Photo by Karsten Winegart (Unsplash)

Training load is one of the key factors affecting performance. In preparation for a specific competition is common for endurance athletes to increase training load. The difficult part is determining the appropriate training load for each athlete.

This “loading” period conduits to functional overreaching. It was described in 2006 by the European College of Sport Science as a temporary decrement in performance resulting from a short period of overload training that may lead to a super-compensation effect following a recovery period of days or a few weeks.

But there is also a non-functional overreaching, known as overtraining syndrome, when there is a decrease of performance that may last for weeks or months.

Everything would be determined by an equilibrium between fitness and fatigue. Although some athletes respond to short-term periods of increased training positively with super-compensation, others may show diminished performance for much longer periods.


Are overreaching periods necessary?

Recently some studies have shown that functional overreaching is linked to negative cardiovascular, metabolic and hormonal effects, and a decrease in performance. 

Consequently, the question that arises is if non-overreached athletes could perform similarly, or even outperform, athletes following a training protocol with an overreaching period.

A recent review of available literature has found confusing data, with some studies showing performance improvements with overreaching strategies whilst others showed the opposite effect.

Additionally, it wasn´t found clear evidence demonstrating the reason why some athletes respond optimally to increases in training volume whilst others display signs and symptoms of fatigue and overreaching.

Behind this lack of evidence is a big inter-individual variability and the absence of studies involving elite athletes, that usually don´t want to train using experimental protocols that could potentially affect their season results.


Strategies to mitigate overtraining

  • Periods of increased training load should be matched with increased energy intake.
  • Although carbohydrates may alleviate some symptoms, they may not be able to do so with all the physiological and immunological disturbances. Increasing protein intake could also contribute to alleviate these alterations.
  • Additionally, it has been proposed to improve sleep quality and quantity.


Be cautious with your training load, especially if you have fatigue symptoms for long periods. Sometimes training less could mean more for your performance.



Functional Overreaching in Endurance Athletes: A Necessity or Cause for Concern? Bellinger P. Sports Medicine (2020) 50:1059–1073

Training loads (Adapted from Bellinger 2020)


The Silver Age

After Sidney 2000 there would still be good Spanish marathoners, but in smaller numbers. Between 2001 and 2006, marks below 2.10.00 were still regularly achieved, while the differences between the best Spanish and world times remained close, between 2.5 minutes and 44 seconds.

During this period deserve a special mention Antonio Peña (Mallorca 1970) and Julio Rey (Toledo 1972). Between them got most of the Spanish news about the marathon, regularly running below 2.10 (13 times between the two). As the culmination of this period Rey managed to lower the national record to an incredible 2.06.52 in Hamburg in 2006.

The great emptiness

From 2007 onwards the world marathon scene improved rapidly. If up to that moment there were an average of 50 marathons under 2.10 a year, this number went up to 170 in 2012.

However, this increase in quality at global level was not accompanied at the national level. If in the period between 1994 and 2006 the 2h10m had been lowered on 46 occasions, in the period of the same duration that goes from 2007 to 2019 it was only possible to run so fast on 5 occasions (see image).

And the crisis of the Spanish marathon went further, as the difference between the best Spanish and world marathon times of the year increased to 12 minutes and 39 seconds in 2014, the year in which the best Spanish marathon was 2.15.36 (see image).

Last years and carbon plate shoes

Since the introduction of carbon plate shoes, mainly the Nike Zoom Vaporfly that were introduced in 2017, many runners have improved their times significantly. Variations of this model were present in the last record of Eliud Kipchoge (Berlin 2018), and in the Ineos challenge, where “unofficially” Kipchoge lowered the 2 hours in the distance for the first time.

In this 2020 marked by the pandemic up to 3 Spanish marathoners have managed to run faster than 2h10m, all of them in the Seville marathon. There, the most prominent figure in the Spanish marathon in recent years, Javier Guerra (Segovia 1983), managed to stop the clock at 2.07.27, the best marathon Spanish time in the last 15 years. Worthy to mention the other two athletes who run also fast in Seville, the promising Hamid Ben Daoud (Ksat Oukhit, Morocco 1996) and Iván Fernández (Álava 1988).

