It happens to every runner at some point: Fatigue sets in. Not just during a race or a hard training run in summer, but afterward. Periodically, runners simply get extremely tired and seem to lack all the energy they can ordinarily muster to go for a run.
Don’t worry. It’s completely normal. Fatigue is so common among non-runners and runners alike that it is one of the most oft-cited complaints that doctors hear from their patients.
Generally, running increases one’s energy and zeal for life. But there can be all sorts of other factors (other than running) that impact a runner’s ability and desire to run and energy levels.
Typically for a runner, fatigue is described as when a runner feels tired even before running. If a workout is attempted, the runner becomes even more exhausted by what would normally be considered an easy run. The fatigued feeling may be so pervasive it can effect different aspects of one’s life.
The most common causes of fatigue are usually obvious reasons such as an exceptionally tough race, a hilly run or tough speed work in the summer heat or just a lack of rest. Or, even more typical, instead of getting a solid seven or eight hours of sleep, you only get three or four.
Reasons such as those are explicable causes of temporary fatigue and almost always easily correctable. Simply emphasize getting more sleep, take a couple of days off from running or rest a little bit more after a race or long run and your body rebounds quite quickly.
Sometimes the cause of fatigue isn’t so much a lack of sleep as an inability to fall asleep. This also isn’t unusual as nearly everyone has occasional problems with falling asleep.
Typically, the causes of temporary sleep issues are travel, stress, illness, a new medication or a disruption of your nightly routine. Treating a temporary inability to fall asleep is easy. Make sure you go to bed at the same time every night in a dark, quiet room. Wake up at the same time every morning. Try to avoid all disruptions.
If that doesn’t help, avoid mid-day naps, exercising within two or three hours of bedtime and caffeine drinks after one or two in the afternoon. Also, don’t drink alcohol after 6 p.m. and try not to eat meals later than 7 p.m.
If none of these solutions work and you still can’t sleep, try reading for 30 minutes before bedtime. If you still can’t sleep after 30 minutes buried in a great novel, get up and go to a different room for a bit and return to bed when you are sleepier.
But one of the most frequent causes of fatigue (and lack of sleep) among runners is overtraining. You may think the quickest way to improvement is to run harder, faster and longer, but too much of a good thing can harm your ability to get a sound night’s sleep because of an elevated resting heart rate. Runners who are doing long, hard training (especially for a marathon) need the greatest amount of rest, but can also find sleeping very difficult.
Rest is just as important as the running you do. You absolutely need time to adequately recover from the training sessions because this is the down time your body needs to repair the damage to muscle cells caused by running. If you don’t allow yourself enough time to rest and recover, extreme fatigue will set in and the body will eventually break down with an injury. Temporary insomnia can also by a by product of overtraining.
The key is to find the right balance between training enough to improve, while taking enough time to recover. If you give yourself too much recovery time and don’t train adequately, you won’t improve. If you train too much and recover too little, overtraining, fatigue and lack of sleep are the result.
Be aware of the signs of overtraining such as extreme fatigue or lethargy, frequent mood swings, inability to sleep and sore muscles. If an easy run now seems difficult, you may be overtraining. If a long run is impossible to complete, it’s time to back off.
Listen to your body carefully. Monitor your morning heart rate before getting out of bed. If your pulse is increasing every morning (or elevated), this is a sign that you haven’t taken adequate rest and recovery.
Heed your body’s warning signs. If you don’t, you can become so fatigued that it may take many weeks to dig yourself out of a hole until you feel normal again.
Fortunately, the cure for overtraining is very easy: Rest. Only rest can prevent slipping over the edge into the overtraining zone.