Runners and Fatigue: There’s a difference between hard training and digging into a hole

After my last post I think we can all agree that distance runners have a warped perception of tired. Muting out the body constantly telling us, “I’m tired, can we stop please?” is all part of our sport.

running track

Run-Up Grill…not serving any wussies. 😉

However, that post also touched on the ‘sanity line’ and runners sometimes having trouble tuning BACK into what feeling tired really means. There’s a difference between telling your brain to ‘shove it’ in order to push through that last interval and then straight up digging yourself into a hole and being a glutton for punishment. Runners often see admitting they are tired as a sign of weakness.

Like so many other things in our sport, here is yet another ambiguity. Pushing enough, but not too much. Training hard, but not too hard. Doing more, but no, not too much. Sheesh, there seems to never be a definite answer! The truth is, it usually comes down to knowing yourself. With running, a whole part of the process is learning to read your body, be more attuned to it than the average person. To sense things others wouldn’t even notice. To a runner, a slight 5% dip in how you feel is magnified because that may translate to a 40% drop in how you feel when you’re actually running, when you want to PERFORM. We’ll call it the performance magnification…to the Average Joe, they may not notice that 5% because they’re not doing anything to where that margin is an issue.


* Prolonged: If you’re in training mode, it’s fairly normal that your ‘easy days’ sort of sound like a contradiction. Or at least the recovery runs after a hard workout. Still, you go easy and come back strong a few days later. However, if you notice a prolonged period where every run is feeling like you’re pulling bricks something may need to be adjusted. A few days, normal, a few weeks…not.

* No Snap: If your hard workouts FEEL harder than the paces should, and you’re running above the effort level for multiple workouts/weeks then something may be off. Here it is often a case of going too hard on your recovery days and not being fully recovered for the days that matter: the HARD workouts.

* All Day: Running fatigue is usually normal, but there is that kind of bone marrow deep tired that lasts all day and is more intense, obviously, when you try to run, that indicates a problem. Here it’s smart to get some blood work and check to see if there is a medical issue, like low iron.

Runner Bones

Be a runner down to the bones, but don’t be bone-tired.


It usually takes us stubborn runners LONGER than it should to finally admit that we are tired and something needs to be adjusted. It’s always easier to catch it earlier, because it makes turning things around a LOT easier.

* Easy Days: Make sure those easy days you REALLY make the effort easy, forget about the pace and run for effort. It’s honestly amazing how many people could turn things around or be better if they took their easy days easier…that allows you to get more quality out of your hard sessions and THOSE are the workouts that count come race day.

* Regroup: If you’re flat for workouts, take a few more recovery days. A small step back early isn’t going to cost you that much if it gets you out of the hole and back on track.

* A Break: The deeper the hole, sometimes a full break is necessary. A break should come after a really hard, intense season or race anyways. If you peaked much too early in the season and you’re nose-diving, maybe just take a break and regroup for next season. HERE is my article on peaking too early.

* A Mini-Break: Sometimes you don’t need a full two weeks or ten days off, mini-breaks lasting a few days, or at least a few days of just really backing off or cutting your mileage and intensity, can work some mini-miracles.

So yea, runners can ignore tired like it’s nobody’s business. I’m proud of that, you should be too…because we can push past what most people would even bother with. It makes us better runners, and better people, I believe too.

However, as with all the other running ambiguities, it’s important to be able to tune BACK into tired when you’re, well, too tired…lol.

1) Finish the sentence: I’m proud that as a runner I can push through pain and fatigue, one time I pushed through to a new level of pain was…

2) Finish this sentence: I’m proud that as a runner, I realized it was NOT mentally weak to admit I was tired and I…

3) What is one way you have dug out of the hole of fatigue?

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12 thoughts on “Runners and Fatigue: There’s a difference between hard training and digging into a hole

  1. You know I love this. Thanks for posting it!

    I pushed to a new level of pain when…I ran a freakin’ marathon. It always comes back to that, but those last few km were insane. …I think I’ll do it again.

    I realise it wasn’t mentally weak to email Cait and say ‘I need to STOP’. Though she was awfully sweet about it 😉

    I’m digging up, stupid.

    • hahaha!! me pressing the *like on this comment! umm, u’re freaking BEASTLY tough to run a marathon…have faith and CONFIDENCE in that, cuz u’re never gonna ‘lose it’…even when u stop to take that break. 🙂

  2. I think when I do my birthday runs are the times I have to push through pain levels that I wouldn’t normally push through. (it would be easier if I weren’t so old!)
    I love the Runner Bones drawing!!

  3. My last 1/2 marathon race was in October, just coming off an injury and 3 weeks of running before was the most terrible race/run/thing ever, and I wasn’t sure I’d even finish – but, I pushed and pushed and I did it. It was SO hard at the time, but looking back, I kinda loved it!?!

  4. I think in my marathon I really pushed myself to a new level. I am so proud of myself for finishing it, and can’t wait to train for another. I agree with you that it is so important to really listen to your body and know when to take a break though.

  5. This is the perfect post for me today! Sometimes I do wonder if I am just “runner tired” or truly tired and need a break. I am not good at rest days but I do aim for some slower days instead of a full rest. This morning my “easy run” turned into a little bit of speed work on the treadmill – simply because I have an issue running slow on the treadmill – I just want to get it done! Felt great afterward too! Just a little bit “runner tired”.

  6. I hate to take rest days from my workouts but if I feel overly tired, I force myself to break for a few days and it helps re-energize my runs.

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