Runners are notorious for digging a hole and jumping in. We'll push and push thinking that if we just push a little harder, we'll break through that wall and that pain we’re experiencing will just magically disappear. While sometimes a little push is just what you need, other times, REST is better. So how do you tell the difference of when to push and when to rest? The key is listening to your body, knowing the difference between, "I don't wanna" and "I can't" and know the signs of fatigue and over training.
The problem is many athletes (aerobic or anaerobic) don't give their bodies time to adapt before imposing more stress on their bodies. This creates a recovery deficit—that hole you dig and can't get out of. Often runners get stuck in the recovery period or worse, they become injured. This is called overtraining. Overtraining can lead to injury. The signs of overtraining can include any or all of the following
- persistent achiness, stiffness, or pain in the muscles and/or joints (beyond the typical delayed onset muscle soreness felt after a workout)
- elevated resting heart rate
- lack of energy
- fatigued and/or achy muscles
- frequent headaches
- feeling lethargic or sluggish
- drop in athletic performance
- not able to complete your normal workout
- depressed, moody, unmotivated
- lack of sleep and/or appetite, weight loss
- lowered immune system
I frequently hear a runner say, "but it's in my plan." Runners often mistake a training plan for LAW. A training plan is merely a guide to help you reach your goal. A training plan is like a travel plan...a map. Changes will most likely need to be made along the way. A plan doesn't know the factors you may be dealing with in a given week...the stress of the job, lack of sleep from a sick child, dealing with allergies, that pothole you stepped in and twisted your ankle, that unplanned work trip thrown at you. Sometimes life has a different plan for you than what your race training plan had in store. A training plan is based on an ideal world. A training plan also, does not know how long your body may need to recover after a particular workout. The plan is your map. You are the driver and your running coach is your AAA consultant.
A good rule of thumb to use when listening to your body and following a plan is to never put two hard runs back-to-back. Short and fast (speed workouts and tempo runs) and long and slow (long runs) are considered "hard runs." If you've had to miss a hard run, don't make-it up if you have to butt it up next to another hard workout. For example, in my plans, typically runners do a speed workout on Mondays, rest or cross-train on Tuesdays then do a tempo-type run on Wednesdays, run easy Thurs or Friday, do a long run on Saturday, and have complete rest on Sunday. So, if a runner can't do his/her long run on Saturday, the runner is more than welcome to run it on Sunday, but then that means no speed work on Monday. Another scenario would be if a runner missed his/her Monday speed workout, the runner could do it on Tuesday, but then no tempo run on Wednesday. Missing a workout altogether is better than putting two hard workouts back-to-back with no recovery time, just so the box can be checked off on your plan.
One of the things a coach hears all too frequently is a runner saying, “We’ll it hurt pretty bad, but I pushed through the pain and got it done.” Unless it’s the last 100m of a 5K and you’re in the running for a cash prize, my first thought is, “Why? Why push through pain?” As a coach, I’m always thinking long term. What is going to keep you running for the long haul.
My number one rule for my runners is if you have to alter your gait (your running stride) in any way to compensate for pain, DO NOT RUN. Altering your gait to help manage your pain will more than likely end up causing a completely different compensation injury.
Running through pain is never a good idea. If you’re experiencing pain along the shin, hip, iliotibial (IT) band, or any area of the body that’s beyond normal muscle soreness, ice it, elevate it, take your usual choice of anti-inflammatory medication, and rest. When you no longer feel any pain, ease back into your running. Use the following 10-point pain scale to help evaluate any pain you’re experiencing:
- Mild pain (rating 1–3): The type of pain you feel when you start to exercise, but it usually goes away as you start to warm up and continue running. The pain may be inconsistent and move around the body, or you may feel it bilaterally, which means you feel it in the same joints in both limbs, such as in both knees. Mild pain or discomfort is common for new runners and considered safe to run through. After your run, place ice on any sore areas. A bag of frozen peas works really well.
- Moderate pain (rating 4–6): Pain at this level is more than mild pain, but it’s not enough to cause a limp or alter your stride. Typically, a few days of rest, low-impact cross-training, and icing as needed will help. If it doesn't, go see the doc.
- Severe pain (rating 7–10): Pain at this level requires immediate medical attention. This kind of pain you feel before, during, and after the run. It usually starts at the beginning of a run and increases until your stride is altered or you stop. Don't let it get that far.