When running is your outlet for stress, your saving grace, and something you do on a regular basis, the idea of getting sidelined by injury or exhaustion is kind of terrifying. Fortunately, with the right balance of activity and rest, you can stay in shape without overworking your body.
Here’s what I suggest.
Your body is pretty self-aware. Listen to it.
I was so excited when I started training for my first marathon. I made a detailed five month plan and packed my schedule with runs and cross-training workouts. But one month in, my hip flexor started hurting. The pain would taper off once I started running, but it always came back afterwards, and grew worse. I’d spend a few days icing and stretching, but my fear of being unprepared drove me to keep running. After ignoring my body a few weeks too long, I woke up one day and couldn’t walk without pain. I got an MRI and found out I had a stress fracture in my hip. A major bone injury—much more severe than the muscle pull I thought I had. Needless to say, I didn’t run the marathon.
Too often we think our brains know better than our bodies, only to realize later that we should’ve listened when the pain started. Now, at the first sign of pain or discomfort, I back off. That stress fracture sidelined me for six weeks. Take my word for it—tune in to your body, and when it says stop, stop.
Don’t be a martyr—take rest days and recovery seriously.
Another mistake I made when training: I thought the more time I spent running, the more prepared I would be. To be clear, it doesn’t matter if you’re a new or seasoned runner—not taking time to rest and recover is a foolproof way to injure or overwork yourself. Every runner needs at least one complete rest day each week, sometimes more, depending on the intensity of your training. Stretching, sleeping, icing your muscles, going on active recovery walks, eating protein right after a workout, and maintaining an overall healthy diet are all vital parts of the recovery process, but most importantly, you have to take time off. The road/track/wherever you run will be there tomorrow, and the best way to make sure you are is to take a rest day.
Be realistic with your goals (and schedule).
Once you’re in the habit of running, it’s easy for it to become an addiction, especially if you have weight loss or performance goals (like decreasing race time). Suddenly you feel pressure to run every day, run multiple times a day, or revolve your schedule around running because you think that’ll help you achieve your goals sooner. That’s obviously a steep, slippery slope, and a recipe for burnout and injury.
The best advice I can give any runner is to check yourself, and do it frequently. If you work two jobs and don’t sleep much, you’re not going to be able to run all-out seven days a week. If you’re new to running, you won’t go from two to ten miles overnight. It’s healthy to have goals, but when those goals take over your life and dominate your headspace, you’re inevitably going to make unhealthy choices that put your body at risk. All runners, both old and new, should consider working with a running coach or personal trainer at least once. Together, you can create a sustainable, realistic training plan that aligns with your current schedule and gives your body time to recover.