Signs You're Running Too Much
If you’ve ever watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you know it’s possible to love something too much. We all learned a valuable lesson when Violet Beuregard’s greed caused her to blow up like a blueberry. The impacts of running too much are subtler. When we overdo it on the roads, no one’s going to sic a vicious group of squirrels on you until you fall down a trash chute. Recognizing the consequences of overtraining takes a lot of self-awareness and an ability to put on the brakes when needed.
Running too much is tricky, as it means something different for everyone. There are individuals that run every day with no ill effects, while others can’t run more than 3 times a week without developing injuries. This is why training plans are so variable and so gosh darn hard to choose between. This is one of my favorites! Try as they might, they can’t account for the differences between every runner.
While understanding if you’re running too much is a personal journey, there are clear signs that can point you in the right direction and give you a clue that you’re overtraining. I’m not saying that these signs are always easy to see. When we love something, we tend to blind ourselves to anything trying to take it away from us. As runners, we want to run. We don’t want to discover that we need to pull away from something we love. But, running too much can become a serious problem and it’s important we take note of it. The last thing you want is to end up floundering in a chocolate pool because you can’t resist the sweet taste of your running shoes. Let’s take a look at some of the signs of running too much so that we can be keen to how they may be showing up in our lives.
You're Gaining Weight
If you know me by now, you know that I don’t care about weight gain or loss for its own sake. As long as you’re happy and healthy, be whatever damn weight you choose. Physiologically speaking though, gaining weight can be a sign that you’re overtraining and running too much. You may be thinking,
“What? You’re crazy, lady! Running helps you lose weight!”
Well, yes. But, not if you do it too much. Whenever I train for a marathon, I find that my weight begins to increase as my miles increase. Once the marathon is over and I allow myself a few weeks of sloth-like exercise and overindulgent eating, I lose a few pounds as though it were nothing. While this sounds ridiculous, it makes a lot of sense from a biological standpoint.
You see, you release a great deal of cortisol when you exercise. Cortisol is a stress hormone that tells your body that you’re in danger and that efforts need to be directed towards keeping you alive. As our caveman ancestors will tell you, losing weight will not keep you alive. It will do the opposite. Back in the day, fat was a great way to stay warm and have a backup source of energy should an antelope not saunter by for another four weeks. So, when your body is flooded with cortisol, it will try to retain fat stores in the same way it did for our caveman friends.
If you’re a long distance runner, you are releasing a lot of cortisol and it’s likely you’re putting your body in a constant state of stress. As Mommy Run Fast points out, your body doesn’t understand the difference between a hard training run and being chased by a lion. I don’t have experience with lions, but I imagine it would be a pretty stressful experience. Now think that your body is being chased by lions multiple times a week for hours on end. I wouldn’t be focusing on weight loss either. Sorry body, I didn’t mean to scare you.
If you’ve been running like a maniac and are confused as to why the scale hasn’t budged, or is creeping up, you are likely over doing it. Give yourself a break for a few weeks and see how your body reacts. You’ll likely find that your body was craving a much needed break and will begin to let go of the weight it thought you needed when you were being chased by that lion.
You Don't Want to Run
While running is a physical activity, there are a lot of mental cues that can point you to believing you are running too much. If you haven’t done so already, check out my post about suddenly hating running to find strategies for combatting overtraining.
It’s easy to ignore the physical signs of overtraining. As runners, we seem to believe that aching knees and throbbing calf muscles come with the territory. We like to be seen as having high pain tolerances, an unusual amount of grit, and senses of determination that rival ancient day Spartans. While this is noble in theory, it will leave you physically and mentally drained…if not worse.
As I say over and over again, running is a voluntary activity. If you don’t want to run, don’t run. In my article about things you should care more about than weight loss, you’ll find countless ideas for alternative activities. Now, this doesn’t mean that running should be thrown in the dumpster. No, you can find a nice cozy spot in your closet for your running shoes between the old family photos you never look at and the ski parka you’ve never worn. Just give it a break for a while.
When you’re running too much, your brain and body will tell you so. You shouldn’t be cursing every step of a run, nor having to hobble home. If this is the case, spend some time doing something else for a while. Maybe try cycling, yoga, hiking, or swimming. Maybe decide to take a break from exercise altogether and finally pull that book you’ve been wanting to read off the shelf. When you’ve been running too much, it’s important to listen to what your body is telling you. And to actually do it! It’s only in this way that you’ll let your body heal and someday be able to return to the sport you love.
