Paddy Doran Coaching Blog

Champion runner

Irish senior Cross Country Champ 2018

A recent Irish Independent article by Cathal Dennehy Dec 3rd  about Kevin Dooney of Raheny Shamrocks and winner of the Irish National cross country running championships got me thinking about how training for sport can lead to altered mood and in some cases depression.

I had seen him winning the Cross Country Champs about a week before the article was published. He was One happy person when he won.

While this particular athletes situation may not be directly related to training, there does seem to be an issue at the top level of US Collegiate Sports

“Running may be an effective tool to combat depression, but the jury is out when it comes to those operating in the sport’s upper reaches.

A study in 2016 found track and field athletes have the highest rate of depression among US collegiate sports, with 37 per cent of women and 25 per cent of men reporting depressive symptoms.” Cathal Dennehy Dec 3rd Irish Independent

Positive effects of exercise

Before we get in to the issue about overtraining and its effect.  We should first focus on the hugely positive benefits to be gained from well balanced exercise of all types. Effects of exercise

Elite and club level Cyclists , triathletes , endurance runners

It would be interesting to see what the level of top-level cyclists with depression symptoms is.

Club athletes

However, this could also be an issue for club cyclists and other athletes like triathletes and runners who over train and don’t have good life balance.

The club athlete often lacks the coaching or sports science support that elites have.

So it may be even more important that they understand how to avoid over training.

For the purpose of this blog I am going to look at the link between over -reaching, overtraining and mood and depression.


According to Overtraining Syndrome A practical guide


“Overreaching is considered an accumulation of training load that leads to performance decrements requiring days to weeks for recovery.

Overreaching followed by appropriate rest can ultimately lead to performance increases.

However, if overreaching is extreme and combined with an additional stressor, overtraining syndrome (OTS) may result”

Most of us would be aware of over-reaching in our training to get the workloads up.

At the end of big blocks of training your mood could be reduced and enthusiasm for training reduced.

With suitable rest and recovery this will pass in a short time and you will get back your enthusiasm for getting out and clocking up the training.

Over training Syndrome

What is it? According to Overtraining Syndrome A practical guide “OTS is a maladapted response to exercise when excessive and not matched with appropriate rest”

So, there’s a simple effective explanation. The key to getting your training right is to do the right amount and intensity of training and get good rest and recovery.

Over training is different than over reaching in that its symptoms are more marked and last longer. A full season or even a career could be destroyed by over-training. Hopefully not too many get into this level.


Symptoms of overtraining syndrome. (Overtraining Syndrome A practical guide)

Parasympathetic Alterationsa Sympathetic Alterationsb Other
Fatigue Insomnia Anorexia
Depression Irritability Weight loss
Bradycardia Agitation Lack of mental concentration
Loss of motivation Tachycardia Heavy, sore, stiff muscles
Hypertension Anxiety
Restlessness Awakening unrefreshed

aMore common in aerobic sports.

bMore common in anaerobic sports.

Aerobic Versus Anaerobic exercise effects on the Nervous system

Notice the difference in how Aerobic / endurance sports have different effects on the nervous system than Anaerobic / Sprint speed events.

There’s a very clear link to depression and mood changes in over-trained athletes in the Aerobic events.

Athletes who are prone to mood changes

These athletes especially should ensure that they get their training right and well monitored for balance and recovery to avoid over training..

Aerobic Sports

Big endurance loads with poor recovery and nutrition are more likely to affect the parasymphatic sysystem.

This can lead to a flattening of the system rather than stimulating effects. .

Anaerobic Sports

A lot of us would have experienced the short-term effects of racing a short fast race in the summer evening’s.

These races often lead to not sleeping so well that night as the sympathetic nervous system is charged up from the race intensity.

Potential triggers of overtraining syndrome. (Overtraining Syndrome A practical guide)

Increased training load without adequate recovery
Monotony of training
Excessive number of competitions
Sleep disturbances
Stressors including personal life (family, relationships) and occupational
Previous illness
Altitude exposure
Heat injury episode
Severe “bonk”

The coaches view

My own experience is that planning training recovery and good nutrition is paramount.

Its possible to do big training loads if the intensity is properly controlled and a sporting lifestyle is followed.

Good nutrition, sleep and relaxation is essential.

If an athlete has a very busy job/ study and family responsibilities, they need to be realistic about the amount of training that they can get benefits from.

They will also benefit from periodising training plans to allow for busy work / study periods.

Work life Balance

Poor life Balance

Poor balance usually creates stress that increases the risk of over training.

It also increases the risk of many areas of your life not doing as well as if you had good balance.

Good life balance

I have coached many cyclists over the years who have been excellent at planning and time management.

They have also been excellent in regards to discipline and controlling training loads.

Some of them achieved the very top level of results in leaving cert and third level exams and still had very good cycling results.

And they still enjoy riding their bikes.


An experienced qualified coach can help you achieve your goals and avoid / reduce overtraining problems.

Why everyone needs a coach and how to choose one

Time Crunched cyclists

When I hear this term I visualise someone who hasn’t a spare minute to themselves trying to squeeze in intensive training sessions.

In my opinion and experience this is a recipe for short term gains, over training and a high dropout rate.

My advice to time crunched cyclists is to select sporting goals that fit with the other demands in their lives and that are sustainable.

Self reflection

Making time to stop and think about what you are doing is important. The first question should always be

  • Is your life balance as good as it could be?
  • Is this programme sustainable?
  • will I enjoy doing it or is it adding to stress to my life?
  • Will it help me achieve my big goals?
  • Have I got the right coach?

Get to know yourself and what works for you

Here’s a great piece of learning from Kevin Dooney.

“I can handle running in s**t weather and I can handle darkness, but darkness and s**t weather? Nah,” he says with a laugh. “It’s learning things like that – things that will make the mind go to a bad place.”

That’s good emotional intelligence from Kevin. Do you need to look at some of your training practises. Do an audit of your training, have you enough recovery, rest and sleep. Is there sessions or practises that are just not enjoyable and drag your enthusiasm down… GET RID OF THEM!!

To finish

By having a good life balance, good coaching, and following a sporting lifestyle you should be able to avoid the pitfalls of overtraining. This will lead to enhanced enjoyment of your sport and isn’t that how it should be.

“The future depends on what we do today”

Mahatma Gandhi

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