Distance Runners and a Skewed Tired Scale

It’s probably runner elitist of me, but if someone’s not a distance runner and they complain about being tired, I can’t help the little voice in my brain from thinking, “Okay, they’re tired gauge isn’t the same.” Oops, my snark is showing.
tired runner
Distance runners, I’ll open the umbrella to include endurance athletes in general, work off of a totally different spectrum of tired. In fact, we really don’t even START the barometer below a 5 or 6, we’re living in a constant, chronic tired level where ‘normal’ people would probably complain.

Above that, a 7 or 8 would encompass darn near every easy run. Those post-hard workout ‘easy’ runs would certainly kiss the 10 realm.

We run into an issue at 10; you see, there isn’t a real definite cap to this barometer for a few reasons: 1) breaking through to a new level of mental toughness always redefines what we constitute as tired/painful/hard, “Holy crap, now THAT was certainly the most pain I’ve endured…I didn’t know I could go that far!”

2) Distance runners have learned to cope with our sport by lying to ourselves. Part of those lies include denial: “I’m really not THAT tired”, “I can totally keep going, this is nothing”.

After 10 we sort of force ourselves numb…we don’t quantify the tired scale to numbers because it’s best to just NOT know, am I right? Distance runners bury their heads in the sand in terms of ‘tired’…of course we know we’re tired, but more often than not we aren’t going to complain unless it’s at a near cataclysmic level…or we finish the workout. 😛

Is this the most healthy thing? No, not always, there is that fine line between being tough enough to workout and race, and then being SMART enough to recognize it’s best to actually cut yourself a break. Of course there is always that line.

However, even with that ‘smart line’ intact, distance runners need to have a different tired/pain scale than ‘normal people’. If not, well, we’d all just be picking daisies out there and wiping the Cheetos residue from our fingers. 😉 [It should be noted that both are perfectly fine, AFTER you’ve gotten your run in for the day…lol.]

Don’t let the ‘wrong’ kind of tired lag on too long, low iron is one instance of the WRONG TIRED level: Get checked if you think something’s off.

A coach is also there to talk ‘smart sense’ into runners if they notice over-fatigue.

Don’t discount the easy days either…make a marked difference between your hard workout days and recovery runs. If not, you won’t be recovering and then you won’t be able to get the quality you want from those hard workouts!

1) Let your runner snark show, in terms of a tired scale and pain tolerance, do you think runners have a different one than ‘normal’ people?

2) What do you rate the ‘base’ level tired is for just the regular recovery and easy runs? To a certain point we’re always working, at least to discomfort, no?

3) How do you then decide between ‘push through it’ tired and ‘I need to back off/reassess’ tired?
It usually comes with learning lessons the hard way, sadly. That said, everyone is different and a whole part of running is learning to read your own body; you take advice from others and then it does take some tweaking to figure out how it best applies to yourself.

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26 thoughts on “Distance Runners and a Skewed Tired Scale

  1. Ha. Yes! As I’m increasing my mileage at the moment, I’m even finding myself applying this to myself – like “What do you mean you used to think 10km was hard? Get your act together!”. I do recognise that everyone has a different scale they work off, and my own stamina varies a lot, but I agree that in general, runners have a more hardy scale whatever their distance /focus!

    • the funny this is depending on the race u’re training for, even comparing ‘tired’ to yourself changes…like u say, thinking back to the days when even running a mile seemed epic. 🙂 keep up the great work!

  2. To some degree, I agree with you – endurance athletes have a higher tolerance for being tired/in pain – both chronically and acutely. That said, the fact that we’re also in better shape than the general public means that activities that might be taxing to them (ie, climbing a bunch of stairs and sprinting for the bus) are pretty normal for us – even when we’re tired. So maybe we’re overall more tired, but don’t spike as much during the day (except for our workouts?).

    ^Pure speculation

    “Push Through” vs. “Re-assess” for me has to do with feeling particularly poorly for a number of workouts in a row. I certainly know what “just tired” feels like – but when I feel more than that, for more than 2 days, then it might be time to take an extra rest day, or rethink.

    Also, isn’t there a secret snarky part of you that hates those bloggers who write, “I ran 20 miles this morning, and had so much energy for the rest of the day that I cooked meals for the whole week, ran all of my errands, put out a 5 alarm fire, and baked a three-layer chocolate cake!” I mean, seriously. I’ll finish my day after 20 miles…but what I REALLY want to do is sit down and put my feet up! 🙂

    • Yes – I always wonder about the “so much energy after…”
      Energy after 20 miles????
      Glad I’m not the only one who goes there sometimes!

