Running Through Fatigue: Should You Run After a Hard Workout?

by Jason Fitzgerald

In the normal training cycle, there will be workouts that are longer and more intense than others. Your long run or interval workout are examples that may cause more soreness than a standard distance or tempo run. Soreness is part of running and not something that you should try to completely avoid.

Running after a Hard Workout

Running after a Hard Workout

As Steve Magness points out, muscle soreness from a particularly tough workout should be expected and a desired part of the training process. He notes that damage is a good thing because the body “responds by increasing our ability to deal with the stressors, thereby improving our running.” Sounds good to me.

Welcoming muscle damage and being able to run the next day is a balancing act. You need both to improve as a runner – the soreness that makes you adapt to hard workouts and the ability to run every day and put in a high volume of work.

Running when you’re sore is important for mental and physical reasons. You may not want to, but running during times of fatigue is beneficial for several reasons.

Embracing Soreness From Hard Workouts or Races

Physiologically, more running can prevent additional soreness in the delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) cycle. The day after a hard workout an easy run will actually make you feel better. Running Times sums this up perfectly: “Exercise itself is analgesic, so on those days when you find your muscles sore from your last workout you will probably actually get some relief from a light recovery session.”

The post-hard workout run promotes blood flow to the legs which will aid your recovery. When you couple an easy recovery run with 15-20 minutes of dynamic flexibility exercises or a core routine, you’re increasing recovery even further. More blood flow, no impact forces, and increased mobility help your body get back to neutral.

Easy running when your muscles are sore can also help you psychologically by increasing mental toughness. When I first started running, I often skipped runs when I was sore or if the weather was bad. I learned that wasn’t helping me become a better runner, so I started getting out the door when conditions weren’t perfect. It’s helped me get faster.

Learning to run after a hard workout can help you make running an integral part of your daily routine (even when you feel like crap). Once it’s become a standard behavior, you’ll have difficulty not running.

Exceptions to the Rule

This issue isn’t completely black and white – there are going to be times when you shouldn’t run after a particularly grueling session. Let’s look at three examples:

1) After a very long race. I wouldn’t recommend running after a marathon, half-marathon, or other long race (especially for new runners). The best strategy is to use a zero impact cross training exercise like pool running or cycling to promote blood flow and recovery without the impact. Spend 15-30 minutes at an easy effort to prevent additional soreness.

2) If you made a training mistake. This often happens because you ran longer or went harder than what you your body was ready for. You could risk an injury if you head out for a run when your body needs rest. Since your aerobic system (heart, lungs, and cells) gets in shape faster than your structural system (bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles), you have to be very careful.

You can address this by doing a lot of core and strength exercises.

3) If you have trouble walking because something is that tight. If a particular muscle or tendon is very tight, your goal should be to loosen that area without further aggravating it. I don’t recommend static stretching, but instead do a mobility routine (like Cannonball) plus a strength routine (like the ITB Rehab Routine). Spend a few minutes on a foam roller and cross-train on the bike or in the pool for best results.

Most of the time, a short run is the best type of recovery. If you have time, take a nap and then use your foam roller to work out any kinks. Save the ice bath for after your recovery run (not right after your hard workout) and you’ll be well recovered in a few days.

Who takes the day off after a hard workout? Have I convinced you to run instead?

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{ 15 comments }

Chaya

Okay, I can’t say I’m eagerly bounding out the door the day after my long runs, but I have found that adding more cross-training after hard workouts has helped my fitness. How soon do you recommend running after a half-marathon? After my last half-marathon I took a week off, but I’m in much better shape now. 2 days? 3? Your site has become a great resource for me, btw, so thanks!

Fitz

Hi Chaya – I think it depends on how your legs feel after the race. If the course is hilly and you don’t take a lot of recovery precautions the 1-2 days afterward, then you may need more time. Typically I will have a half-marathon as my “goal race” and schedule a week off afterward. If I’m using it to prepare for a marathon though, I may take 2-3 days very easy afterward, and then a slightly reduced training load to round out the week. Thanks for the kind words! :)

David Csonka

I bet doing those training runs in rough weather helps you to be more resilient to inclement weather on race day.

