What constitutes “too much running”? To some, it may be associated with a loss of enthusiasm, to others, a lack of time for a balanced life. While these are valid ways of determining when an individual is overdoing their running, for most of us, too much running manifests itself in the form of injury, fatigue, and deteriorating results. There are few serious runners who don’t find themselves suffering from these latter afflictions at some time during their lives.
Not all injuries, however, ensue from too much running. Injuries can also occur from shorter bursts of extreme running when the individual is quite “fresh”. Such cases should be categorised as due to a heightened level of intensity rather than from too much running per se. However, it is the classic overuse injury that is of more relevance to this article.
Almost all overuse injuries are due to a combination of speed and distance. Let’s define this scenario as “injury due to too much running”. However, backing off the speed in a timely manner will almost certainly preclude injury, even if large distances are still covered in training. In other words, as far as injury is concerned, “too much running” is really a case of “too much fast running”. If you find yourself injured, it’s most likely because you have violated the first rule of sensible running – not enough rest between workouts; the more intense the workout, the more rest required to avoid injury. In essence, an injury should be one of the most obvious and objective means of determining that you’re running too much, and/or at too high an intensity.
While fatigue is a little different – and is often a precursor to injury itself – it is still heavily dependent on a combination of speed and distance. Fatigue manifests itself in many forms. Sore muscles and joints, general tiredness, restless sleep, and reduction in one’s enthusiasm for running are common indicators of fatigue. If you are suffering from one or more of these symptoms, you are probably running too much. There are two options – reduce the speed and intensity of your running, or reduce the distance.
A third example of running too much is a deterioration in performance. This is not independent of injury and fatigue. The three are interdependent and closely entwined. However, worsening race or training times can be the most objective measure of fatigue, which itself is usually the result of too much running.
Training is meant to improve one’s performance. When it instead results in the opposite, it is an obvious sign that you’re overdoing things. As frustrating and (on the surface) counterintuitive as it is, deteriorating running results clearly suggest a need to back off your running for a while.
If you are running well, don’t feel chronically fatigued, and your times are improving, you are definitely not running too much. However, if you are suffering from these afflictions, it is likely you are doing too much running. The good news is, the solution is quite simple – ease off the running for a couple of weeks until you regain your energy levels, your aches and pains go away, and your performances start improving again. After all, if you are getting adequate rest you are, by definition, not running too much.
Tom Denniss is an Australian athlete, scientist, and entrepreneur. He has a PhD in Mathematics and Oceanography, has invented a technology to convert the energy in ocean waves into electricity, founded a company to commercialise that technology, has played professional rugby league, and was a finalist in the 2014 Australian of the Year Award. In 2013 he set a new world record for the Fastest Circumnavigation of the Earth on Foot. Tom lives in Sydney, Australia. A former professional musician, he has played to audiences in eight countries. He has written various articles for newspapers, magazines, and journals, as well as a book about his run around the world, titled The World At My Feet. You can read more of Tom's work here.
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