km time trial. Still, we can never predict with 100%  certainty how anyone is going to feel when they get out of bed, so we encourage our runners to use the paces as a guide only, and run on how they feel. It is something that takes getting used to, but well worth it in the long run.  Unless you’re a very experienced runner, don’t set yourself a goal time for your next race, then set your training paces based on that goal.  You’re much better off training yourself to run on your level of perceived exertion and having an idea of around about what sort of pace that should be. Training at your goal time does not take into account your current fitness level, nor the fact that your goal may just be a bit unrealistic (other too fast or too slow). 

Make sure you take a break between training cycles

You need to give your body a bit of down time after training hard for a race. Most likely, that race will have pushed your body to new limits so you need to give yourself time to fully recover from the training and the race,  before you start training again for your next goal. How long you need to take off, and whether you need to be completely inactive depends on your training load, the length of the preceding  training cycle, and how well you’ve been able to recover during that training cycle. If you’re a recreational runner and you’ve just done your first 5k park run after training for 8 weeks, you can probably do with 2-4 days off the week after, and maybe a light 20 minute run or 2, and then you’re good to go again. If you’ve been training crazy hard and you’ve just done your 5k PB after a 16 week campaign, you might need a full week of inactivity to recover, before embarking on your next goal. 10k’ers and half marathoners can do with one to 2 weeks of light activity or activities that will help them to recover, such as very light cross training -perhaps some swimming, walking or an easy cycle or two. Marathoners can benefit from two weeks of doing nothing except eating and sleeping.

Use speed work sparingly

Make sure you have a good aerobic foundation, and use speed work as the icing on the cake. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me they needed to do more speed work to get faster, I’d be a very rich woman. Nothing builds your aerobic endurance better than easy running, so make sure you do a good dose of it before including too much speed work in your training. Races from 800m up predominantly use the aerobic system for energy, so it makes sense to predominantly train that system.  Having said that you also need to make sure your program is interesting. Doing long slow runs every day of the week will send you bonkers. I include a small amount of faster running in my runners’ plans as soon as I feel they can handle some, but I’m very careful to weight programs heavily towards easier running and strength building, particularly in the first half of a training program. With speed work, a little bit goes a long way.

Employ good recovery methods during your training cycle

Sleep, nutrition, ice baths, hot and cold water cycling, stretching, massage can all  help you to recovery quickly from individual training sessions. Ice baths are a special case, and not appropriate in all circumstances (which is kind of lucky due to their unpleasant nature!). Include recovery runs as part of your training plan, and be disciplined about how you conduct them.  I’ve written previously in a bit more detail about good recovery

How to treat over training

You guessed it rest, rest, repeat.

If you’ve just over stretched a bit – maybe bumped the training up a bit for a week which you just weren’t quite ready for, taking 2-3 days of complete rest can be enough to get you back on track. You may need to cut back the training volume for the next 5-7 days after that as well. Don’t be concerned that you’ll lose fitness if you don’t keep up with what was planned. In the long run, you’ll end up performing much better if you listen to your body. I remember training for a half marathon once and doggedly continuing with a run which was horrible – hilly, cold, wet and dark, and my longest run to date.  It wrecked me. I should have stopped 3k short and jumped on a bus, and then had a few days off. I did neither, and felt very overcooked the day of the half. You live and learn.

If you’ve really been overdoing it for quite a while, you may need to stop training for several weeks, if not a couple of months. When you start back training again, you need to be patient and listen to your body. Start to gradually build back up to the fitness level you were at before, and this time round, make sure you include recovery in your training plan.

Eating a healthy diet, reducing or eliminating alcohol intake, and getting lots of sleep  can help speed up the recovery process.

If you want to perform at your best, you do need to train hard. You also need to learn what the limit of hard is, for you as an individual. We help runners of all abilities through our online coaching programs, which are tailored to an individual’s lifestyle, current fitness levels and running goals.

When you’re ready to take your training to the next level, join us.

Problems With the BMI (Body Mass Index)

BMI debunking

The Body Mass Index (BMI) has been popular since the 1970s as an easy way to assess a person’s body weight as it relates to their health. It is used widely as a predictor of obesity, as well as life expectancy.

BMI compares your weight to your height. To calculate your BMI divide your weight in kgs by your height in metres squared (or google BMI calculator to have it worked out for you!) Don’t get too caught up on the figure you arrive at though. Over the last 20 years or so, there’s been a growing body of research which shows the BMI is simply not the right measure to predict health.

What’s the problem with BMI?

According to the BMI scale, to be considered in the healthy weight range, a person needs to have a BMI of between 18 and 24.9.

There’s the first problem right there. That’s a pretty big range. For someone of my height, that means my healthy weight range is between 51 and 68.8 kg. I’ve always sat towards the top of the BMI healthy range (between 23.5 and 24), and I still do. I don’t think I could ever be healthy at 51 kgs – that would mean losing over 20% of my (already healthy according to the BMI) body weight. Likewise, I could carry around another 3-4 kgs of flab with me, and still be considered at a healthy weight. To accommodate variations in the way each of us are put together, the “healthy” range is so broad that it becomes if not meaningless, certainly not meaningful enough to be relied upon.

