We live in a go go go world.
The busier you are, the better. Who cares if you feel tired, that’s life, get on with it.
It feels like everyone around you is cramming more into their morning than you get done in a day, so why are you complaining? Even if you know deep down you DO get a LOT done, it still feels like there is so much more to do, you are still falling behind, that to do list never seems to be complete.
And that bugs us. Especially Type A, driven, determined people.
We HAAATTTTTEEE not finishing something…to do lists never get finished, which leaves us going to bed and waking up each morning feeling like we are running late…even if we aren’t literally running late.
During those brief moments you try to catch your breath or wait in line at the store, you find yourself on social media, a place where you are reminded just how much everyone else is accomplishing, what they are managing to do, which you cant.
Or they are showing you how relaxed and carefree they are on their vacation in Hawaii. Wouldn’t that be nice?
It can be crushing, and it can force you to feel like you will never be enough.
I know this so well, I have been there so many times. During pregnancy of my first child, I ended up in the hospital as I was suffering with dehydration after so much with nausea and vomiting. The second time around I wasn’t vomiting 24/7, so I took that as a sign I could just carry on with life as if I wasn’t pregnant (ha!).
I am a fierce independent woman….yes, growing a small poppy seed inside, but it wasn’t really doing much yet.
So I plowed on through.
And after a few weeks, my body said, NOPE. Enough.
Shut me down.
I could barely leave the couch. I didn’t want to (and couldn’t) work, eat, or really, do anything.
Looking after my daughter during the day turned into lying on the couch, my eyes being the only part of me that could move.
I felt lazy, but I didn’t have a choice. I woke up feeling like it was just before bedtime…except I had a whole day ahead of me.
Now for me, this time, it was physical exhaustion, that was how my body told me it had been pushed too far. But during my running career, it was usually in the form of an injury.
For most runners, the end result of pushing yourself too far is one of three things; overtraining, injury, or illness.
Overtraining happens when you have pushed your body too far, and you end up in a state similar to what I described. Maybe you are not couch ridden, but every run is exhausting, no matter how easy you go, your workouts are suffering. Every hard run you are either getting slower or unable to get close to what you hoped to run that day.
Now, note, that this is different to having a bad day or a bad week. We will all have those during training. This is day after day, week after week of struggle, with no letup. If you have four bad days, one really good workout, and then another three bad, its probably not overtraining. Overtraining will physically mean you cannot have a good day.
Injury is pretty self explanatory, but as I will go over soon, it may come in the form of multiple little ones that will eventually lead to a big one, or you will just get the big one.
Similarly, illness could be getting sick with colds and minor things over and over or one big thing that takes you out for a month.
But we don’t want to end up with any of these. They don’t feel good and they make life even more stressful as you try to figure out a way to keep up with everything. By recognizing the warning signs where you are getting close to the limit of what your body can take, you can figure out what you can do to pull back, and get your body back…before it is too late.
Here are some of the major signs you are pushing your body too far:
You are going through a major life event
This is always frustrating to hear, and trust me I get it. I KNOW this to be true, yet time and time again, I find myself thinking that I can be the exception to this one. I CAN handle more than most.
In reality though, stress is stress.
If any of these are going on in your life, your body and mind are already under a lot of stress. Have you recently:
- Started a new job
- Moved/looking to move house
- Been processing a divorce
- Separated from your partner
- Had a family member going through a health crisis
- Lost a family member/close friend
- Become unemployed
- Been imprisoned/had a love one imprisoned
- Become pregnant
- Suffered a loss in pregnancy
Each of those are MAJJJOOOORRR life events, events that will have a big impact on your health.
I am going to be harsh with you for a moment. I hope you do not mind me getting in your face here, but I pride myself on being that big sister/honest friend, and as a friend, I don’t want you to be burned out and miserable.
So can I just tell you something?
If you are going through any of the above, now is NOT the time to focus on your running. Use it for stress relief by all means. In fact, I encourage it if it helps (take a read of this), BUT, this is NOT the time to set a big goal and go for it. You just cant give your body and mind the mental space it needs to perform.
