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When to Take a Break From Running?

By Linda Tarr Kent

When it comes to advancing your running, more is not always better. If you increase intensity, distance or difficulty -- such as with hills -- too quickly, you will actually degrade your running ability as opposed to improving it. This is known as overtraining. The solution is a tough one for many runners -- taking a break. There are many signs of overtraining, which raises your risk for injury and illness. Catching this problem early will shorten the break you need to recover.


Fatigue is one sign that you are overtraining and need a break. In fact, it’s the most common sign of overtraining. This occurs when the volume and intensity of training increases; but the recovery time does not. Fatigue may initially affect you during your runs and then also become present during times of rest. You also may feel moody or depressed and have altered sleep patterns.


A drop in performance is a classic sign that you are overtraining and need to take a break. Each time you run, you create microscopic tears in your muscle. As you rest, your body repairs them. This is where your gains in speed and strength come from. If you don’t utilize sufficient recovery time, you create a recovery deficit. If this happens over and over again, your muscular and cellular function become damaged. This results in a slower, weaker body instead of a stronger, faster body. Overtraining also results in neurological and psychological effects, which lead to an impaired ability for your brain to “recruit” the muscles you use in running.

Heart Rate

If your resting heart rate becomes elevated, it may be a sign that you have been pushing too hard and need a break from running. Take your resting heart rate first thing in the morning. This information is valuable for determining whether you have recovered sufficiently from your last training session. If your heart rate is 10 beats per minute higher than normal, it’s time to take a break. The basis for this theory is that your catecholamine levels are altered when you are in an overtrained state; your body produces catecholamine chemical messengers in response to stress that affects your heart rate.


The longer you have been overtraining, the more rest you will require. If you are experiencing a mild case of overtraining, you just need a few days rest. If you have chronic fatigue and other overtraining syndrome symptoms, you may need six weeks of rest. Even if you are on the low end of the spectrum, you need to lower your training volume when you return to running. Keep a training log and record resting heart rate, general health, information on how your workouts feel, your level of muscular soreness and how fatigued you feel to help you avoid overtraining or to catch it in the early stages, advise the experts at Rice University in Texas.

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