BMI can lull you into a false sense of security. Give you a sense of being more healthy than you are. For instance, my BMI is pretty much the same as it was in my glory days of 20 + years ago. But, I know 100% that I am carrying a lot more body fat than I used to. And a lot of that extra fat is sitting around my waist, a very unhealthy place for it to be. I’ve lost muscle bulk and most likely some bone density over the years, and replaced it with some extra insulation!

How can BMI be relied upon as a measure of healthy weight when it doesn’t take into account body composition, (nor age, gender or ethnicity)? Well… it can’t.

The formula for BMI was devised in the 1840s by a mathematician, not a physician or physiologist. It was popularised in the 1970s by physiologist Ancel Keys. Since then, it has been relied upon far too heavily as an indicator of obesity related health issues.

 Another mathematician, Nick Trefethen from Oxford University’s Mathematical Institute puts it this way. ‘Because of that height2 term, the BMI divides the weight by too large a number for short people and too small a number for tall people. So short people are misled into thinking they are thinner than they are, and tall people are misled into thinking they are fatter than they are.’

Debunking the BMI

In  2017 physiologists from Leeds Beckett University conducted a study which measured BMI, waist circumference, waist/hip ratio and waist/height ratio as predictors of body fat, against actual body fat measures (as measured be a highly accurate total body scanner).

It found that BMI was not an accurate predictor of obesity when compared to the actual body fat measurements taken by the full body scanner. Waist/height ratio was the best indicator of both overall obesity and abdominal obesity. Waist circumference also had a reasonable accuracy when looking at abdominal fat, but the waist to hip ratio was the least accurate of the measurements tested, on both all over body fat and abdominal fat.

The study found that the cut off for predicting obesity in men was a ratio of 0.53 , and in women was 0.54. If the waist circumference of the subjects, divided by their height was greater than 0.53 (men) or 0.54 (women), they were highly likely to be obese, as measured by the total body scanner.  A waist-height ratio of 0.59 in both genders was found to be predictive of abdominal obesity.

Fat around the abdomen is indicative of visceral fat – fat around your organs such as kidneys, pancreas, heart, which can lead to cardiovascular disease, some cancers, type II diabetes and insulin resistance. Waist/height ratio is a much better predictor of abdominal fat than is BMI

The work of Margaret Ashwell, from City University London, has shown that the healthy waist/height ratio could be as low as 0.50. Across several studies, she found that the risk of suffering from diabetes or cardiovascular disease rises with a weight to height ratio of over .50. Ashwell’s research has also shown that the weight-height measurement is better at measuring life expectancy than the BMI is.

How to Measure your Waist Circumference

  • Measure over your bare skin
  • You should measure at the half way point between the bottom of your bottom rib and the top of your hip bone.
  • Make sure the tape measure is at the same level all the way around your waist – look in a mirror, or ask someone else to help
  • Breath out normally

Measuring Your Height

I dare say you’ve got this covered, but do measure your height at the start of the day, before your intervertebral discs have had time to become squished by you being upright all day.

Measuring Up Without a Tape Measure

You don’t even need a tape measure to check if you have a healthy amount of body fat. All you need is a piece of string which is at least as long as you are tall. Measure your height against the piece of string, then fold the string in half and put it round your waist. If you can’t get both ends to meet, that means your waist circumference is more than half of your height, and you need to change your lifestyle.

Waist/Height Ratio Guide

Children (up to 15) Men Women Categorisation Examples
<=0.34 <=0.34 <=0.34 Extremely Slim Marilyn Monroe (0.3359)
0.46 to 0.51 0.43 to 0.52 0.42 to 0.48 Healthy Female College Swimmer (0.4240)

Male College Swimmer (0.4280)

Body Builder (0.4580)

0.52 to 0.63 0.53 to 0.57 0.49 to 0.53 Overweight Female at increased risk (0.4920)

Male at increased risk (0.5360)

0.64 + 0.58 to 0.62 0.54 to 0.57 Very Overweight
0.63 => 0.58 => Morbidly Obese


Running in Hot Weather: How to pre-cool to boost performance

running in hot weather: pre-cool for perforamance

Did you know that many studies show exercise performance is impaired in hot, humid conditions?

Yes! People spend time and money on researching and writing about the fact that when it’s hot, you can’t run as fast or as far.

And lucky for us they do, because turns out there are a few things you can do to delay the onset of this heat induced fatigue.

Pre-cooling your body for running in hot weather

Pre-cooling your body before bouts of endurance exercise in hot humid conditions (around 32 + degrees Celsius, 60%+ humidity) can see big improvements in performance. I’m not saying pre-cooling will see you running faster in hot weather than you would in 15-degree temperatures, but you’ll run faster than you otherwise would have if you didn’t pre-cool.