We’ve all heard the saying about having too much of a good thing. This is especially true with exercise. The media today would like us to believe that longer, faster, and harder we can work out, the better we will be. This isn’t true. As it turns out, the longer, faster, and harder we work out, the more prone to injury and health complications we will be.
In addition, we become bored of things we do repetitively. This is why that 2,000 piece puzzle was exciting when you pulled it out of the box, but it lost its appeal around piece 1,500. If running isn’t enjoyable anymore because you’ve been doing it too much, it’s time to switch it up and put it on the shelf for a while. Maddy Moon sums up her experience with taking a break from cardio well when she says that she had to make cardio, not something routinized, but something that came spontaneously and from a place of joy.
While we often view exercise through the lens of training plans, schedules, and specifically timed efforts, our bodies sometimes crave something different. When your body wants something other than running, honor that. Put your running goals on hold for a little while and either take some time to rest or try something else. Wait until you feel excited to run again. Wait until your legs, heart, and mind crave the road and the joy that running used to bring you. Let it happen naturally. Only then can you reset your motivation to engage in the sport and work towards your goals.
You're Always Sore
There are times we love to feel sore. It’s validation that we worked hard, pushed our bodies to the limit, and are making changes in our health. But, when it never ends, this can be a sign of overtraining and impending injury.
When you exercise, you are stressing and tearing your muscles. Stressing and tearing don’t sound like words that go well with growth and progress, do they? Well, you’d be right. It’s actually during your rest days that your body repairs itself and works on adapting to the exercise you previously put it through. Think of it like demolishing and rebuilding a kitchen. Demolition is dramatic, fun, and where we see a great deal of change. One second there was a kitchen there and the next there wasn’t. But, it isn’t until the kitchen has been torn apart that we can begin to focus on the slow reconstruction. We may start by improving the counters, then slowly moving to the cabinets, floors, and paint. Restoration is a slow process.
Now, this isn’t to say you are demolishing your body and rebuilding it each time you exercise. The point is that rebuilding is the natural next step following demolition. You wouldn’t demolish your kitchen and then demolish your living room the next day. This is what you are doing when you exercise every day without a break. So, are you running too much? Ask yourself if the house of your body feels like it’s been through a demolition without a rebuilding. If the answer is yes, then you are likely running too much.
As Ben Greenfield points out, excessive soreness can be apparent up to 48 hours after a workout. When you’re overtraining, you may find that your peak time of soreness doesn’t correlate with your workouts. Take note of this and recognize it as a sign that you might need to back off on your running routine.
Don’t be afraid of taking a break. Rest days are essential for rebuilding your body and preparing you for your next workout. I have seen this countless times with my own body. There are times when I run for days on end, with my strength and progress slowly decreasing each passing day. But, after a decent break, I find my pace increasing, my stamina picking up, and my muscles firing to go. While I don’t like taking breaks from running, it’s always worth it.
There are injuries that are caused by running that prevent us from engaging in the sport at all. If this is you, then you don’t need reminding that injuries are a good indication you’re running too much. On the other hand, many of us run with injuries and fail to stop and address them. Yes, I know I’m the number one culprit of this so, I’m not pointing fingers. When you love the sport, it’s hard to justify having small aches and pains limit participating in it. But, maybe they should. Injury is your body’s clearest sign telling you you’re running too much. It’s like your car’s check engine light that keeps blinking at you. Yes, it’s annoying, but it’s probably better you pay attention to it sooner rather than later.
Just because the running community is a tough bunch that can run through pain doesn’t mean it’s right. If you feel an injury coming on, it’s a good idea to take a break and be evaluated by your doctor or physical therapist. Believe me, as I wrote about in my book, a small calf strain becomes a calf tear when you self-diagnosis yourself and give yourself a treatment of increased running. It doesn’t become a healed calf. Listen to your body and don’t ignore it. It’s easier said than done, but it’s important.
When you love to run, it’s easy to go overboard and start to overtrain and run too much. If you recognize any of the signs above, consider making changes in your running routine. While this doesn’t mean you need to give up the sport forever, it might mean that you take a break from it and reevaluate your running goals. Don’t worry, your running shoes will be waiting for you when you get back.
Hey, I’m Diana! I’m an occupational therapist and a long distance runner. I’ve run more races than I can count from 5ks through full marathons, including the Boston Marathon. Right now, my PR for the marathon is 3:09 and 1:26 for the half. I’m a bit obsessed with running and sharing what I’ve learned along the way. Let’s crush some running goals together!