Handling Stress from Running

One of the most important keywords in sports is "stress". Suppose you want to climb a 5-story building. Would you try to do it in 5 big jumps? Nope. You'd take it one step at a time. If you're young and strong, you might try to do it two steps at a time, but you'd be huffing and puffing more than you would doing it in single steps. Climbing two steps at a time puts a heavier load or stress on your body. You're breathing faster, your heart is pumping faster, and you're sweating.
Everything we do in our sport causes stress in our bodies. Stretching causes stress. Running, jogging, and walking cause stress. Increasing distance or speed causes stress. Racing causes stress to skyrocket. The climate conditions we run in cause stress. The time of day or night we exercise causes stress. If our bodies can't handle this stress, injuries result.

Stress is a Killer

Contrary to popular belief that stress strengthens our bodies, stress destroys our body cells. If we don't get rid of the stress, it will accumulate in our bodies and injury will occur. How do we get rid of this stress? Simple, by giving our bodies sufficient rest. Rest between runs. Rest between days of running, jogging, or walking. Rest each night. Naps during the day. Our bodies react, during periods of rest, to the stress of our sport, and our bodies become stronger as they rebuild cells.

 

OK, how Do I tell that I should Rest?

How can we get the rest we need? That depends on our personalities and life styles, but rest we must have if we are to remain injury-free. Most of us don't have a trainer who can tell us when to rest, but we all have something better than a trainer; we have our bodies! If we listen to our bodies, we'll know when we need more rest.

Here are some symptoms that I've experienced that tell me I need more rest.
  • My wakeup pulse rate is higher than normal. For example, my wakeup pulse is normally about 48. If it goes up to 54 or more, I know I'm tired and need more rest. When that happens, I might run a reduced distance and pace, or I might abort the run altogether.
  • I feel tired while I'm doing my sit-ups. I do 30 sit-ups before I run, and I usually do them fast and feel good while doing them. If I feel tired, I know I need more rest. This happened to me a few days ago. I felt tired during my sit-ups, and when I started running, I felt really tired. After about 1/3 mile, I aborted the run and walk-jogged home.
  • I feel extra tired during a run. Not the tiredness from physical activity, but tiredness from not having much energy. Tiredness like I'd been run over by a big truck. Tiredness like my "gas tank" is empty.
  • I do dumb things while driving, like going through a stop sign, or not being aware of other cars while I drive.
  • I'm coming down with a cold. Colds can occur due to reasons not related to activity in sports. However, running, jogging, and walking can weaken our immune system and allow us to get colds if ones body isn't able to handle the stress from that activity. The two most important factors in running that induce colds are insufficient sleep and pushing to too high intensity in ones running.

Pardon me while I take a Nap

There are a few things we can do to get more rest.

  • Keep a consistent, regular sleeping schedule. Our bodies will tell us how much sleep we need each night. We need to control our life styles so we get that sleep on a regular basis.
  • Arranging our running, jogging, or walking so we have rest periods after heavy runs that put a lot of stress on our bodies. Dr. George Sheehan, who for a number of years was medical columnist for Runner's World, said our bodies need 48 hours to recover from a heavy run. Because of this, the running literature recommends that we run, walk, or jog in a heavy/light pattern. Do a heavy run that stresses our body and then a light the next day that allows our body to rest. For me, a light run is about one-half the distance of a heavy run. Another way that we can reduce our running is to run less than seven days per week. I recommend that we have at least one day per week that is a complete rest from running.
  • Increase our distance and/or speed slowly so our bodies can adjust to the increased stress. The running literature recommends that we increase in 10% steps, with sufficient time between steps such that our bodies can adjust to the increased stress. The number 10% isn't a magic bullet. Some runners can handle more than 10% and others can only handle less than 10%.
  • Run, jog, or walk pain free. Pain is a signal from our bodies that we've exceeded the capacity of our bodies to handle stress. When we experience pain, we should reduce our training by reducing distance, speed, or the number of days we run (or combinations thereof) until we can run without pain. Then, as we run pain free, we can slowly increase our training to meet our goals.

 

We have two Nervous Systems

In order to properly manage our running, we need to know the symptoms that tell us we are under stress and the symptoms that tell us when we have recovered from stress. When we apply stress to our bodies, our Sympathetic nervous system responds and elevates our breathing rate to give more oxygen to our bodies. Our heart rate increases to give more blood. If needed, our sweat glands are activated to cool us off. Our adrenal gland are activated to produce certain hormones to help our bodies handle the stress of running. After we stop running, our sympathetic nervous system slows down, and our Parasympathetic nervous system becomes dominate and causes our bodies to recover by returning to normal conditions.

Here are the symptoms that I use to know when I've recovered from the stress. A normal wakeup heart rate is a good indicator that our body is overcoming the stress and is returning to normal, but it does not indicate that ones body has fully recovered from the stress and is ready for another speed or longer distance workout. At least with me, a high energy level is the best indicator I've found that I'm ready for more distance or speed. I first look for a normal wakeup heart rate, and then I look for a high energy level. By using both indicators, I'm able to listen to my body and respond accordingly. Sometimes, though, I have a good energy level, and even though my wakeup HR is slightly high, I'll still do a stressful workout.

 

Good Bye Stress!

By using common sense in our running, getting sufficient rest, and keeping our running within the limits imposed by our bodies, we can run injury-free, and we can enjoy our sport in ways that we may not have expected!


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