One pre-cooling study showed that by pre-cooling before running in hot conditions, athletes were able to run an average of 304m further on a 30 minute treadmill run. Pre-cooled athletes not only ran at higher speeds throughout the 30 minutes, but they were also able to finish stronger than the control group.

Looking at that another way, if you ran a 5k race against a friend, and you both had the ability to run 5ks in extreme heat in 30 minutes, you could finish 300 metres in front of them, just by pre-cooling your body! Not only that, you’d do so in spectacular fashion, pulling away from them towards the end, (to the cheers of the assembled crowd, no doubt !!)

How does pre-cooling help with hot weather running?

Good question, and one that can’t be answered with much certainty at this stage.

It’s thought that pre-cooling increases the body’s heat storage capacity, delaying fatigue. The increased heat storage capacity means you can complete a greater amount of work before your body gets too hot. Just how hot “too hot” is, has not been established. Also, just why your body can store more heat is not clear.

The results of many studies suggest muscle recruitment by the central nervous system plays a part in this improved performance.

The main function of our brains is to keep our bodies alive. When the brain detects something going on that might be harmful to us, it tries to stop this from happening. If the brain can detect that we are overheating, it’ll do everything in its power to stop that from happening. It will start to shut down the recruitment of muscle fibres, so you literally have less muscle at your disposal to do the work. This makes you slow down and stops your core temperature from escalating. It also makes it hurt more.

One study of cyclists had pre-cooled and control groups perform a 40 minute time trial. The pre-cooled athletes immersed their lower body in water for 20 mins prior to the time trial. Cycling performance of the pre-cooled group was superior to the control group. Interestingly, core temperature, and muscle, skin and mean body temperatures were lowered in the pre-cooled athletes until the 20th minute of the time trail. However, performance between the two groups didn’t differ until the last 10 minutes of the time trial. 

There was little difference in the level of intensity selected by pre-cooled and control subjects at the start of the time trial. So the pre-cooled dudes didn’t come out of the gates all guns blazing. They chose a level of exertion similar to that of the control group, but they were able to maintain that level for longer. The performance differences were a result in a drop off in performance of the control group, not an increase in performance over the last 10 minutes from the pre-cooled group.

And that is the key to doing well in endurance sports. Maintaining performance over a sustained period.

How do I get my hands on this pre-cooling stuff?

That gets a bit trickier. There are a few methods for pre-cooling, not all of them simple. You need to pre-cool for quite a while. Most research has been done when subjects have been pre-cooled for extensive periods of time. From 20-60 minutes submerged in water or exposed to 5-degree C air, following set protocols. (No-it’s not as simple as jumping in the local butcher’s cool room for an hour before you go for a run)!

Pre-cool using slushies

Clearly, most of us don’t have the facilities, nor the time, to pre-cool using high-tech methods. But there is hope. One study on the use of ice slurries vs cold water ingestion prior to exercise showed that subjects who ingested an ice slurry ran on average 8.5 mins further to exhaustion than those who pre-cooled with cold water.

Subjects’ rating of perceived exertion was also lower throughout the exercise bout in the slushie group. They felt the whole thing was easier (and that’s got to be a good thing, right?)

The cold water group had a lower rectal temperature (eeuwk) than the ice eaters. This led the researchers to conclude the likely cause of the higher performance was due to a reduction in brain temperature (as the pre-cooling happened through the mouth, which is of course, close to the brain).

Careful of Sphenopalatine Ganglioneuralgia

One of the downsides of slopping down a slushie is the chance of brain freeze. 30% of the subjects in the study suffered from this. Not surprising. The amount of slushie they had to get down in 30 minutes prior to exercise was not insubstantial.

Here’s the slushie exercise pre-cooling protocol

  • For every kg of body weight, consume 7.5gms of slushy. This should be consumed in the 25 minutes prior to 5 mins before exercise. Start slurping 30 mins before exercise and finish 5 mins before you start to run.
  • Take the slushie in at an even rate – 1.5 gms of slushie for each kg of body weight every 5 minutes.
  • This seems like quite a lot of slushie to slurp – around half a litre for a 60gk person, so it’s not something you’d want to try before a race without lots of practice in training.
  • Apart from brain freeze, another downside is the caloric value of slushies. The study used a 5% carbohydrate/water mix for their ice slurry. 500gms of slurry would be 25 grams of carbohydrate, or approximately 100 calories. Not sure what the caloric value of a slushie from your local servo is, but you can bet your bottom dollar it’s at least equal to that.
  •  You can of course just crush plain ice if you want to avoid the sugar.

Ice Blocks instead of slushies?

I’m guessing that a lemonade Icey Pole (or 6) would also do the trick. Icey Poles are around 75 gms each, so you’d need to munch through around 6 in 25 minutes to cool yourself. That is total brain freeze territory.

What else can you do to make running in hot weather easier?