You can have that goal by all means, but just want a few more months, or until things calm down.
If you are going through one of these major life events, if you can keep running and feel okay, do it, but this is also a time to give yourself slack if you do miss a few days or even weeks. Use running as a tool to help you…not yet another thing on your list that you feel pressure to do.
You have a lot going on
Okay, so maybe you don’t have a major event, but you do have other things going on that are very stressful.
Could be things like:
- A major project at work
- One/multiple children being especially difficult
- Arguing with a loved one/close friend
- Lots of errands to run (hello tax time!)
- Moving an elderly parent into care
- Lots of work trips
These are all things that add up. They may not be major life stresses, but when you add ten, or even five of them in at one time, that is a lot.
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, like you cant keep up, drowning, helpless, that is a sign you have a lot going on.
And yes, in these situations, you should be either backing off running goals, or heading into the next few weeks (or even the race itself) with an approach of appreciation. Just thankful for the ability to get out and race. I am a huge fan of what I call #nowatchme and I would recommend following this through during any races (and runs for that matter), you have during these stressful periods.
If you have a few weeks of bad training with only 1-2 good days, that is okay! Your fitness is a build up of the years of training you have done, not this one training block. As long as you are doing the best you can, that is all you can ask.
When things calm down, you will be able to get back to concentrating on your training, but for now, do what you can. Forgive yourself for missed days and bad days. Beating yourself up about them will only add to the stress, putting you further from where you want to be.
If you push your body during this time, and try to force training, you will end up with one of the three body shut down signs (overtraining, injury, illness), so be careful.
If that means backing off and skipping hard days to replace them with easy, do it (and no, do not try to make it back up again later that week, let it go!).
One workout or even one week, does not make your race happen or not, it is the accumulation, and you are far better off taking a down week, but making it to race day, than finding a way to cram your training in, forcing yourself into paces, and then never making it to the start line. MOST runners will have at least one bad week of training, one missed hard day during each build up, you are not alone.
Okay, lets go over some physical signs:
Are you drinking enough water to keep up with your training and your busy life?
Headaches often appear when we are pushing ourselves during stressful times as we “don’t have time” to drink, or are rushing around so much that we “forget”.
Headaches are a warning sign from your body, I don’t feel great. One headache a few times a year is expected, but if they are coming up often, that is a huge red flag to back off and try to cut some things out.
Upset stomach often
Upset stomachs are a part of life, we know that. Especially as runners, it is something we learn to get on with.
But if it is happening often, and making you run to the bathroom in a panic, that is the stress from your life affecting the way your body is able to digest.
When you run, your body diverts the blood away from your digestive system to give your muscles the support to continue exercising. If your body is diverting the blood away from your digestive system in life, it is going to be unable to utilize the foods you are eating as it should be. Meaning even if you are still eating well, you may not be getting all the nutrients from those foods, as it is pushed right through.
You know how race morning you may go to the bathroom a lot more than usual?
That is often the nerves, which shows your body is emptying itself of waste, so it is ready to go, ready to use “fight or flight” (it interprets our nervousness as danger).
If life is causing you stress, it will do the same….but if it does it often, you are missing out on critical nutrients your body needs to function correctly, and you need to reconsider what could be causing this stress.
You keep getting sick or can’t seem to get rid of a cold
Colds and flu are a part of life in the winter, especially if you have kids or work around them. BUT if you find you are getting cold after cold, even when others in your family are not, that is a sign your immune system is struggling to keep up.
Same goes for lingering colds. Most colds should last under a week, but if you find you have a cold for weeks on end, that is another sign your body is compromised, it is not healing and getting rid of it as it should.
For me, Athletic Greens has had a MASSIVE impact on my ability to fight colds, even during stressful times. I would strongly recommend taking it if you are unable to remove some of the stress in life, it may help enough to get you through.
