We runners pride ourselves in our unwavering commitment to our training plans. No matter the weather, our work schedules or other commitments, we get outside and run. Even if we’re not feeling 100 per cent, we’ll still push ourselves out the door. While this dedication is often what our non-running friends admire, sometimes it can cause us to ignore what our bodies are telling us and we wind up injured, burnt out or both. The following are your body’s way of telling you that it’s had enough, and that you should take a day off.
Your muscles are sore for days
When you’re training hard, it is common to experience delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) for a day or two after a particularly challenging run or workout. If you notice that muscle soreness is lingering for several days, or just isn’t going away at all, this is a sign that you need to take a day or two off. Prolonged muscle soreness is an indication that your body isn’t fully recovering between runs, so it is best to give yourself an extra couple of days of R&R before getting back out and pounding the pavement. If this keeps happening, it is also worth looking at other factors that affect recovery, such as sleep, nutrition and stress, to determine why your body isn’t recovering well after workouts.
Your heart rate changes
If you don’t know what your typical resting heart rate it, you should definitely find out. Monitoring your heart rate is a great tool to evaluate how your body is reacting to your training, and an altered heart rate could be an early indicator that you’re not recovering well. A resting rate that’s lower than normal or higher than normal is a sign that you’re overtraining, so if you’re feeling off one day, a quick heart rate check can tell you if you should abandon the day’s run and get some extra recovery in.
You’re moodier than normal
Sure, we all get irritable from time-to-time, but if you’re noticing that little things are bothering you more than usual or you’re snapping at loved ones for things you would normally take in stride, it could be because you’re overtraining. Running is usually a mood-booster, but without adequate recovery, your cortisol (stress hormone) levels remain elevated for a prolonged period of time, which can negatively affect your mental health. If this happens to you, often all it takes is a couple of days off to relax to bring you back to your normal self.
As runners, we are a stubborn lot, and unless our heads are in a bucket, we’ll at least try to go out for a run. Not surprisingly, this is not a great idea. If your body is fighting off a virus or infection, placing extra demand on it by going for a run is only going to make your illness take even longer to go away. You’re far better off taking a break from running while your body gets well again, and this will have a far less detrimental effect on your training progress than dragging yourself through sick miles for two weeks.
Additionally, if you’re the person who’s sick from September until April, this is a sign that you’re either overtraining or under-fuelling (or likely both). Take a good hard look at your training and nutrition habits, and if you’re not sure how to improve them, reach out to someone like a dietitian, who can help you find ways to better fuel your level of activity.
You can’t sleep
Normally, a high level of physical activity should make you tired and you should fall asleep easily. If instead you find yourself staring at the ceiling all night, it could be that pesky cortisol again. Similarly, if you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night soaked in sweat, this is another sign that your body needs a break. Take a few days off to allow your body to properly shut down could be the solution to your sleep problems.
You really really don’t want to run
Everyone has those days when you’d rather hit the snooze button and go back to bed, or just come home from work and lay on the couch. In many cases, though, once you get out for your run you’re happy you didn’t give in to the temptation to skip. If you’re feeling like this every day, and when you get out there you’re not enjoying yourself, it’s a really good idea to take a day or two (or more) off.
Remember, running is supposed to be fun, and sometimes all it takes is a bit of time away to remind yourself how much you love it. Maybe try a different activity for a few days, or take the time you’d normally be running to treat yourself to a massage or get some tasks done that you’ve been putting off. Once you return to running, you’ll feel refreshed and be looking forward to your run — not dreading it.