If you, like many of us, have caught the running bug, you’ll know how difficult it can be to take a break.
But, like anything in life, too much of a good thing can lead to negative consequences.
We run day after day, looking to achieve new personal bests and conquer longer distances. If we are training for a specific goal, we often undergo long training blocks where our running volume and intensity gradually increase over time.
This all takes a toll on the body, and sometimes it needs a break from running. In other instances, running injuries, surgeries, or other life events may make us consider stopping running for good.
In this article, we will explore the most common signs of overtraining in runners, emphasizing the importance of recognizing these signals, taking the necessary steps to prevent long-term damage and knowing when it’s time to take a break from running to recover.
We will also look at the rare times when you may need to stop running entirely.
Let’s get into it!
What is overtraining?
Overtraining is a common pitfall for avid runners, and it can result in a variety of physical and mental health issues.
Overtraining occurs when you consistently push yourself too hard in your running workouts without giving your body enough time to recover. To put it simply, high levels of stress, low levels of recovery.
In a lot of cases, overtraining won’t be immediately obvious, and fatigue can compound over time. For that reason, it’s important to keep an eye out for signs of overtraining.
Common Signs Of Overtraining
There are many different ways that your body may let you know that you’re overtraining.
Here are eight symptoms to look out for:
#1: Tiredness – Feeling Sluggish and Unusually Fatigued:
The persistent feeling of tiredness stems from a disruption in the body’s energy balance caused by overexertion. If you are consistently underrecovered, fatigue will compound within the body.
Elevated cortisol levels, a result of intense training without adequate recovery, can interfere with energy production and utilization, possibly leading to a persistent state of fatigue.
#2: Resting Heart Rate Elevated
An increased resting heart rate signifies the body’s struggle to recover from overtraining.
The autonomic nervous system, responsible for regulating heart rate, is impacted, resulting in sympathetic dominance. This constant stress state elevates the resting heart rate, indicating cardiovascular strain.1Gordan, R., Gwathmey, J. K., & Xie, L.-H. (2015). Autonomic and endocrine control of cardiovascular function. World Journal of Cardiology, 7(4), 204. https://doi.org/10.4330/wjc.v7.i4.204
#3: Lack of Interest in Training (To Not Feel Like Training)
Overtraining disrupts neurotransmitter levels, particularly serotonin and dopamine, key hormones influencing mood and motivation.
An imbalance in these neurotransmitters can lead to a diminished interest in training as mental fatigue sets in, affecting the desire to lace up your shoes and head out for a run.
#4: Difficulty Sleeping
Sleep disturbances arise from overtraining-induced disruptions in melatonin production, a hormone crucial for regulating sleep.
Additionally, heightened stress levels contribute to difficulty falling and staying asleep, impacting overall sleep quality.
It starts to become clear as to why we should take these signs seriously; if ignored, it can be a vicious circle of poor recovery and poor sleep.
#5: Persistent Aches
Persistent muscle soreness and aches result from chronic inflammation and cellular damage induced by overtraining.
The release of pro-inflammatory cytokines disrupts the normal healing process, leading to ongoing discomfort and impaired training effectiveness.2Zhang, J.-M., & An, J. (2007). Cytokines, Inflammation, and Pain. International Anesthesiology Clinics, 45(2), 27–37. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2785020/
#6: Body Taking Longer to Recover
Have you noticed that it’s taking longer to recover from sessions? Prolonged recovery periods after run sessions occur as a consequence of overtraining-induced dysfunction in the body’s recovery mechanisms.
Mitochondrial dysfunction, hormonal imbalances, and cellular damage collectively hinder the usual repair and adaptation processes, extending the time required for recovery.
#7: Hard to Concentrate and Focus
Neurotransmitter imbalances caused by overtraining can impact cognitive function.
Alterations in serotonin and dopamine levels, crucial for maintaining focus and concentration, lead to mental fatigue, affecting daily activities and work performance beyond training sessions.
#8: Common Cold-Like Symptoms – Body Defenses Are Low:
Weakened immune defenses result from overtraining-induced immunodepression. Elevated cortisol levels suppress the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections.
Reflecting on the possibility of overtraining is crucial, considering its myriad signs and symptoms. Acknowledging these signs can prompt a reassessment of training intensity and the importance of incorporating ample rest into the overall running routine.
8 Signs You Should Take A Break From Running
So we’ve looked at overtraining, which is likely the most common reason you should take a break.
But what other signs should you listen to?
#1: Noticing Signs Of A Possible Injury
Signs of swelling, joint instability, severe pain, and sensations like pins and needles or numbness all signal potential red flags to look out for.
If you’re out for a run and you notice pain during impact or are experiencing challenges in weight-bearing activities, these are also indicators that should not be ignored.
