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When you should keep running on tired legs

During a marathon build running a little fatigued is expected, and at times, encouraged

If you’re in the midst of training for a spring marathon, chances are you’ve had days recently when running feels really challenging. While you don’t want every day to feel like a grind, it turns out that it’s alright to have a few days during a build where you feel gassed. It’s actually part of training adaptation. 

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Zersenay Tadese on a solo training run. Photo: Nike

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Ross Ristuccia has been a coach for over 30 years. He’s worked with everyone from 800m runners to marathoners, and he knows something about building a program. Ristuccia says that fatigue is necessary in order to improve. “Accumulated fatigue is the process of starting each workout or run already a bit tired from the previous day’s workout or run. Feeling fatigued in a workout will allow you to get used to how your body is going to feel in the later stages of a race.”

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A successful marathon build means striking the balance between hard work and staying healthy. Ristuccia reminds runners that while hard training blocks are crucial to successful training, easy days aren’t to be neglected. “If you use your recovery days properly, the muscle fibres will be stronger than before. But too many recovery days means that this process will be slowed down.”

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Ristuccia says that ideally a runner can manage their schedule in a way that makes them tired from training, while allowing enough time for the healing process to happen. “This is why easy days have to be easy. Too many hard days in a row can lead to burnout and injury.” Ristuccia recommends scheduling a reduced volume block of about 75 per cent of typical mileage every three to four weeks to allow time for the body to heal. 

When training is difficult, runners should try their best to take care of the little things on top of getting their mileage in. This means sleeping enough, eating relatively well and taking time for rehab. By taking care of these small details, your body will be able to handle the load of training so much better.