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Is Stress Ruining Your Run?

Jan 20, 2017 | Running, Running Advice | 6 comments

Is Stress Ruining your run?

My heart is racing. I haven’t just finished my Yasso 800s, I’m sitting in a Clinical Dietetics lecture, one of my favourite modules. If I was wearing a heart rate monitor right now I’m sure it would be registering far above my normal resting HR – but I’ve forgotten to charge my Apple Watch (typical) and just one of the casualties of my hyper stressed state right now, (my stomach is another but that’s TMI).

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve woken during the previous two nights.

Is Stress Ruining your run?

During yesterday’s 5.45am run I was struggling to run my usual easy run pace of 9.20ish, so I practiced something I’d written about in my Women’s Running blog post and was kind to myself. I switched the watch to overall time, forgot about my pace and enjoyed listening to a podcast in the quiet morning. This run was an easy recovery run, and I made sure it was just that.

I returned home, feeling rejuvenated, unworried about my run. Sadly my commute revved up my stress levels, having to stand on a delayed overcrowded train for over an hour, usually the time I use to work, eat breakfast and prepare for my day. I hadn’t realised I was so on edge until I started noticing my physical symptoms, and noticing how much harder my runs were feeling. I was eating badly, reaching for sugar and caffeine, which isn’t helping things.

I did have a half marathon race on my schedule for Sunday, but I texted my coach yesterday morning saying I was feeling widely unprepared and didn’t want to race, and she suggested I run it as a long training run but in a race situation. Sounds good to me.

Is Stress Ruining your run?

My stress is officially affecting my marathon training.

In a talk I went to the other day, Women’s Health editor, Amy, talked about a PT calling her out on her stress levels, she said something pretty interesting; Stress can make or break your workout. When you’re stressed you actually don’t exhale properly, you don’t take properly deep breaths, changing the CO2 content in your body, reducing the O2 available to feed your cells. Improper breathing switches on your sympathetic nervous system – this is the system that is your fight or flight mode. Your heart rate accelerates, blood vessels constrict and blood pressure rises.

Running and working out is a stressor, although most of the time it’s a eustress, a good stress. But that it puts stress on your body nonetheless. Whether that’s a speed workout, tempo or long run, you’re asking your body to do a lot. And that’s great, you add your recovery time in and you’re ready for your next hard workout.

How does stress affect your runs?

But if there’s the added stress of a work deadline, a family issue, relationship problems, exams…whatever else you have going on, then the body (not to mention your mind) can find it hard to balance the two or more conflicting stressors. It can take longer to recover, to adapt and recover after your run or workout.

A study in 2012 found that those put on a training plan that had other stresses in their lives showed very little performance change over the period – effectively their outside stress blocked their progress.

The outside stress and the inside stress can be working in conflict with one another, limiting adaptation from your training.

Not only this, but ‘distress’, the bad type of stress disrupts sleep, increases ghrelin (the hormones making you want to eat all the crap in sight), and increases inflammation. None of these make for productive workouts.

Is Stress Ruining your run?

So what should we take from this?

Well be kind to yourself. Address the areas of stress that you can, and remove others. If your run is stressing you out and you have a lot going on in your life, swap it to an easy run, or a walk, or a bike ride, or an early night. Ultimately, running and working out is for fun, it’s a hobby and it’s for the benefit of our health. If it’s stressing you out then it’s actually negatively affecting your health.

Similarly, if you can’t work out why your run felt so hard, why you’re struggling to keep up in your workout class, or you can’t bring yourself to lace up your trainers when you usually spring out of the door, take a look at what else you have going on that could be affecting your performance.

Then take a big deep breath in, and relax…


  1. Tess @ FitBits

    Ahhhh, glad I’ve not been the only one! I’ve had a real problem with stress over the past few months, I’ve just written about how I’m looking after my mental health and wellbeing this year actually. I’ve noticed since writing it actually, that I sit with my shoulders hunched up most of the time subconsciously, like my body is always tense. Every time I go to yoga the teacher adjusts my shoulders. Really wanna book a spa day, waiting for payday!

    Colouring in helps btw, not sure if you’ve tried it x

  2. theodorablanchfield

    Ashley mentioned this post — and it was exactly what I needed to read to explain my crappy crappy running last year.

    • charliedwatson

      Yeah you didn’t have an easy time. Hope 2017 is less stressful for you! seems like you had an awesome time in NZ & Oz xx

  3. Kirsty

    This makes so much sense and comes at exactly the right time. Iv had such a stressful week and haven’t had the enthusiasm or energy to run. Work and family stresses taking over.
    Off for a trail run this morning to relax and enjoy some me time.

  4. Nicole

    agree agree agree.

  5. every_third_day

    This is great blog, thank you for sharing it. I have just started running again and I am definitely going to keep an eye out for any stresses that affect my training.


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