You are in the toughest part of training
You are on your way to your goal race, training hard and giving it your best. Your body is going to be pushing a limit. During those critical weeks of training, you can sense you are pushing your body.
And that is good, you need to do that, but you also need to counter that with backing off other things, and most of all, getting more sleep. This is not the time to be going out till 1am when you know you have to get up at 6. Or signing up for a new spin class twice a week. Give your body the respect and the appreciation it deserves for giving its best during this time.
You are sore more than usual/lasts longer
As with sickness, soreness is an expected part of training. Some days will leave you sore. BUT if you are finding it is happening all the time, your body may be struggling to recover in time.
It might be worth backing off for a few days or a week to just run easy and allow it to catch up. This is also a critical time to take BodyHealth Perfect Amino, that really helped me with recovery during my training.
You keep getting niggles/mini injuries
Niggles are always going to come up. That is a part of life as a runner, but if you find that you are taking off three days here, one day there, another pain the next day, your body is screaming at you that it is on the edge. That is your bodies warning sign that you are about to be shut down.
A big injury is coming if you keep going like you are.
Now, in hard training, part of that is normal, we want to push the edge, or we wont get to our very best. BUT if you are getting lots of little things going wrong one after the other, tell your coach, or if you are your own coach, look at your training and look at your life.
Be real with yourself, are you trying to push your body too far with where life is right now? If you have to back your hard days off a level or shorten your long runs a little, it is better to go into race day slightly less fit than not at all because you have a big injury.
You have been missing sleep
One night’s sleep is not going to affect you too much, but study after study has concluded that the NUMBER ONE way to make sure you are recovering is to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Now, I am all for living, so if you get one night a week where you are celebrating a birthday or have something to do that does not give you that 7-8 hours sleep, that is okay. But make sure you are looking after your sleep in the days that follow.
On that note, be careful not to put pressure on sleep, the more you try to force yourself to sleep, the more you will struggle to do so. As a former insomniac, I know how frustrating it can be. This podcast with Amy Bender might help and for me, seeing a therapist was huge.
If you are missing sleep either through struggling to switch off at night, waking up in the night, or my personal brand of insomnia, waking up at 4am feeling like your brain PINGs on, you need to be VERY careful. This is what will push you over the edge, above everything on this list. Without enough sleep, your body cannot recover, and it will fight back to look after you….and eventually be unable to keep up.
Women, you lost your period
This is a major warning sign that you are doing too much or not keeping up with your eating. During extremely stressful events, you may lose your period, just as a response of your body from the stress. BUT if this happens, regardless of if it is because of not enough calories or just the stress itself, you MUST back off your running and remove stress as much as possible.
Your period is one of the ways your body will tell you (before it totally breaks down), that things are not right, and you need to give your body care.
I have a big blog post on how to get your period back here.
You are losing weight, fast
During stressful times in life, many people either forget to eat or have no appetite, which causes them to lose weight quickly. Although you may initially think, “YES! A diet without even trying”, this is not a good situation, and you are setting yourself up for one of the three major body shutdowns. Which would likely add MORE stress to your life, and remove one of the things you are using as stress relief.
I know it can be hard to do, but as much as possible, you need to keep up your calories, force yourself to eat if you must, eat out if you must (even if you are someone who typically likes to avoid it). You can find healthy options at many coffee shops or restaurants now, and those will help you to feel good…even if you are not emotionally feeling good. But at the end of the day, calories are calories, if you have to chose some less than ideal meals, do it. It is better than under-eating.
Not eating enough also leads me to my next point. If you are not fueling with enough, you are going to get cranky and will not handle stress very well.
You are snapping at people more than usual
Stress brings grumpiness, that is expected. But if you find yourself picking fights, arguing, and just generally taking out your anger on loved ones, that is a sign you a struggling to keep up. Now is a great time to use your running to process your thoughts (and I would recommend NOT listening to anything, so you can do that). But it is also not a time to be pounding the pavement as hard as you can every day. You are likely snappy because your body is stressed, and stressing it too much could push it over the edge.