  • Pour water over your head, a lot during exercise. One study, showed that head cooling during exercise in hot conditions increased cycling time to exhaustion by a whopping 51%. The researchers felt the increase in performance was probably due to the lower brain temperatures.
  • Use a neck cooler whilst you’re running. Those things that are made of fabric and have some kind of crystal-type stuff inside them which you can wet, then tie around your neck.
  • Add to your pre-cooling strategy by putting icepacks on your neck and between your thighs whilst slurping your slushie.
  • See some more strategies for running on hot weather

Pre-cooling is not just important for hot weather racing

Pre-cooling can also be a very useful tool in training. Up to an injury free point, the more you run, the better you’ll be at it. For most people who want to get faster over any distance from 3k to the marathon and beyond, they need to get more running under their belts. If you can pre-cool yourself in training, you’ll be able to run further. Not only that, it might make the whole experience of running in our ever increasing temperatures a whole lot more pleasant – which means next run, you’re far less likely to want to pack it in even before you start.

One last note – sprint racing

The evidence shows that pre-cooling definitely works for distance events. It seems to work for events such as soccer matches with shorter bursts of faster running over a long period of time, though there has not been as much research done in this area.

There is definitive evidence that it is detrimental for shorter distance running -such as 100m sprints. With school sports carnivals coming up soon, it’s best to leave the slushies, Icey poles and Sunnyboys till after the event. Kids should stay in the shade and keep reasonably cool, but bringing their core temperature down dramatically won’t see them become the next school 100m record holder.


Olympics in Atlanta: a fight against physics

Effects of warm-up and precooling on endurance performance in the heat

Cooling Athletes before Competition in the Heat

Ice Slurry Ingestion Increases Core Temperature Capacity and Running Time in the Heat

Volume-dependent response of precooling for intermittent-sprint exercise in the heat

Effects of warm-up and precooling on endurance performance in the heat

Is Coffee Bad for Kids?

Coffee, Kids and Cocaine

Fathers Day this year I was on the tea and coffee station at the school’s Father’s Day Breakfast. I thought I’d be serving tea and coffee to the dads, so was a bit surprised at the number of kids who asked for tea, and even more surprisingly, coffee (one girl had two cups!). I didn’t know that tea and coffee drinking was a thing for kids – that’s primary school kids, not high school.

I don’t like being the fun police (though my kids would beg to differ), but… after I got over my surprise, I did take a look at whether regular caffeine consumption in kids is a good idea. More and more these days, we forget that kids are kids. They aren’t just smaller versions of adults. Their bodies and brains are different. They don’t have the same biochemical make up as adults. Caffeine doesn’t have the same effect on kids as it does on adults.

Why Caffeinated Drinks Are Not the Best Choice For Kids

Increased anxiety levels: From a meta analysis of the available literature, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand found evidence that caffeine increased anxiety levels in kids at doses of around 3 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight. For your average primary schooler, this is anywhere between 90 mg and 150 mg of caffeine. This is around 2-3 cans of cola a day, 1-2 cups of instant coffee, 2-3 cups of tea, or half a cup of brewed coffee, and 1-2 energy drinks.

Insomnia: Many people (not just kids) find that coffee keeps them awake at night. Kids aged 5-12 need about 11 hours sleep a day, and teenagers 9-10. It’s hard enough to have kids in bed for that length of time given our crazy busy lifestyle these days. When they are in bed, you want them sleeping, not climbing the walls due to the caffeine they’ve had earlier in the day.

Tooth Decay: Coffee is acidic. It can cause a decrease in tooth enamel. This is particularly problematic for kids. It can take several years for enamel on new adult teeth to harden, so kids teeth are more susceptible to the acid content of coffee than are adults’.

Appetite Suppression: Some studies have shown teenagers using caffeine as an appetite suppressant. Even if it is not deliberately consumed for that reason, kids who regularly drink coffee or tea, may eat less, and miss out on nutrients essential for growth.

Bone Loss: 6mg of calcium is lost for every 100 mg of caffeine ingested. For kids, particularly fast growing teens, this is a real issue for bone growth. Caffeine interferes with intestinal calcium absorption. If kids are getting their caffeine through cola drinks, that is even more of an issue. Cola drinks are super acidic. The body will try to get rid of the excess acidity by eliminating it through the urine. It’s been estimated that for one can of cola drink, you’d need to produce thirty times that volume in urine to rid your body of the acidity from the cola. That’s not going to happen. So instead, your body will try to restore the pH balance by using alkaline mineral salts (such as calcium) stored in the body. Calcium is stored in bones and teeth. If the body is using calcium stored in bones and teeth to de-acidify, then it’s not long before bones and teeth become week.

Concentration and Hyperactivity: Caffeine is a stimulant. It can cause hyperactivity and restlessness. It can also cause an inability to concentrate, but on the other side of that coin, it’s moderate consumption of caffeine by kids has also been shown to increase concentration, and also reduce the likelihood of depression.  According to Dr Tomas Depaulis, a research scientist at Vanderbilt University in the US

Addiction: A 2006 study looked at  9-11 year olds who habitually drank on average 109mg of caffeine per day (equivalent to a strong cup of instant coffee). The study showed that after abstention from caffeine overnight, when the kids were given 50mg of caffeine in the morning, the habitual caffeine users in the study reported the reversal of withdrawal symptoms (headache and dulled cognition). The non caffeine users reported no changes in cognitive performance, alertness or headache.   

