How to Prevent Over-Training and Running Fatigue (Or, How to Feel Great Every Day)

by Jason Fitzgerald

Too many runners fall victim to over-training and excessive running fatigue. I see a lot of new runners making mistakes with their training that put them at an increased risk for injury and feeling less than their best.

My college coach used to say, “Avoid the 3 too’s – too much, too soon, too fast.” His advice  is true now as it was then. One of the keys to feeling great every (or almost every) day is not to push yourself beyond what you are physically able to handle.

Running Fatigue

Prevent Running Fatigue, Feel Awesome Every Day

There are other training principles you should keep in mind when you’re designing your program that will help you enhance recovery, maximize your training, and keep running fatigue to a minimum. If you’re excessively tired or constantly fighting aches and pains, here is how you can prevent burn out.

1. Don’t race too frequently. Running races puts a lot of stress on your body. Without taking time to recover from frequent racing and devoting time to train, your performances will plateau.

Since racing is a 100% maximum effort, you’ll quickly peak your current fitness and have trouble running significantly faster. I recommend no more than 1-2 races per month for distances of 5-10k. If you are doing 10 milers or half-marathons, take at least one month in between each race (and even that is aggressive). Marathoners shouldn’t race more than 2-3 per year depending on their ability level.

2. Sleep as much as you need. This is a no-brainer, but I think we all need the reminder. Getting faster happens when you sleep and recover because that’s when your body adapts and super-compensates from your training. Do yourself a favor and make sure you get at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night.

If you can, take a nap after a particularly difficult workout or long run. Elite marathoner Ryan Hall calls his frequent naps “business meetings” because they’re a crucial component to his training.

Once a week, I try to go to bed very early and wake up without an alarm clock. It’s often difficult to fit in to a busy day, but it helps me get enough sleep and wake up feeling incredibly refreshed. Try it. You won’t be disappointed.

3. Eat real food in the right quantities. Your diet provides the fuel you need to train and it helps your body recover from the workouts and long runs that you’re doing on a weekly basis. The best advice I can give you is a quote from Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto – “Eat food. Mostly Plants. Not too much.”

The first part of that quote is what needs the most explanation. “Eat food” simply means eat real food like meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts and grains. If your great great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it (think Fruity Pebbles, Little Debbie Snacks, or food products like cheese whiz), then avoid it.

4. When training, don’t focus too much on one thing. Some runners get convinced they need to do long runs every other day or run interval workouts three times every week. You’re going to get over-trained if you put too much emphasis on any one type of training.

Training should be like a soup: there are staples like easy distance runs, ingredients you use a moderate amount of (like strides), and then runs like long runs, interval workouts, or hill sprints where you only need a dash. Variety is important, so don’t get stuck doing too much of one thing for too long.

Some runners find it hard to run different types of workouts out of fear, complacency, or a simple ignorance of the variety of workouts that exist. If that sounds like you, check out my 52 Workouts book for ideas and inspiration.

5. Recovery runs should enhance recovery, not fitness. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to “get a good workout” from a recovery run. That’s not the point of these easy runs and if you try to run too far or too fast, you’re not becoming a better runner.

Once a week, I run an easy recovery run of 5 miles to help myself recover and stay fresh. Even when my weekly mileage is 75-80 miles, I keep this easy run short and slow to promote recovery. I’m not getting that much fitness out this short run, but it helps me feel great for my long run the next day.

Know the purpose of every run and stick to your plan. Most runners run too fast on their easy days and too slow on their hard days. Strike a balance and know when to push the pace and when to take it easy.

Small changes to your current training can eliminate that nagging pain, reduce your running fatigue, or bring you to a new level of running performances. It’s important to get an outside opinion on your training (just like writers need editors), so have a running friend look over your last month of training to spot anything that could use updating.

Are you exhausted from running? Are you too tired to finish some of your runs? Let us know in the comments and we’ll try to help!

Recommended Reading:

Performance Nutrition for Runners: How to Fuel Your Body for Stronger Workouts, Faster Recovery, and Your Best Race Times Ever

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RickyRick

Oh man!!1
This year after setting new p.b’s over 1/2 and full marathon [ after 17 years of running] I ignored my coach Marius Bakken, and instead of 3 weeks easy after the London Marathom i started racing only 3 days into my recovery!!!
end result burnout, even Old Dogs can get it wrong!
Happy New year :]

Greg Strosaker

All good tips Fitz. Fighting through a minor injury now, I appreciate this advice so much more than I would have a month ago. Perhaps we all need to face a bit of injury to wise-up and develop better running habits.

Peter B

Greg: I think you’re right. It’s what prompted me to do a whole bunch of research, discover this site, and reshape my perspective on running.

Fitz

Peter – glad Strength Running has been helpful and to have you as a reader!

Mark e

Good stuff Fitz

Wendy

So glad to have found this. I am relatively new to running and have made the mistake of over-training so much so that I can’t walk without pain. Your site has really helped me rethink my approach to running.

Mark

Working full-time, 1/2 marathon training (3 to 5 hours per week) and decorating the house is really getting me down and I’m becoming extremely demotivated. All that is couple with a major diet adjustment in an attempt to lose about a stone in weight (5’11” currently 12 stone aiming for 11).
I’ve always heard that to train effectively, you’ve got to get the mileage under your belt. I am running to 8.5mins/mile at the moment and can average that over 10 miles. My aim over then next 6 weeks is to get that down to 8mins/mile.
Here’s my thinking: I dont take water out with me on my training runs (sometimes 12 miles) or energy packs but I’m thinking that on race day I’ll be getting water along the way and that I’ll take some gels in a small rucksack. Will these give me a noticeable energy boost come half marathon day? Will that 8 mins/mile be more acheivable with glucose injections from gels?

