Stress and Running

It is widely accecpted that running is an effective and immediate stress-reducing activity, you can often hear me saying the running cures everything.  It can give us clarity of thought, induce the release of feel good hormones, it can increase energy levels, change your body shape, make you stronger, the list is quite long.  There has been a lot of money invested over the years encouraging people to get moving, campaigns like “This Girl Can” “Couch to 5k” “Run and Talk” “Run Together” because recent research has suggested that by participating in “social” activites that this can help elivate symptoms of depression. Sounds perfect doesn’t it?

BUT what happens when running becomes the stressor, when all of a sudden you can’t get out of the front door because running has depleted you of your energy, it disturbs your sleep, causes you physical aches and pains and becomes your worse enemy. 


Stress can be a good thing and help you improve your running performance, the increase in heart rate at the start of the race can help you feel alive and excited, this adrenalin can help you achieve a PB if harnessed the right way. A few nerves when you turn up at a new training session will also help you run up that hill or enable you to run faster on another lap. But whilst a training plan looks good on paper, if you do X and Y you will get results, it often doesn’t translate to real life. Why not?

Because stress from other areas of your life can stop the body’s ability to recover from running, it’s as simple as that, stress doesn’t recognise the difference between a running session or whether you’ve got enough money to pay the bills.. Worry, anxiety, pressure at work as well, in fact all forms of psychological stress can cause fatigue, illness, sleep problems and irritability.

On a very basic level any form of stress will increase the stress hormone cortisol which is one of the key components in your fight or flight response to a stressful situation. if we don’t rest, recover and adapt to the stress these hormones can stay in our body and can cause long term illness.

Nowadays we seem to be exposed to stress constantly, these stressors can range from major life events like moving house/divorce/Christmas etc. to daily hassles like losing your house keys, job stress, social media (seeing how many pb’s people have achieved/ seeing how successful and beautiful your old school friend is/how many amazing holidays everyone is having) this list can be endless.

How does all of this fit into running? The stress response we have from either major life events or daily hassles can result in an overtaxed body that finds it hard to recover from the physical stress of running.  We can get caught up on just the physical side of running, for example what our weekly mileage is, what our pace is per mile and how much effort we have put into a particular training run. 

Sometimes when it goes wrong and we have a bad run we look at just the physical side of things to see the caused the issue. What you need to do is look at other areas outside of your running, not just the physical part but also the psychological part as well.  If you’ve had a busy, stressful day at work and are mentally and emotionally drained then you cannot expect your body to be on top form if you run in the evening.

If you ignore your everyday stressors and continue running and training without proper rest and recovery, then over a period of time you may experience a gradual accumulation of tiredness that slows or even stops the natural adaptation response to stress. Unfortunately, this can happen slowly, it can creep up on you and it can lead to injury, illness and in some cases exhaustion.

 All my training plans focus on physical factors, how many miles per week you need to run to achieve your end goal, they do not consider any other components that may affect your performance.  All of your stressors in your life should be treated in the same way as physical stress in terms of how it affects the body.  That doesn’t mean that you should stop training every time something stressful happens, it just means that you should be kind to yourself, listen to your body and fit the training plans around your life.  You can move the workouts around to fit with you and your lifestyle, if you’ve had a busy week make the weekend run an easy enjoyable one, rest and recover so that your body can adapt. 

 Be realistic about what you can achieve, are you going through a tough time at the moment, is this the right time to train and put everything into achieving a new PB whether this is a 5k, 10k, half or even a marathon.  What do you want to achieve in your running this year? Do you want to keep enjoying it? Or are you putting the whole of you under a great deal of pressure so that ultimately you may exhaust yourself to the point of never wanting to run again.   Run without a plan or a watch and just use it as a stress release so that running becomes productive rather than unproductive?

 If life is good and your stress is manageable then look at the different training plans, what plan is realistic, how busy are you, how many runs can you fit in per week, are you on your feet all day? Take one week at a time, respect the miles and be mindful of what your body needs, take a day off when you need to, be kind to yourself and don’t underestimate the impact of stress on your traini