Here’s the kicker. Chronic Caffeine Consumption Could Increase Susceptibility to Cocaine Addiction

Our kids’ brain systems are maturing during adolescence. These systems include higher -order processing areas of the brain, and also the mesocorticolimbic dopamine system ( you might know that one as the “reward system” or “reward pathway”)

Adolescents respond differently to caffeine as compared to the way adults do. They are more sensitive to caffeine and yet, adolescents who chronically consume caffeine develop a greater tolerance than adults do. So they need more of it to get the same effect.

Caffeine increases the reward effects of cocaine because it increases dopamine neuro-transmission. A study in rats showed that for animals who consumed caffeine during adolescence, these enhanced effects of cocaine were present even when caffeine was withdrawn. So for everyone, cocaine has more effect if you’re a caffeine drinker, but for adults who are not current caffeine consumers, but who did chronically consume caffeine in adolescence, that enhancement of the psychostimulant effects of cocaine was still present, even though the adults had stopped using caffeine.  

To me, it doesn’t seem like the best choice to have young kids and adolescents drinking coffee, given all the good reasons not to.


“Effects of Adolescent Caffeine Consumption on Cocaine Sensitivity”

“Health Effects of Energy Drinks on Children, Adolescents, and Young Adult”

Report From the Expert Working Group on the Safety Aspects of Dietary Caffeine

What is a Recovery Run and Why Should You Do Them?

Recovery Runs: What are they and why should you do them?

Recovery runs are the easiest runs you’ll do all week. They are short runs done at a VERY easy effort. Leave the running watch at home and slow down to smell the roses!

Whilst recovery runs are the easiest runs on your program, it doesn’t make them any less important than any of the other types of runs you’re doing – long runs, tempo runs and interval training. Skipping them is not an option for anyone serious about getting faster. Recovery runs allow you to run more, without increasing your risk of injury. And up to a point, the more you run, the faster you’ll be in your goal race.

Recovery Runs Can Make You a Faster Runner

Training Effort

To understand the importance of the recovery run, we need to understand that there are two somewhat competing elements of the training equation that make us faster: training intensity or “stress”, and training volume.

Your body will be under stress in sessions that test your current fitness levels – long runs which push you further than the last long run, and higher intensity runs such as interval sessions, hills sessions and tempo runs. A session that leaves you pretty tired is a session that’s stressed your body. And that’s a good thing. When you place a training stress on your body, and you’re regularly stressing it, pushing the limits of your fitness, your body adapts by getting stronger, ready for the next bout. With consistent well-planned training, you’ll be better able to resist the causes of fatigue in your next session, and ultimately your goal race. The gains made from session to session may be so small that you don’t notice them, but over time, they add up.

Training Volume

Increasing your training volume-the sheer amount of running you do- will make you faster, even if you never do any hard workouts such as speed sessions or long runs. The reason is that running efficiency increases with training volume.

Running is a motor skill. And like any other motor skill, to do it, your brain and muscles need to communicate. Training helps you do develop efficient communication between your brain and your muscles. The more efficient the communication, the faster you can run for a lower energy expenditure. The amount of energy expended for a given speed, is called running efficiency, or running economy. Practicing running improves the communication between the brain and the muscles. You develop your skill as a runner through repetition. Like any other motor skill, like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time, the more you do it, the better you will be at it.

From the point of view of getting faster, a high volume of training, as well as training that places a lot of stress on your body, are equally important. But… you can’t run like a bat out of hell every time you run and keep piling on the volume at the same time, so how do you increase your running volume (and therefore your running economy) without upping the risk of injury?

Enter the Recovery Run

Throwing recovery runs into your training program allows you to increase your total volume. They are very easy. You should not need more recovery after a recovery run. They allow you to get the most out of your other workouts – speed sessions, long runs, tempo runs – whilst also increasing the amount of time you are running for. That is, the amount of time you are practicing running, and therefore getting better at it.

Fitness adaptations occur relative to how much time you spend exercising past the point of initial fatigue. (So, when the going starts to get a bit tough, is when the real fitness adaptations start to occur). Your harder runs that challenge you either by their pace or duration take you well beyond that point of initial fatigue. You do spend some time at the beginning of the session to get to that point though.

Recovery runs, strategically placed in your program, are performed entirely in a fatigued state – they therefore boost your fitness despite being shorter or “easier” than your harder key workouts. Because you’re mostly doing them in an already fatigued state, recovery runs will often not feel easy.

In any kind of workout, once you reach a fatigued state, the brain will alter the pattern of muscle recruitment. It tries to avoid using the tired muscle fibres and instead recruits fresher muscles that are not so tired, simply since they are not the preferred muscle fibres used to perform that movement

Essentially the brain is forced out of its “comfort zone” of normal muscle recruitment. If you want to keep running at the same pace, the brain needs to circumvent the tired muscles to enable you to recruit new fresh muscles.  By placing your body under stress, either in a hard workout or in a recovery run when you are already fatigued before you start, you force your brain to find more efficient ways to recruit muscles. You’ll be running more efficiently.