Jason Fitzgerald

You probably won’t feel an “energy boost” but fueling is key when you’re going 26.2. Just make sure to practice your fueling strategy during training!

Felicity

Hi, thanks for the great advice! Ran my first 10k a month ago in 68 minutes. After, I decided to start speed training as I’ve been running for a year now and would like to be faster for my next 10k in June. Last week I did one session of intervals and one hill sprints, as well as 2 sessions of lower leg strength training, over 4 days. This week my legs are so tired and achey when I run, I couldn’t finish a run yesterday (3 miles). Is this simply a sign of too much too soon? I’m taking a few days off now but it would be reassuring to know that I’ve just a little fatigued and it’s not going to last. I hate feeling like I can’t even finish a slow, easy-distance run.

Dorlene

Thanks for such a great site of information and encouragement! I’ve run a couple of marathons and then took some years off. Now I’ve been running again for the past 2 yrs and right now I’m on a “running streak” that’s going on 1 yr and 5 months without a day off. I’m building mileage now to another marathon and last weekend I ran 18. Overall I was feeling great every day without fail but I’ve noticed these past two weeks that I’ve been struggling with fatigue. My question (yes, there is one here!) — rather than taking rest days now and then, can I get the rest I need to prevent burnout by lowering mileage 2 days a week to say…..2 or 3 miles? Or with a marathon in view should I just break the streak and take rest days now and then? What is your advice? I haven’t had one injury yet (knock on wood) and I really don’t want to hit burnout by being dumb and proud. :-D Help please! I love my runs and it’s really hard to think of a day without even just a little run.

Jason Fitzgerald

If 2-3 miles is a very easy day for you, then you can surely get some extra recovery by running that short a few times a week. Go for it and keep the streak alive!

FERNANDO

Inspiring tips to keep up with running and build momentum to achieve more from the practicing the right way.
I’ve been running 5km every day since early this year and recently got some pain. But I like the advice this blog given and big thanks for you. great tips and rticks to get the most out of my running.

Chloe

This is so good! I took up running in January and went from not being able to run to now running 8kms most days. Only I am finding it leaves me to exhausted and injury prone. I have never considered doing different types of running training (hill sprints, interval workouts etc). Thanks for that idea! I will give it ago :)

Mark Eichenlaub

Chloe,
I am sure Jason will agree but getting variety in your running is incredibly important. It decreases the chances of injury and burnout and will make running more fun and successful.

Nikki Price

So I have been running for a long time. I have felt strong and able to up my mileage easily. but now suddenly I can’t finish three miles without feeling really fatigued and I have no idea why. I’m trying to train for the Spartan race but thats not working because I can’t run long distances without feeling like I have to walk. What would cause this where as before I could run 5 to 6 miles without feeling fatigued?

Jason Fitzgerald

Could be over-training. Try taking some time off and see how you feel after 4-10 days of recovery.

Tony Spranger

started running at the end of May to lose weight and get healthier. since then i’ve gone from 320-290, but have hit a wall in my running. I started off doing intervals and have built up to 3 miles or 34 minutes of straight running. knowing that i’m a heavier runner and just starting out, i’ve only been training 3 days a week. But as of late, my legs are feeling fatigued for the last 1-2 K of my runs.

so if i’m reading this article correctly, i should mix in short distance runs and interval training into my week and not just do 5k every other day?

I would appreciate any suggestions/advice i could receive.

thank you in advance.

Jason Fitzgerald

Yes you have it right, but it depends on a bunch of things like goals, injury profile, etc. you can email me if you’d like.

Karen Cooper

I’m a fifty one yr old female who started running about four yrs ago. First marathon in nov. Half marathon with pr in may followed by a full with another pr a week later. Soon after, registered for another full in september. Know now how stupid that was… for MY body. Cannot complete a long run. Exhausted all the time. Miss my love of running. Please help!

Jason Fitzgerald

Hey Karen, thanks for the comment. Tough to really say without knowing more about your background and current training. You can shoot me an email if you’d like.

Kelly

Maybe it’s too late to leave a comment, but I would not consider myself a mileage runner at all – usually less than 30 mpw. Even when training for a marathon, I stay pretty low mileage. That being said – even with that low of mileage – my legs are just EXHAUSTED. I can’t complete anything over 10, my 3 milers are slow, I just have tired legs. It can’t possibly be due to over-training, maybe it’s all mental? Maybe I need to take some time off running? I’m not hitting the distances I need to or the times I used to and it’s causing some serious running motivation issues. I was slotted to run a marathon in October, but may back out now. Thoughts?

Lorraine Malhabour

I think I did the 3 oo’s on my 10M race last Sunday-Sept 30th! Wrong move as I just did an 18M race on Sept 15. Along the course on my 10M race, I could feel my hamstring acted up, true enough the next day, I could feel this sharp pain at the bottom of my buttocks down to my hamstring! I applied RICE the entire week with proper nutrition and again, did a half-marathon today, no energy, my legs felt so tired though no hamstrings issues. A bit frustrated of my finished time which is 20m slower than my last half but happy that I crossed the finish line unhurt! On Sunday, Oct 13, I am doing my last half marathon before the NYCM! Any advise/ideas would be appreciated! Happy running!

shannon

Hello!! I am a beginner and I am experiencing a lot of soreness. I have been running for a month and about 3 miles at a slow to moderate pace. What can I do to help with that so I can go farther and faster? My pain is in my knees and groin area.

Jason Fitzgerald

Do more strength work and run more :)

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