Throughout my life in sport, I have thought of athletic achievements as completed puzzles. There are lots of pieces to understand: some are easier to fit than others, some are tricky shapes and challenge you. Learning about the different pieces and how they fit, while adding to the puzzle every day, is the key to greatness.

Becoming in tune with your body and how it responds to training is one of these critical pieces. Every athlete is different in the work load they can handle, and developing a self-monitoring system can be helpful in the prevention of overtraining. Improvement comes from a consistent, manageable work load over time.

For endurance athletes, being tired is the norm. However, if exhaustion is coupled with other symptoms, it may be time to back off or have a rest. There are a number of symptoms to look for, and these vary from one athlete to the next. Some of these include elevated heart rate, moodiness, a runny nose, fatigue and disturbed sleep patterns.

Developing an individual checklist can help you avoid the downward spiral from overtraining. Ask yourself questions daily to get in touch with your body and how you are feeling: Am I grumpy? What was the quality of my sleep last night? Am I feeling anxious or overly stressed?

An honest evaluation of symptoms and signs can help you stay on track with your training schedule, avoiding interruption from illness. It is better to be smart and back off when you need to, then tough it out when your body is on the edge.

After you run through your individual checklist, you must translate what you find into action. For example, if you wake up feeling tired but your heart rate is normal and no evidence of other symptoms, you can probably go off and have a quality training day. If there are other signs, interpret and adjust your approach on that day accordingly.

Develop a process that emphasizes consistency. If your body is trying to send you a message that it is on the brink, you can keep a training session very easy to avoid stressing the system, or get some massage or treatment to help the body recover.   Replenishing with essential nutrients is also helpful in steering back on track, and a short afternoon nap may just do the trick!

As you learn more about yourself as an athlete, you will get better at understanding what signs to look for, when to push, and when to back off. Here is to a consistent and successful racing season in 2014!