    • HAHA…i’m in love with this comment!! 1) that’s not just speculation, i’ll second that, and between us i’d say it then merits turning it into fact…lol
      2) i’m on the same page, ongoing fatigue gets my attention
      3) let the SNARKISMS fly…some blogs i just can’t stand reading because in my mind i want to call BS on them 😉

  3. I should be on the treadmill right now, but I am lazy and lying in bed with my sick kiddo catching up on blogs and watching Sesame Street, we know how to live over here.

  4. the hubs and i were talking about levels of tired the other day and decided that until someone has run a longer race on an extremely hot and humid day that they probably have no idea what the definition of tired really is.

    but for me, it took a lesson of feeling tired all the time and pushing too hard for too long and just not having enough time for recovery for my mind to fully grasp the beneficial tired feeling for myself. that sucked, and took about 6 months to piece myself back together after. whoops. lesson learned.

    • ya, that lesson is one i’ve had to learn, and i know we’re not alone. it’s that combo OCD/type A trait that most runners have. digging out of a hole is not fun, at least u’ve learned and don’t plan on digging that deep ever again!

  5. Yes, I just secretly feel a bit superior, you read my thoughts. I love feeling on edge. Tired seems such a basic word. Near death, ravaged, tortured, these are words I like to bathe in. Tired is easy, it’s when the parts are broken the true tests come in. (ooh, that was a lot to write. I’m going to go nap now)

    • u spoke words even i was holding back, but i can relate to. there is something sickly alluring about knowing u’re tired, beyond tired, those PR’s or longest runs sorta reinforce that you CAN do something most other people can’t mentally tolerate. it’s the runner pride…eeek, do i pull out the superior reference? 😛

  6. I think Holly has a point – vicious cycle. We get more energy because we’re fit. Unfit people are going to feel exhausted walking up the stairs.

    That said, everyone can HTFU, because they have NO idea how far we can push our bodies 😉

    I hate recovery days. They piss me off. And I often don’t know how easy ‘easy’ really is. But I do know they’re important!

    Over time you get better at knowing when to push and when to take it easy. Though I truly believe this falls under ‘stupid bodies’.

    • u bringing up the point on having no true idea of how far one can actually go is a good one…even the most mentally tough runners can cite times when they found a whole new level of pain they pushed past, when they already thought there were tough as sh##. makes u wonder.

  7. My body has given me a stark reminder of what it really means to be tired and the importance of listening to the ‘wrong kind’ of tired when it rolls around. A few months ago I visited my doctor, had a routine blood test and found out that I am so iron deficient that I practically repel magnets, and bonus! my thyroid is on the fritz!
    Umm, hello, healthy runner chick here! Apparently not. So for now, while I’m trying to work my distance back up and get my body back in order I’m being forced to reassess what hard and easy are. How was able to push through those long training runs only three months ago while now I’m battling to do 9km? It’s easy to get down on yourself when you compare the old hard to the new hard when you are recovering but the important thing to remember is that you can get back to that.
    I’m so looking forward to being exhausted from a twenty kilometre training run again 🙂

    • oh my poor dear!! i’m SO sorry to hear about the hypothyroidism!! those darn hormones can send the body thru a loop, but when u get it all squared away it will be crazy to see how much BETTER u feel. trust me, don’t feel the ‘old you’ feeling and get down on urself, rather spin it like this, “just think how much more awesome i’ll be feeling once my health is in check…think of how much u’ve done basically running with a handicap!” stay tough!

  8. Love this post. My long run this past Saturday actually had me admitting I was tired. Even I was in shock. I did however take a Zumba class as a “rest day”. I didn’t even break a sweat while the rest of the room was dripping within minutes. It is funny (and interesting) to me to learn how much it takes to even get me to work up a sweat versus the “normal” person.

  9. I definitely think distance runners have a higher tolerance for being tired. People seem amazed when I say I’ve ran several miles, but the truth is you get used to it over time. I haven’t been running as much lately, and I’m starting to become a wuss with long distances! Gotta fix that because I like having a tired and pain tolerance.

    • it’s true, over time our idea of ‘not that far’ totally changes! don’t worry, u’ll snap right back once you get that plan in place! 🙂

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