Skip to content Skip to footer

Running highs and lows: how much is too much?

Running can be a bit like getting into a good Netflix series - once hooked, it’s easy to get carried away. Whether your training regime is ruling your life or you’re missing out on seeing your mates in favour of another run, recognising when you’re overdoing it can be tricky. We spoke with CALM supporter and keen runner Andy Messenger to hear why you may need to slow down the pace of your training.

Getting out for a run can be great, it can turn a rubbish day around, bring like-minded folk together and keep us fit, not to mention it’s good for our brains, but building up our mileage too fast can cause injury, or change running from a fun pastime into a chore.

Running can be amazing for our mental wellbeing, but it’s also easy to get swept up in competitively logging miles or feeling guilty on the days we don’t make it out for a run. Finding the line between being a dedicated athlete and overtraining can be confusing, so how can we tell when we need to step out of our trainers and give the lycra a break?

Andy hasn’t always been a runner, joking that he’s “90% serious athlete and 10% cake”, he began running just before his 30th birthday and now regularly runs as a way to blow off steam:

“I always tell the story that it was after one too many cheese boards at Christmas and I just thought I’m going to give it a go. I went out, tried to run a mile, nearly keeled over and then it all just escalated very rapidly from there. It’s become absolutely critical for me, because at 36 I’m faster, stronger and more confident than I’ve ever been. I can cope with far more than I used to cope with and it’s when I find time to process things and decompress.”

When we run, our bodies release endorphins - hormones that make us feel good. This post-workout buzz is often described as “runner’s high” and although totally legal, like any euphoric state, this feeling can be pretty moreish. While this feel-good phenomenon can make us calmer, happier and less anxious, running relentlessly with no let up increases our chances of injury.

Our bodies are complicated old things and just like a car, if we keep going flat out forever, we’re going to run out of fuel. Rest days offer our muscles a chance to recover and heal, helping to prevent injury. But if you find yourself constantly chasing that runner’s high, rest days can be a source of guilt, something that Andy struggled with:

“I couldn’t tell you when I crossed that line specifically, but essentially as I started to train more and more it was a case of, how much further and faster and how many more miles can I do in a week. Then it was, ‘okay I need to start dropping weight now because that’s what people do’, or ‘I don’t need to listen to that injury, I can just keep pushing through’. Suddenly all the negative behaviours set in and I was overtraining and not resting.”

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to working out if we’re running too often, is the fact that we’re all built differently and have our own limitations. Learning where your limit is can help you set boundaries, something Andy did with the help of a sports therapist:

“Whether that’s because I was later to running or it’s just my genetics, biomechanically my body can’t withstand weeks of intense training. I can’t train twice a day, seven days a week because my body will break down and that was quite a hard thing to hear. I’ve only started to accept it in the last 18 months, because if I want longevity to my running career, I have to accept that if I don’t have a rest day or stretch properly before a run my body can’t do the things it needs to do.”

It’s not been easy for Andy to get to this point and it took a torn hamstring and some stern words from his wife for him to take note of his bad running habits:

“My wife’s not a runner and when we met, neither was I. Now there’s ten pairs of shoes by the bed and I run six or seven days a week. She saw the signs of severe weight loss and overtraining. Overtraining has a big impact on your general energy levels, your ability to interact with your children and your relationship.

“You need someone to hold you accountable who’s not a runner, because most runners would look at you and say ‘you’re not losing too much weight, you just look like a runner. You’re not training too much, you’re just dedicated’. My wife gives me balance and if I have a rest day and I’m in my head about it or I’m feeling guilty about eating, she’ll talk me through that.”

Having run on his injury for two weeks, his sports therapist told Andy he needed to take some time out to recover, something he reluctantly agreed to do. Rest days are essential if you want to avoid time out with injuries, something Andy learned the hard way.

That doesn’t mean you have to curl up on the couch for the day (unless you want to of course), but opting for lower impact exercise such as cycling or yoga in between running days will allow you to get the most out of your runs.

If you’re finding it hard to recognise when you’re due an easier day, take note of how your body is feeling. If your general energy is down or your pace is slower than normal, then maybe you need some respite and TLC. Andy’s golden nugget of wisdom?

“Hold yourself accountable with every single run. You’ve got to have a reason to get out the door and if your reason is it’s good for your mental health and you want to enjoy some fresh air, then don’t go out and absolutely go as hard as you can, go out at a steady pace.

“If you’re going flat out every run and you haven’t got a good reason for doing that, that’s when you need to start thinking why am I running? Because you might havecrossed that line from healthy training into overtraining.”

Still stumped on how to make the most of your runs or not sure where to start? Head to our Sprints and Tips page to tap into your full potential and find advice on posture, training and more. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, take a look at our events page and Run CALM.

No matter what you’re going through, if you need to talk, CALM’s free confidential helpline and webchat service is open every day from 5pm until midnight and run by trained professionals who’ll lend a listening ear.