Tips for When to Use Recovery Runs

Generally, if you run within 24 hours of a hard workout, the second run should be a recovery run.

If you’re running 3 times a week, generally you don’t need to include recovery runs. Each workout can be a harder workout, with a rest day in between. Note this does not apply to beginners, people coming back from injury, or coming back from a break in training.

Experienced runners won’t need to include recovery runs in the base phase of their training when they are not doing super exhaustive long runs, or high intensity workouts. When you do get to that stage, you do want to include recovery runs in your program-the ratio can be as high as 1 recovery run for each hard workout you do – this will depend on how frequently you run – sometimes you’ll have a rest day after a hard workout, rather than a recovery run.

For the most part, recovery runs won’t be fast or long. The actual length will depend on how much mileage you’re already doing. Recovery runs should be easy enough and short enough not to leave you feeling tired for your next hard work out.

You won’t always feel bad during a recovery run (good to know).  Even if you feel like you’re running very easy, don’t push the pace. Keep it at conversation pace. If you can’t belt out the first verse of the national anthem, then you’re running too fast.

We love helping runners achieve their goals. If you really want to get your training on steroids (metaphorically speaking) you need to find out about our online coaching. 

9 Running Apps You Didn’t Know You Needed

phone apps

There are a load of “running apps” around. Typically they tell you when to run, or when to stop, or will store your running playlist, or create a playlist for you based on your running cadence. Some will match the beat of the music to your current stride rate. Some will measure your distance, measure your speed, tell you your heart rate (with varying degrees of accuracy) tell you how many calories you’ve burned (again with varying degrees of accuracy). Some will tell your friends what a legend you are.

These are not the apps I want to talk about today. Today we’re going to look at some other apps which are useful for runners, which you won’t find in the “running apps” section of your play store.

Running apps for personal safety 

Road iD App

Friends and family can track you in real time using the GPS device on your phone. It’s the modern day version of telling your partner where you’re going and what time you’ll be back. With this app, you can change your route at the last minute, and someone will still know where you are.

It has an optional emergency alert, so that if you are stationary for more than 5 minutes, an alert will be sent to someone you have already nominated as an emergency contact. So that the alert is not sent in error, you receive an alert prior to the emergency alert being sent, so you have time to turn it off if all you’ve done is stop for a quick loo break and to get yourself together! Great if you fall over and can’t move, but not so great if someone clocks you on the head and picks you up and takes you away – after all, you’ll still be moving, even if not under your own steam. If you’re out on your own, a whistle or personal alarm could also be a good idea!

App Store   Google play

Find My Friends and Glympse also operate in a similar manner to Road iD.

As with any app which tracks your location; be careful of your privacy settings.

Most phones will also have a safety assistance, or personal alert/alarm function. You can nominate people to whom a message should be sent if you alert them. On my phone, I have to press the power button 3 times, and a message will be sent to my husband, along with sound recording and photos. I have activated it accidentally a couple of times and sent him some lovely shots of the inside of my pocket and handbag.  Good to know he checks up on me!

Go to the settings of your phone and look for an alarm icon, or some kind of red alert type icon.

Apps you might need in an emergency

Flush – Public Toilets

This is a fast and simple toilet finder, with over 200,000 publicly available toilets on its world wide database. Don’t leave home without it! Works offline – you don’t need an internet connection to find a toilet.

App Store    Google play

Flush-public toilet locator

Emergency + App  – gives 000 operators your GPS co-ordinates

This is a free app developed by the Triple Zero Awareness Network. Callers who use the Emergency + App to contact 000, are able to be located by GPS tracking.

The app is not only designed to help with locating the caller, it also helps a caller decide who they should actually call in an emergency: 000, the SES (132 500), or the Police Assist line (131 444).

If you do need to call 000 whilst you’re out on a run, you need to make your call through the app. You open the app and tap Triple Zero to make your call. You’ll then be asked to press the Emergency + icon, which will take you to your map coordinates. You can then read out your latitude and longitude.

There is an explanatory video on YouTube .

App Store    Google play

PulsePoint AED

This is app is designed to give you the location of your nearest defibrillator. Not much use if you’re on your own and you need a defibrillator yourself, but it could help you save someone else.

Pulse Point - find a defibrilatorThis is the best defib finder app I can find, but it is far from perfect. There are quite a few defibs that I’m aware of at sports fields etc that are not registered, but I did find out about a few that I wasbn’t aware of. It’s worthwhile having on your phone, but don’t assume there is not a defibrillator nearby if the app doesn’t show a one near your location.