Fitz

Absolutely. I think growing up outside Boston helped too – the weather there can get terrible.

Kat

Tell me about it: http://www.flickr.com/photos/katn77/5438468632/

I have generally taken a rest or just-yoga day after any long run >10 miles in previous training, but now I’m following one of your plans & have been out for easy 4-milers the next day after each LR. I feel like a zombie for most of it, but it does help work out some of the soreness & stiffness.

Wes

recovery is built into my plan, and I am a slave to my plan :-) well, actually, I am a slave to the IDEA of the plan, but I always allow my body to overrule.

Greg Strosaker

I agree that soreness is a welcome sign of progress and that running through most soreness (except the types you mention – I have learned the hard way the error of going out too soon after a marathon and half-marathon) is beneficial both for recovery and in developing the mental toughness to finish those long races in the first place. I actually like a training plan that puts a long run (with maybe an easier pace) after a tough pace, progressive, or even tempo mid-length run to get used to running while a bit fatigued (which may be different than “soreness”, but still builds the necessary toughness).

Fitz

I like that strategy Greg. I may start doing that, right now I usually run easy the day before a long run. I think it depends on what your long run workout actually is though. If it’s a progression LR, or one that mixes in faster running, you may want to go in rested. A training plan that implements a lot of paces and stresses is probably best.

Greg Strosaker

Normally I’d agree with the idea of going easy if you are doing a hard long run (and I’m likely to do that this weekend, as I plan to add some strides or fartleks at the end of a 2 hour run). This past weekend though, I was pretty fatigued heading into a 14-15 miler and yet was able to pick up to marathon pace the last 9 miles of it, which, on tired legs, made it feel like even more of a quality workout.

Fitz

That is damn impressive – MP for 9 miles is at the end of a LR is a quality workout.

Lisa

Well, I was a cyclist first so I have always done reverse bricks in my training. I run and then ride immediately after runs 16 miles or less and that always helps loosen up my legs. Being overly cautious in my running, I was only running 4 days a week but that included an easy recovery run on Sundays after my long run on Saturday. Since I ride every day (bike commuting and for fun), I ride on the days of & after a speed (Tue) or tempo (Thu) run.

But…this month, I’m joining a friend in his annual 30 Runs in 30 Days for December (he usually does a century on the 31st so that’s why it’s only 30 running days) so I’ve been running every day and so far, so good. I have been enjoying the easy runs between the key workouts and just running for fun. I never thought I could run every day but I’m rethinking that. Have to stop the limiting thinking! I’m excited even with tired legs.

rICK

Ilike to run off road on recovery days, less pounding on legs.
i just bought a headtorch so i can even run off road in the dark http://www.outdoorsmagic.com/product-reviews/alpkit-gamma-headtorch—quick-test/5174.html
or you could use an even more powerful light http://www.facewest.co.uk/Head-Torches.html
When I set my P.R. at london this year I ran two hard sessions back to back ie interval session by tempo type run, often strangly i felt better on the second day!
but I should add I’ve been running for 17 years and maybe this sort of training would break down a newer runner, but it works for me!

Fitz

Back to back hard days can be tough and is something I don’t recommend for the majority of people. I’m glad you found something that worked for you though, and congrats on the PR at London!

Rick

oops sorry for typo mistakes, should have looked at screen before I sent it :]

Tara Schultz

I agree that soreness is a welcome sign of progress and that running through most soreness (except the types you mention – I have learned the hard way the error of going out too soon after a marathon and half-marathon) is beneficial both for recovery and in developing the mental toughness to finish those long races in the first place. I actually like a training plan that puts a long run (with maybe an easier pace) after a tough pace, progressive, or even tempo mid-length run to get used to running while a bit fatigued (which may be different than “soreness”, but still builds the necessary toughness).

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