Mental Running Recovery

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Mental Running Recovery

Written by Richard Ferguson, Ph.D. on 09 June 2019.

Much has been written in scholarly journals and even popular running publications concerning fatigue and overtraining in runners. If training load is high and recovery from the training is compromised in some way then a state of overtraining may exist. Most people seem to concentrate on the physiology of overtraining and fatigue while ignoring the psychological aspect. In many cases runners are not actually running too much, they’re simply not properly recovering from the running they are doing.  Physical and psychological factors can inhibit the ability to recover and adapt to training.  More emphasis should be placed on recovery rather than on miles run when discussing fatigue and possible over training. 

When looking at a training program it’s important to consider much more than miles run per week or the intensity of the running. Running is a stress on the human body, so other types of stress in runner’s lives must be taken into consideration as well. Stress is cumulative, no matter if it’s running related or life related. Non-training stressors can have a huge impact on any training program.  Runners do have a life outside of running and life events and life styles can add more stress on top of what is already experienced through training.

Think about other stressors in life besides running. Lifestyle stressors such as hours of sleep per night, pace of a daily schedule, commuting, nutrition, alcohol consumption, housing conditions, interpersonal relations and leisure activities can all influence training and recovery. Stressors from the living environment can also have a huge impact on a training program. Family interactions, roommates, teammates, coaches and social contacts can all add stress if there are conflicts occurring in the relationships. Add in health factors like colds, gastrointestinal disorders etc., and you have even more stress added to the equation. Anytime there is a demand placed upon us, whether it is physical or mental, there will be an energy drain in the form of stress.  

In most cases we handle the stressors placed upon us quite well. We adapt to the stressors and our fitness levels increase with training, and at the same time, we remain happy and well adjusted socially and emotionally. However, there are times when the stress of everyday existence becomes too great for the body to make an adaptation and it’s at these times when a training program can be thrown in into a state of utter disarray.     

Training stress alone, in most cases, is easily handled. When extreme fatigue or overtraining does occur it may not be due to the training load per say, but to that training load with other stressors added in. For example, if you are putting in regular 50-mile weeks you may feel just fine. However, if unexpected stressors are added, like more responsibility at work, family arguments, or illness, then the total impact of all these stressor is too much to handle and you begin to feel constantly fatigued and irritable and running performance suffers. If each stressor occurred alone there would be no problem handling it, but the combination of training with other stressors added overwhelms the body’s capacity to adapt and recover.

Not only does the stress of life affect physical training, it may affect the recovery from training even more. The case may be that we could handle many stressors at once just fine if we were able to improve our recovery. That’s why any runners should ponder the point as to whether they are really overtrained, or are they under recovered? Too often we focus only on the physical training and not on the recovery   

So just how can we maximize our recovery and prevent chronic fatigue and possible overtraining syndrome? While every runner is different, here are a few ideas to enhance recovery from a mental point of vie       

Sleep and rest are absolutely essential for recovery. While many recommend eight hours of sleep a night, more may be needed during heavy training or during periods of high stress. Catch a short nap during the day if possible. A short snooze of 15-20 minutes can help refresh you. Naps of any length, if they can be squeezed in, aid in recovery.  Also, be sure to PLAN a rest day from time to time into your training. This may mean taking a day totally off from running or taking a very, very light day. It may take some mental discipline to take a day off, but sometimes a day off from training can give both the body and the psyche a much needed recovery period. Maybe use the time away from running for a nap!    

Simple relaxation is also needed for recovery. Following a run try to relax and unwind as soon as possible. Doing so can quickly lower your after exercise metabolism and decrease muscle tension, both of which can aid in recovery. Obviously, being in a relaxed state during the day can aid recovery. Sometimes the stress of everyday life can make this difficult. Try to focus on positive, relaxing thoughts during the day, not ones that lead you to feel stressed out. Negative thoughts can trigger the stress response which can drain energy and slow recovery time. Reducing negative thoughts can reduce anxiety and arousal levels during the day, thereby saving precious energy. If something is really stressing you, try and talk to a close friend or significant other about the problem. Social support can be a huge stress management tool.   

In many cases a great deal of stress is a result of our perceptions of events that occur on a daily basis. If you make a big deal out of every little thing in your life, then you will indeed experience high levels of stress. The next time you get stressed out over something ask yourself just really how important it is. Will it matter next week? Is it worth wasting a lot of your emotional energy on? Also, work on not getting stressed out over things you can’t control. If you get caught in traffic you probably don’t have any control over the situation. Put your emotional energy in better places than ones you simply have no control over. Remember that the less stress you have outside of running the better you will recover from your running! Put your energy into recovery, not meaningless worry.      

Hopefully, running itself is a positive factor in your life and not an actual stressor. Always keep in mind that running should be FUN!!!! Keep your running in perspective. If you go out every day and do the best you can, then what else can you ask of yourself? Work to improve things under your control, like your personal training, but don’t worry about things out of your control, like the running performance of others, what other runners think of you, or even the weather. Remind yourself to use running to reduce stress, not add more stress to your life.      

So the next time you feel tired and are not recovering well, look at more than just your training. Examine all aspects of your life for stress. You may not be able to eliminate all the stressors in your life, but with good recovery techniques you can cope and adapt to them more effectively.

Dr. Richard Ferguson is Chair of the Physical Education, Wellness, and Sport Science Department at Averett University and is an AASP Certified Sport Psychology Consultant. He may be reached via e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Read more of Dr. Richard Ferguson on

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