App Store   Google play

Likely places to find a defibrillator include

  • Hospitals – In the hospital wings or at the closest nursing station
  • Community Centres – In the foyer
  • Schools – The school office or staff room
  • Business Centres – Ground level next to the evacuation plan
  • Golf, Football, Soccer, Swimming, Hockey and Cricket Clubs  – Behind the bar or in function rooms. These locations are often central to the club
  • Gymnasiums – Hinged and clearly signed on the walls surrounding the gym equipment. Try the wall closest to the treadmills
  • Shopping Malls/Centres – Central locations such as toilet isles, cinemas, or information desks/centres
  • Public Libraries – In the foyer

Access to defibrillators in most of these locations is time dependent. Most will be inaccessible if the facility is closed unfortunately.  Survival rates for cardiac arrest are as high as 90% if a defibrillator is used within the first minute of an arrest, and decrease by about 10% for every minute of delay. With no defibrillator, people who suffer cardiac arrest have a very low chance of survival, so this is definitely an app worthwhile putting on your phone.

On a brighter note…….

Running apps that reward you for running

Running Heroes

Download the running heroes app and earn points which you can use towards rewards. You can receive discounts on name brand items (and some not so name brand items) by redeeming your credit points. You can enter weekly challenges to enter into the draw to win larger prizes if you complete the challenge – which are not massive (eg 4* 5km runs in 2 weeks to go into the draw for a pair of Brooks shoes).

App Store   Google play

Charity Miles

Earn money for charity just by going for a run with your phone in your pocket – kind of.

But here’s the thing.

Large corporations often give a small percentage of their profits to charity. Some choose to do so via a charity app, instead of donating to the charity directly. So in using the app and nominating a charity you support, you have a say in where the money is directed, but not really whether it is donated in the first place. Your running kms don’t affect the total amount donated by a company, they will just impact the amount of the overall pie your chosen charity receives. So by directing the money to your charity, another charity misses out.

That’s not so say that using an app like Charity Miles definitely won’t give any extra benefit to charities. The corporate sponsor of the charity may spend money on advertising with the charity, and may also advertise the fact that they have a relationship with that  charity, which gives greater exposure to the charity, and boosts the company’s image.

Companies get “premium advertising” when they donate through charity miles. They are able to spend their advertising dollars on their target market – you’ll receive targeted ads from the Charity Miles corporate sponsors on your phone, based on your demographic and behaviour. So by donating their charity budget via Charity Miles, corporations are able to spend their advertising budget in a way which should yield them better results.

Charity Miles takes a 50% cut of the money directed from for-profit companies to not-for-profits. For every mile you run (1.6km), your nominated charity gets US 25 cents, and Charity Miles also gets US 25 cents

So, you’re not giving your own money to charity, but you are being enticed to open your own wallet to benefit  for-profit companies. What you are actually doing is donating your personal information to for-profit companies.

Charity Miles is definitely not a scam. Real charities do get money via the app, but the existence of the app doesn’t really increase the overall amount of charitable donations. If you want a charity to get more benefit from charitable donations, you might consider donating the money you save by redeeming rewards on Running Heroes to the charity of your choice

App Store   Google play

Running apps for motivation

Zombies Run Game

If you need a little motivation to keep going on your runs, this app might actually help! 

The basics of the game are pretty simple. You select an episode, adjust a few settings, and go for a run. The story is played out in clips, interspersed with your own music. You are one of the main characters in the story. The other characters interact with you, you go out on missions, collect supplies, and, speed up to avoid zombies.

People who use the app love it, others leave it. If you’re struggling for motivation, it might be worth a look. I used it during a bike workout the other day and …it was ok, but my wind trainer was so loud I had problems hearing, and I prefer to let my mind wander and eventually go blank when I exercise, so i can’t say I’m a fan.

App Store   Google play


If you find it hard to find time to run, this app may help. It’s designed to help you put your phone down and get stuff done. You start by planting a seed in a forest, which will gradually grow into a tree. But, if you can’t resist the temptation of using your phone, your tree will wither.

Forest - focus on what you're doing

You can unlock a paid version to plant real trees on the earth through “Trees for the Future”. One feature promoted by the app creator is the ability to share your forest and compete with friends, and you can also “unlock achievements and earn extra rewards” and yay… spend more time on your phone doing so!!

App Store    Google play

An old classic – find new running routes


Map my run has a heap of functionality, much of which you can get through other running apps such as Strava, or from a wearable GPS device. I’ve included it here because I like the ability to search for a running route. This can come in very handy if you’re on holidays or in an unfamiliar location and want to go for a run. You can search  you’ll also be able to see its elevation. Stops you from getting lost and running way further than you wanted to, or running round and round in circles trying to get your kms up. Strava has a similar function, but I don’t find it as user friendly. 

App Store   Google play

Run Faster or Run More?

Running faster or running more

Can You Cram For Your Next Fun Run?

Kind of… but just like cramming for an exam, “cramming” for a fun run will yield only short term results.

I have to admit, I used to operate on the “cram, exam, forget” technique. I’d cram the night before, retain information in my head for just long enough to get it onto the exam paper, the forget most of it.