We can argue that not all is the effect of these, or other carbon plate shoes recently launched. However, looking at the same Seville marathon, in 2019 only 7 athletes run faster than 2h10m, while in 2020, where Nike shoes had already become widely available the number of athletes who lowered this time was 19 (see image).

As for the Spanish marathoners, none of them were present at the recent London Marathon, where as many as 11 athletes run faster than 2.10. We may guess that some of them will be present at the Valencia elite-only marathon, that will take place in early December.

It remains to be seen if in a scenario where running below 2.05.00 is not enough guarantee for the final victory, Spanish athletes manage to run successfully and maybe shine once again at international level.


Diego García (left, silver), Martín Fiz (middle, gold) and Alberto Juzdado (right, bronze) at the European Athletics Championships of Helsinki 1994

The prelude

Continuing our previous post where we reviewed all the national marathoners with marks below 2 hours and 10 minutes, we have decided to see how they did at international level.

Although Diego García is often considered the initiator of the golden age in the Spanish marathon, there were other prominent marathoners before him. Santiago de la Parte (Palencia 1948) held the national marathon record for 6 years (2.11.10, Tokyo 1984), until it was snatched away by Juan Francisco Romera (Toledo 1960) in the 1990 London marathon. He run the distance in 2.10.48 and he finished in third position.

However, Diego García (Guipúzcoa 1961-2001) was the first marathoner to become known to the general public. In 1992 he participated in the Barcelona Olympic Games, where he finished in ninth position, and ended the year beating the Spanish record in the Fukuoka marathon (2.10.30).

In 1993 Martín Fiz (Álava 1963) made the transition from the track to the marathon, winning the Helsinki marathon on his debut (2.12.47). This promising start was just the prelude to a successful career. To end the year Rodrigo Gavela (León 1966) lowered the national record to 2.10.27 in San Sebastián.


The Golden Age (1994-2000)

In 1994 at the Boston Marathon Martín Fiz lowered the national record to 2.10.21. But the real boom of the Spanish marathon was in the European Championships in Helsinki that same summer, where Martín Fiz, Diego García and Alberto Juzdado (Madrid 1996) took the first 3 positions in this order. And the year finished with another national record. Alberto Serrano managed to lower it by more than a minute, and for the first time below 2h10m, by stopping the clock at 2.09.13 in Berlin, where he finished in third position.

The year 1995 had a clear protagonist: Martín Fiz. Firstly, he managed to lower the national record again to 2.08.57 in Rotterdam. But only a few months later he won for the first time for Spain a Marathon World Championship in Gothenburg 1995. Spain confirmed its rise to the international level, after having shown its power a year earlier at the European level. Of the 15 marathons of the season below 2.10, three had been achieved by Spanish athletes.

1996 was an Olympic year, and the Spanish “Armada” grew, while improving its times. First Alberto Juzdado lowered the national record to 2.08.46 in Tokyo, until Martín Fiz regained it with his 2.08.25 in Gyeongju (South Korea) one month later. In less than 4 years the national record had been lowered 6 times. However, in the Olympic Games the three Spanish representatives (Fiz, García and Juzdado) who had taken the top 3 places on the podium at the Helsinki Europeans two years earlier could not get on the podium. Fiz was the best positioned, finishing 4th with 2.13.20, and achieving the best position of a Spanish athlete in the distance in an Olympic event. And in 1996 another outstanding Spanish athlete made his debut in the distance. Abel Antón (Soria 1962) won the prestigious Berlin marathon with 2.09.15. Furthermore, for the first and only time Spain closed the year with the best marathon time of the season, thanks to the 2.08.25 from Fiz´s national record.

