Normally quitting is not the best idea or something we’d suggest, but truthfully, when it comes to running and training, there are inevitably times and scenarios when it’s best to stop or not start in the first place.
Typical examples of reasons not to run include when you’re deathly ill or extremely injured but the same logic can apply to when you’re over-tired, under-recovered or over-trained. Running in spite of these circumstances is simply not a good idea and can, in fact, be detrimental to your health, not to mention your fitness and performance.
Here are some occasions, situations and circumstances when it’s probably the best idea NOT to run and train and what you should do instead:
Too sick to go to work? That means you have all day to run, right? Wrong! Unless you’re nursing a mild cold, in which case easy running is probably fine, running while sick is only going to delay how long it takes to get better not to mention will result in some pretty lousy running. Doing harder efforts such as workouts and long runs could also compromise your immunity even more than it already is and make things much worse. You’re better off getting the rest and recovery you need and return to running feeling refreshed and healthy.
Obviously when you’re injured you don’t run. This may seem straightforward but is actually a bit more complicated. Aches, pain and discomfort are all part of running but there’s a fine line between running with pain and running with a problem. Stress fractures, torn muscles, tendons and ligaments or chronic pain are all clear conditions that require time off running. A general rule is that anything that causes you to alter your gait or running form is probably significant enough to warrant stopping. Likewise, sudden, acute and severe pain is never ideal or acceptable. If it happens during a run, stop immediately and don’t start again until the issue is addressed. Dull, achy and ongoing (“typical”) pain that doesn’t get worse and which doesn’t impact your running stride/form probably means you can still run but should do so cautiously. However, if such pain is caused by a chronic problem, you should still seek treatment to address the underlying issue.
Only you can know what is and isn’t an acceptable amount of pain and discomfort to run with. Too many runners will stubbornly continue to run despite having a problem or issue which often gets worse and requires even more time off than if they dealt with it in the first place. A general rule of thumb is that if something hurts, rest until the pain completely goes away. Then, take one extra day just to be sure. What’s worse: Three off days now or three weeks (or months!) later?
You feel excessively tired
Whether it’s long days at the office or long hours on your feet, being physically and mentally tired is not an ideal state to start your run in. And while running can sometimes elevate your mood and energy levels, if you’re really tired and feeling run down/worn out, running is only likely to make matters worse, especially if you’re planning to push the limits in a workout, long run or race. Opt to run easy or else, spend some extra time resting and relaxing and pay particular attention to getting more quality sleep and eating well.
You haven’t recovered
Running hard for subsequent sessions or failing to run slow enough on easy days is a sure way to quickly becoming under-recovered or overtained (see below). Adequate recovery is essential for progressive adaptation and improvement. Without it, you will stress the body (and mind) beyond what it can handle and suffer the fate of injury or diminishing performance. Give the body the break it needs and consider taking some time off or at least run very easy between harder sessions.
If you know that you should be running 90 second quarters (400m repeats) but you can barely break two minutes, something is definitely up and you shouldn’t strain yourself to do what your body is simply not able. If your paces are off right from the get-go, there are likely a number of good reasons why you’re struggling to start or complete your workout. Too many hard efforts or not enough recovery, compiled with poor diet, sleep or stress can result in an “overtraining” syndrome that can have a detrimental effect on your running, specifically on your performance. You should immediately take some time off or stick to all easy running until your vigor and motivation returns.