Training madly for a short period before a fun run is a bit the same. You’ll probably do enough for you to get through on the day, but if you don’t do much for the rest of the year, when your next run comes around, you won’t have any base to build from.

What’s Going to Get You Faster: Training More or Training Faster?

If I had to choose one over the other -more mileage or faster running – for 95% of my runners, I’d choose more mileage as the option that would get them to be able to run distance faster. That is, increasing mileage in appropriate increments over a long period of time –a longer time than a 12 week fun run training program!

In reality, it’s not an either/or choice. Both mileage and speed can be incorporated into a good training program. Just how much of each depends on your current fitness levels, the distance you’re training for, and how far away your race is.

Running faster in training can work for you, particularly in the short term, but ultimately, improvements in your long term running potential lie in putting a lot of running miles in the bank over a period of time.  The training you do this year, lays the base for your personal record next year.

Does This Training Pattern Sound Familiar?

  • You decide to enter a run.
  • You train well for 6 weeks, or 8, or if you’re really well organised, you get 12 weeks of training in.
  • You finish the race full of motivation to keep training.
  • Next day, things hurt a bit.  After all, you haven’t run that fast for that far, since the last fun run.
  • You have a few days off training to recover.
  • You have a few more days off training to recover.
  • You have no plan to follow, now that the goal race is done, and don’t know what direction to take with your training.
  • You do bits and pieces of running till the next run is on the horizon when you start to rebuild your fitness all over again.

A Better Way To Train

The ultimate training plan in your quest to run faster would span 12-18 months, maybe more. It would see you training and entering fun runs over a variety of distances. It would most likely include a year on year increase in weekly mileage as well as introduce some more sophisticated speed work. You might even include some speed work in your long runs, depending on your level of experience. As you increase your mileage and become better equipped as a runner, the volume of your speed work can also increase.

How Do You Know When You’re Pumping Out Enough K’s?

Training volume is a very individual thing. Increasing training remains productive up until just short of the point at which you breakdown –  when you get injured, or are constantly sick. It’s extremely hard to judge just what that point is however, so I always err on the side of caution and guide my runners well short of that point, unless they have quite a few years of training under their belt and they are used to monitoring themselves effectively.

No-one is going to do their best if they can’t even make it to the start line! It’s a very fine line between enough and too much, and without sophisticated data measuring and analysis, it’s all too easy to cross that line if you are pushing too hard.

Some runners can just train more than others. There’s no right or wrong amount of mileage, so it’s pointless comparing your mileage to other people. Do keep track of your training though. It’s a great tool to help assess how quickly you can step up your volume and intensity.

You may have noticed you have a “sweet spot” with your training. That amount of weekly mileage you can run pretty comfortably, without feeling overly tired, and without fear of injury. No little niggles, no resistance to getting out of bed in the morning and strapping on your running shoes (well… not too much, anyway).

Generally you can advance your mileage pretty quickly to that “sweet spot” but once you reach the level of training past which you know you are pushing into unknown territory, you need to increase your mileage very carefully. So keeping a training log is important if you want to improve year on year and minimise your risk of injury. Plus, it’s awesome to look back on what you’ve accomplished.

But You Want To Get Faster Right Now! You Want to Cram!

If your next run is a little closer than next year away, here’s a general guide to help you decide where to put your training focus to get the best short term results. For a more sophisticated program based on your individual needs, an online coach may be just what you need.



Half Marathon

Beginner: Little to no running exeperience Take 8-12 weeks. Focus on increasing the amount of time you can run for at an easy pace 12 weeks. Build distance. Don’t worry about speed work. You’ll get more bang for your buck from easy running for a longer period of time, and reduce your risk of injury. To move from no running, to running 21km, whilst minimising your risk of injury, will take longer than 12 weeks. Beginners should aim for something shorter
Advanced Beginner: Running consistently 3 times a week for the last 2 months. Can run for 30 minutes or so. Build mileage for 4-6 weeks. If there’s still some time before your race, you can introduce some speed work into your training Focus on building mileage for 6-8 weeks, and introduce speed work after that. Build mileage for 12 weeks. Running further at an easy pace will help far more than faster shorter training.
Intermediate: Running for 6-12 months, 15-20k/week 6-8 weeks. Continue to build mileage so your long run is 60 mins or so. Definitely add some speed work to your program 6-8 weeks. Focus on building mileage, with a small amount of speed work. Focus can shift to include more speed work after 6 weeks (if you still have time before your race) Gradually increase the distance of your long run over 10 weeks-longest run will be 2 weeks before race. Focus is definitely on distance, not speed.
Advanced Intermediate: Running for more than 12 months, over 20k/week. 6 weeks should be enough preparation. Focus on speed work. Efforts of 3-5 minutes with an active recovery, tempo runs at 5k pace. 6 weeks of focus on faster running should give you some good short term results. If you have longer than 6 weeks, concentrate on building mileage prior to that. Include some speed work, and some hill work for building running specific strength. Your main focus will still be on building your mileage, particularly your easy paced long run.