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Fatigue & Running

By Beth Rifkin

If your runs have gone from exhilarating to exhausting, it may be a sign that you’re overdoing a good thing. Both recreational and professional runners can fall into the trap of overtraining, which occurs when you perform an intense or high volume of exercise without allowing for a proper recovery period. Fatigue can ensue, which may impede your running ability or threaten your health. Understanding the causes and warning signs of overtraining can help you to prevent fatigue before it runs you down.

Overtraining Syndrome

Between the endorphin release and stress relief you can gain from aerobic exercise, it’s not surprising that runners have trouble taking days off. Unfortunately, an overenthusiastic approach can backfire and cause overtraining syndrome, which usually leads to fatigue. Many runners experience common fatigue following a tough training session, which can usually be reversed within 24 to 72 hours. Overtraining syndrome is a more serious fatigue issue. The syndrome may result from prolonged endurance training, lack of proper nutrition, failing to rest or a sudden increase in exercise volume or intensity.

That Heavy Leg Feeling

Overtraining syndrome can lead to an overactive pituitary gland and elevated levels of cortisol, which can impair muscle recovery and growth, according to the University of New Mexico’s Exercise Science Department. When muscles can't repair themselves properly, fatigue sets in; this is often the cause of that heavy leg feeling that runners dread. Additionally, levels of glycogen, which is one of the body’s energy reserves, tend to become depleted in runners who overtrain and fail to refuel and rehydrate. Sluggish movements, irritable mood, reduced running speed, loss of sleep and a decreased appetite are common symptoms that you’ve been putting in too many miles. Recurring colds, illnesses and injuries are also signs that you need to take a break.

Rest and Relax

There’s no specific trick to recovering from overtraining fatigue caused by running other than to rest. It sounds simple, but professional runners, for example, may be reluctant to take time off for fear that an absence from training will interfere with race preparation. The reality is that running on strong, healthy legs will likely provide better results than those that are fatigued. A busy schedule can impact the recreational runner’s recovery efforts; jam-packed days or constantly being on the go can interfere with healthy eating, relaxation and sleeping routines. But proper rest and recovery after a run can enhance your energy throughout the week.

Preventive Measures

With a bit of awareness and precaution, you can prevent overtraining syndrome. One of the most important steps is to leave time in your schedule for proper rest; sleep eight to nine hours per night and take a nap after long runs if you can. Nutrition is also imperative to repair stressed muscles; refuel and hydrate within an hour after your training session. Consume a meal or snack that contains lean protein, whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables. Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. Take at least two non-consecutive rest days per week where you do not exercise at all. Mix in cross-training sessions, such as swimming or cycling, to give your muscles a break from the repetitive motions of running.

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