The dangers of overtraining: when sport becomes a drug

Ultra marathon runner Elliot Cardin hit a wall a few months ago. For five years he has been training hard, even very hard, up to 20 hours a week. He has already participated in 100-kilometer races.

By definition, the ultramarathon is a longer run than a marathon (42.1 km). Eventually, the 28-year-old young athlete aims to complete a 160-kilometer event.

For his body to be able to do this to collect these distances, he sometimes travels 200 kilometers a week during the highest moments of his preparation.

You have to go out in the morning, you have to go out in the evening. There is no secret. We have to do what we call “double strokes.

A quote from Elliot Cardin, ultra marathon runner

Ultramarathon runner Elliot Cardin is based in Estrie (Quebec)

Photo: Radio-Canada / Vincent Rességuier

Despite his outstanding performance, Elliot Cardin is not a professional. He therefore has to juggle work as a salesman and studies in naturopathy. Which isn’t always easy, especially since over the years, he says, you have to work a lot harder to improve your performance.

To manage fatigue, he says you have to be intelligent in the way of organizing his training. There is a good balance between overtraining or insufficient trainingconcludes.

Last spring, this equilibrium broke in full preparation for a very important race for his eyes, the Western United States, which takes place in the United States.

I was struck by a stroke of fatigue. Since then, the body has had a hard time recovering. I had a drop in testosterone, which is a reflection of overtraining. Often it affects the endocrine system, it is a sign that the body is no longer able to absorb the training.

A quote from Elliot Cardin, ultra marathon runner

He felt a significant drop in his muscle power, which was the starting point for an investigation with his doctor. After a series of tests, it was found that his testosterone levels were below normal.

He has since adapted training volume, diet and rest times to his situation. His testosterone levels are back to normal but remain low, which doesn’t stop him from preparing for a February race.

It is difficult when you are a passionate athlete. Me, I like to run and the solution is obvious: it is to reduce your running volumes, to reduce your enthusiasm. Era “hard” to do all this learning and slow down.

A quote from Elliot Cardin, ultra marathon runner

The overtraining syndrome

If Elliot Cardin had the wisdom to moderate, this is not the case for everyone and some fall into overtraining syndrome.

A rare and serious condition with quite important consequencessays Yves St-Louis, who knows what he’s talking about.

This former triathlete pulled the rope so hard it took him six years to recover. For some, this can lead to the end of a career, both as a professional and amateur athlete.

Yves St-Louis, sports coach

Yves St-Louis, sports coach, the Running Clinic

Photo: Courtesy – Yves St-Louis

Physical educator and sports trainer at the Running Clinic, today he holds training seminars and conferences on this phenomenon.

Explain that there is a gradation of fatigue, with several stages:

  • acute fatiguethe one we all know after a few bad nights, for example;

  • functional overworkthat requires a few days of rest to recover from the efforts related to training;

  • non-functional overwork : it takes several weeks, even a few months of rest to regain a normal state of form;

  • overtraining syndrome : it takes several months, often several years, to regain a normal functional level.

Coming to such a diagnosis can be time-consuming and tedious. The outlines of the syndrome are sometimes blurred.

Is the person sick? Are there any infections? Does mononucleosis exist? Are there any nutritional deficiencies? If we remove all these factors, then it passes by elimination and we assume that we are in the overtraining syndrome.

A quote from Yves St-Louis, sports coach, the Running Clinic

Anorexia, chronic fatigue, anxiety, depression, etc. The consequences can be dramatic and the road to recovery often painful.

Beyond physical exhaustion, athletes must agree to revise their expectations and, very often, stop every now and then. Not easy for everyone.

Kind of like depression, you feel miserablesays Yves St-Louis. All the goals that revolved around sport have just collapsed and you have to know how to get out of sport, in order not to have too many goals.

Sometimes it is necessary to resort to drugs to relieve, for example, anxiety disorders.

Bigorexia more and more widespread

With the fashion for ultramarathons and Ironman-like triathlons, he observes that more and more athletes are becoming addicted to physical activity.

We talk about bigorexia, explains Yves St-Louis, when sport becomes a drug. This can be dangerous when the addiction is such that the beneficial effects of physical activity are canceled out by too high a training volume.

Unsurprisingly, bigorexics are particularly at risk of suffering from overtraining syndrome.

Overtraining, a taboo subject

Among top athletes, the risks of overtraining are still little discussed in the public arena.

In his community, Elliot Cardin is one of the few to talk about it openly. He believes that athletes have a responsibility to be transparent and not just show their successes.

If you look at Instagram, you rarely see any failures. If we just highlight our achievements, we encourage people to do too much and that’s not good.

A quote from Elliot Cardin, ultra marathon runner

Well aware now that the efforts required by his discipline have nothing in common and can even be dangerous to his health, he slips into a smile that, if he simply wanted to be fit, he would train for 30 to 40 minutes a day.

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