Monday, August 13, 2012

U.S. Olympic Marathon Injuries: Overtraining is Bad, Undertraining is Good. A Lesson from London

The London Olympics are over and so are the two events  that I watched with the most interest:  The men's and women's marathons.

One fact struck me after watching the marathon finish yesterday:

50% of U.S. marathoners dropped out of the Olympic marathon due to an injury.
That's right, three out of the six runners competing for the U.S. had to drop out early in their respective marathons due to injury.
  • Desiree Davilla: Injured hip flexor tendon during a marathon workout (She first felt pain after a high-mileage day in July). Dropped out at mile 2 of Women's Marathon.
  • Ryan Hall: Had hamstring issues during training. Dropped out at mile 11 of Men's Marathon with a hamstring injury.
  • Abdi Abdirahman: During the marathon felt a "pop in his knee." Also dropped out around mile 11.
Although Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanangan both had respectable finishes, they were disappointed in their performance. In regards to how hard Kara and Shalene trained, Kara said:

"People mess up, and I’ve trained so hard. I didn't even know women trained the way that I've trained with Shalane. I didn't know it existed."

Meb Keflezighi was the only U.S. marathoner who got close to a medal (4th place) had actually cut back on his training leading up to the race:

"He (Meb Keflezighi) ...needed to be careful so Keflezighi could get to the start line healthy, if undertrained."

Also this from the LA Times:

"Four months ago, Keflezighi said he couldn't walk, much less run, because of a strained gluteus muscle that limited him (Meb) to four weeks of quality training in the run-up to the Games."

All of these runners avail themselves to the best training methods and have had great coaching most of their careers and yet they still get injured training for the marathon. Only one of the six cut back on their normal training mileage and that person (Meb) had the best run of the six! I suspect overtraining is the main culprit as to why the other five had disappointing marathons. They all wanted to put in the extra miles to make themselves tougher for the grueling distance and potentially get a medal. However, you can only put yourself in line for a medal if you are able to complete all of the 26.2 miles on healthy legs. The only U.S. marathoner who was able to make it to the finish anywhere near the medalists was the runner who had undertrained.


  1. I was yelling (in a hushed voice) as i watched Meb just start picking everyone off one by one. I love that guy. I also wanted to point out that he was the oldest of the USA marathoners. I really feel that marathoning is a mental game, and that experience will trump athletic ability. He ran smart and confident, because he has been doing this long enough to know exactly how to approach it.

  2. It is interesting when you put it that way (re: 50%). I was bummed when I turned on the Men's race and two had dropped out. I don't know if they are overtrained, or if they just can't compete in that field.

    1. Good point. Maybe some of both. How about too much training because they thought they were in over their heads? :-)

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this, I was amazed!!! I read this post earlier but didn't get a chance to comment on it until now. They say that you receive the messages you need at those moments when you need them most... and after my tough 16.5-miler last weekend where I started feeling some new aches and pains, this message is really hitting home. So much better to be undertrained and healthy than overtrained but battling injury!!! I am going to reward myself with a nice mileage cutback this week with that in mind. =D

  4. This is a good perspective! I think that some of the pro athletes think that the "overtraining" thing doesn't apply to them maybe? I loved watching the prep for Meb. He seems really focused and knows what he's doing. I was really happy for him and it was a great race to watch!