While a single instance of discomfort may not be cause for immediate concern, persistent issues demand attention, and seeking medical advice becomes prudent.
#2: Consistent Symptoms
It’s common to suddenly notice a niggle somewhere in the body when you’re out for a run; it appears out of nowhere and disappears without reason.
However, if you notice a pattern in pain, swelling, or numbness, then this consistency of symptoms serves as a warning sign, and it may be worth reflecting on the persistence of discomfort.
Asking yourself whether the pain or issue was present during previous runs can provide valuable context.
While isolated incidents might not set off alarm bells, recurring problems should not be overlooked, warranting a closer examination and, if necessary, consultation with a healthcare professional.
#3: Can I Run Through It?
The feasibility of running through discomfort hinges on various factors, and sometimes, there is a blurred line between can and should.
Severe injuries are often impossible to run with, and progressively worsening pain during a run signals a need to stop. On the other hand, if pain improves with each stride and remains mild, cautiously continuing may be an option.
The emphasis here, however, is not to encourage pushing through pain but to underscore the importance of listening to one’s body and stopping if unsure.
#4: Does It Stop Hurting After Running?
Post-run pain assessment is a very good indicator of the severity of the condition.
If the pain completely subsides after running, it’s generally a positive sign. However, if the pain persists and affects daily activities, it may indicate a more serious issue that merits professional evaluation.
#5: Can I Change It While Running?
If a simple change alleviates the pain, it suggests that the repetitive stress of running may be a contributing factor. Testing different adjustments and observing their impact can guide decisions about whether to continue or take a break from running in order to allow your body to heal.
#6: What’s the Bigger Picture?
Considering the broader context of one’s running journey is crucial when assessing whether you should take a break from running.
Evaluating the risk versus benefit of continuing to run is a pivotal decision-making factor.
If you have an important race on the horizon, the benefits of running through pain may not outweigh the potential risks, especially with little time for injuries to heal.
However, earlier in the training process, when recovery time is more abundant, a cautious approach may not be warranted.
#7: Could I Do Something More Useful?
A brief break from running can allow you to explore alternative training sessions or exercises that address specific weaknesses, which can prove more beneficial than persisting with running when experiencing discomfort.
#8: Would Rest Be More Beneficial?
Recognizing the value of rest in the overall training regimen is essential for runners. While the prospect of rest may be daunting, it serves as a critical component for the body’s adaptation and strengthening.
A carefully selected rest day can sometimes be more beneficial than pushing through discomfort.
Do You Ever Need To Stop Running For Good?
Deciding to step away from running for good is an individualized and nuanced decision, often contingent upon various factors, with specific diagnoses not necessarily serving as a definitive answer.
While conditions such as knee reconstruction or a hip replacement might initially seem like a game-changer, it’s crucial to underscore that each case is unique. Knee reconstruction alone does not categorically mean the end of one’s running journey.
Many individuals successfully return to running after such procedures with proper rehabilitation and guidance.
However, there are rare instances where, despite exhaustive efforts to explore rehabilitation, alternative therapies, and adjustments to training methods, persistent and severe physical problems may force a permanent hiatus from running.
Chronic and debilitating conditions that significantly impact joint functionality, nerve integrity, or overall musculoskeletal health are some of the likely culprits that might lead to having to make a difficult decision.
These decisions are typically made in consultation with healthcare professionals, considering the specific nature of the condition, its responsiveness to interventions, and the individual’s overall health and well-being.
It’s crucial for individuals facing such decisions to seek guidance from numerous medical experts who can provide a comprehensive evaluation of their unique circumstances.
Factors such as the severity of the condition, response to treatment, impact on daily life, and long-term prognosis all play pivotal roles in determining whether stepping away from running permanently is the most prudent choice.
In many cases, exploring alternative forms of exercise and maintaining an active lifestyle can still be achievable, ensuring that the transition away from running is not synonymous with a sedentary lifestyle.
In summary, the passion for running often drives us to push our limits, but too much can lead to negative consequences.
By recognizing signs like persistent fatigue, elevated resting heart rate, and disrupted sleep, you can proactively avoid causing long-term damage.
In rare instances, persistent physical limitations may lead to the difficult decision to step away from running permanently.
Listening to your body, seeking professional advice, and understanding that a break from running, be it temporary or permanent, doesn’t mean an end to an active lifestyle is paramount.
For some recovery tips for the most common running injuries, check out our guide here:
- 1Gordan, R., Gwathmey, J. K., & Xie, L.-H. (2015). Autonomic and endocrine control of cardiovascular function. World Journal of Cardiology, 7(4), 204. https://doi.org/10.4330/wjc.v7.i4.204
- 2Zhang, J.-M., & An, J. (2007). Cytokines, Inflammation, and Pain. International Anesthesiology Clinics, 45(2), 27–37. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2785020/