In 1997 there was a world-class leap in the marathon, going from 18 marks down from 2.10 the year before to 45. Many quality athletes had moved to the marathon distance and times were improving. However, Spain was still one step above its rivals, and again took the World Championship in Athens. Now it was Antón who occupied the first place, with Fiz finishing second. In just 3 years he had managed to be European champion and champion and runner-up at the World Championships, in addition to breaking the national record on several occasions. All this in a year in which Alejandro Gómez (Pontevedra 1968) lowered the national record to 2.07.54 in Rotterdam.

In 1998, a year of transition without World Championships or Olympic Games, Spain managed to drop from 2.10 seven times, something that has not been achieved again. Times that until recently were impossible to achieve, were now available to a wide range of athletes. Fabián Roncero (Madrid 1970) entered the national scene and took the national record to 2.07.26 in Rotterdam. Meanwhile Antón won in London with a time of 2.07.57.

1999 was the year of the World Championships again, this time in Seville, and the Spanish did not disappoint at home. Antón managed to revalidate his title (2.13.36), something that until then no other athlete had achieved. And four times were run marathons faster than 2.10.

Entering the new century, it was once again time for Olympics Games, an appointment that would mean the farewell at international level of some of the greatest figures of the golden age of the Spanish marathon. Sidney 2000 would be their last shot at Olympic glory. The Spanish team was made up of Antón, Fiz and Juzdado. The best position was once again for Fiz, who got a creditable sixth place (2.13.06).

With the withdrawal of all of them after Sidney, a golden page was closing in Spanish sports.

To be continued in the next post…

Martín Fiz, winner at the marathon of the World Athletics Championships of Gothenburg 1995

RISING PHOENIX (2020, Ian Bonhôte & Peter Ettedgui, 105min)

“The Olympics is where the heroes are made. The Paralympics is where the heroes come.”

Andrew Parsons, President of the International Paralympic Committee

Available in Netflix “Rising Phoenix” is a very interesting and heart-touching documentary about the Paralympic movement. Although a documentary it is far from boring. It feels more as an action movie, and with reason, having among its producers to Barbara Broccoli, also producer in the James Bond saga.

There is a part where we are told about how the Paralympic movement started, in the Stoke Mandeville Games of 1948, coinciding with the 1948 London Olympics. It was the idea of German doctor, Ludwig Guttmann, who thought that sports could do a lot for disabled military men in Great Britain. Sports was a way of integrating them in society, showing that they could be useful again and outperform their physical limitations.  We watch how the event grew with each celebration, until being integrated in the Olympic movement and named Paralympics.

But the documentary is not only an old story about the Paralympic movement. We are also introduced to some characters, from the people responsible of making the Paralympics happen, to the actual heroes of the Games, the athletes.

From some of the previous and current executives in the International Paralympic Committee we follow the evolution of the movement during the latest Paralympic Games. From Beijing 2008, that allowed to make visible the disabled community in China, to the global phenomenon of London 2012 and the financial problems of Rio 2016, that almost caused their cancellation.

Other part of the documentary focuses on a set of Paralympic athletes. Everyone has a personal story behind, and a reason to practice sports. It is by showing us some of these backstories that this documentary gets heart-touching. From situations that would literally finish with anyone´s hopes, these heroes are able to get the spirit to raise again and compete at the maximum level.

The film title, Rising Phoenix, comes from the nickname of Italian fencer Bebe Vio. Her story is so powerful that easily will take get a tear from you. We can follow her since she was a normal little girl until her Paralympic appearance in Rio 2016.

Besides Vio, there are also other personal stories. We meet Australian swimmer Ellie Cole, French long jumper Jean-Baptiste Alaize, US archer Matt Stutzman, British runner Jonnie Peacock, Chinese weight-lifter Cui Zhe, Australian basketball player Ryley Batt, South Africa´s runner Ntando Mahlangu and wheelchair runner Tatyana McFadden, from the US, also producer. But we will not spoil here any of the stories.

A global vision of the Paralympic movement, showing us only a small group of Paralympic athletes, often overshadowed by “normal” athletes.

Unforgettable and purely entertaining.

#risingphoenix #bebevio #elliecole