You just feel “off”
If you feel out of tune or just not right within your body, that is not just you being paranoid. That is your initiation speaking, telling you that it knows you are not in a good place. Listen to that voice, that gut feeling. It is time to give yourself some slack.
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You are pushing yourself to the max in every long run and workout
I know we want to get to race day as fit as we can, and without pushing ourselves in training, how will we ever get there? I used to think that unless I fell to the ground in exhaustion after every workout and long run, I hadn’t pushed hard enough.
I was WRONG.
That was taking so much out of me, that race day I had nothing left to give.
In lifting, my strength coach, Drew, always says to me, “leave two reps in the tank”, meaning that when you finish the set, you could do another two more to max out. And we should apply the same concept to running. Not that you could finish two more reps, because maybe that would mean 5 more miles of running! But, the concept is the same. You should always finish feeling like you didn’t quite give it all, there was a little more in you to run one more mile, one more rep, five more minutes. On race day you want to give 100%, but in your workouts, you should be around 80-90%.
If you are pushing every workout to the max, you are depleting your body week after week, and it can only handle that so long.
Feeling helpless, lost, out of control, or depressed
When we push our bodies, we do feel overwhelmed, but when we are getting close to a breaking point, we feel like things are just too much, like life is never going to calm down.
And that in itself is stressful. Also a good sign that you are doing too much. I know there are never easy things to cut, and you may feel like you cant cut anything, but see how you can be creative to problem solve.
Could you lean on friends a little to help you? Could you hire someone to look after your kids a few hours a week? What could you remove from your schedule (or others)? Could you set yourself up for a massage or yoga class to destress?
Remember, even though you want to give your best to your loved ones, they also love you too. And you are going to be a better person to them if you are also looking after yourself. I know it seems counter intuitive, you don’t have time to add your stuff in there, but you are going to be a happier version of yourself if you are doing something for you. And that will make them happier too.
No social time
If you find yourself thinking you don’t have time to see friends or socialize, you may be closing in on trouble. We all need those times to just relax, have fun and catch up. They help prevent depression and feelings of loneliness.
Even if you feel you already have too much going on, see if you can get a friend to come with you to go to the store (or meet you there), or drive with you across town. Maybe your friends are feeling the same way, or maybe they just want to see you, they miss you, and they want you to be happy.
Wanting to avoid all that is a surefire way to deprive your body of feel-good hormones that could help you get through life and its craziness.
You keep making mistakes/missing things
If you are forgetting things that have been ingrained in your brain for years, or missing things that should be easy. Your brain is likely too clouded with other things to be able to function as it should be.
Time to take a step back and remind yourself of what is important.
At the end of the day, remind yourself that stress is stress. It does not matter where it is coming from, the effects are the same. If you are trying to keep training for a big goal or you are trying to push up your exercise to keep up with that too, you are setting yourself up for a big body shutdown.
And I promise you, you do not want that.
So what can I do, you say?
Well, each of those have given you some advice with how to handle each one, but some other tips to get through stressful times and give your body some slack
- Eat nutritiously dense foods. I have a list of 27 that will help you here
- Get extra sleep, through naps (yes, even 20-minute power naps where you only feel like you switch off for a minute)
- Get a massage
- If you are struggling with insomnia, go see a sleep therapist
- Look at your bedtime habits. These are the things that helped me.
- Even if you are not able to sleep, rest, lie down as much as possible
- Tell people you are struggling. This might be helpful to give you the confidence to do it.
- Take Athletic Greens every morning
- Take BodyHealth Perfect Amino every morning
If it wasn’t obvious, this is a topic I am particularly passionate about, especially as I have burned myself out so many times. I KNOW how crappy it feels. I also have many Running For Real Podcast episodes where my guest and I discuss how to find a mix of life that works for you, how to give yourself permission to back off, and most importantly, reminding us that we are not alone in struggling. I would love for you to take a listen to the podcast, but if you are a first time listener (or first time in a while), I know that can be scary. Pop your email in below, and I will send some suggestions to you within an hour.