Last week, I ran my favorite 5-mile route. I was fast and light on my feet, barely feeling the resistance from the 45-pound jogging stroller with my son inside. It was a glorious workout. Yesterday, I did the same loop, but my legs felt like lead, and I was mentally drained and crabby. The minutes crawled by, and all I wanted to do was quit. So I did, 3 miles in.
A bad run can just be a sign of an off-day, but often it’s a signal that you need to adjust your training.
A bad run can just be a sign of an off-day, but if it happens often you need to consider what your body is trying to say. Here are common messages it’s trying to send, and what to do about them.
Dehydration is a common cause of muscle fatigue. To be sure you have enough fluids, drink water throughout each day, not just after you run. Active women need about 9 quarts of water a day, according to the Mayo Clinic. (Men need about 13 quarts daily.) When you’re working out hard and sweating profusely, you may need even more. A simple rule of thumb you should never ignore: If you’re thirsty, you’re dehydrated.
When you are challenging your body with hard exercise, that is no time to be skimping on meals, even if you’re trying to lose weight. That said, you want to be sure you’re giving your body not just any food, but a steady supply of nutrient-dense calories. Build your meals around vegetables, fruits, whole grains and low-fat protein, and include healthy fats, such as nuts, avocados and olives. Don’t rely on shakes, nutrition bars or other meal replacements – they may meet your caloric needs, but they don’t include the full range of nutrients your body needs to train hard and recover for the next run.
Your body requires rest to repair muscle that’s strained by a hard workout and your mind needs at least 7 hours of sleep a day to recharge and stay fresh. If you’re not getting enough sleep because you have a new baby or are feeling stressed about work or personal life, don’t push yourself to keep up with a demanding training schedule. Instead, make adequate sleep a priority and scale back your training. When you’re fully rested, you’ll feel eager to get back to your training.
Check The Weather
Even if you’re dressed properly for the conditions, temperature extremes (cold or hot) and high humidity can sap your energy more than you realize. When the weather is very cold or hot, scale back your workouts or consider indoor alternatives.
Step Up Slowly
“You want to gradually increase your running miles to avoid injury and burnout, and to adapt properly to training stress,” says Marni Submal, a triathlete coach (TriMarniCoach.com) and seven-time Ironman Triathlon competitor. She recommends increasing your weekly mileage by no more than 10 percent at a time. In her own training, Submal tallies her running workouts based on time rather than distance, so that she can keep track of and balance how much she is taxing her body each day.
Pick a training goal and keep it in your sights, Submal advises. For instance, if you’re increasing your running distance to prepare for a marathon, don’t also work on building speed or strength at the same time. Focus on one goal at a time and give your body time to adjust to the increased demands before you add another goal.
Listen to Yourself
It’s impossible to predict how your body will react to training. If you’re feeling sluggish, you may need to be more flexible with your plan and take more rest days. Continually re-evaluate your training plan and adjust your expectations. “You cannot get stronger, faster, or improve endurance when you are burnt out or even injured,” Submal warns.
As you train for a specific event, you may come to the realization that you’re not ready for it. If workouts consistently feel like a struggle, reassess whether to try a shorter distance or a more forgiving pace. I once changed my plan to run a 10K race to go for a 5K instead because I wasn’t feeling my best. It was the smartest decision ever I’ve ever made in my training – I won the race!