To Run or Not to Run: Here Is the Answer
Every morning, you have a decision to make. This simple advice will help you make the right one.
Maybe your heel started hurting yesterday. Maybe your calves are still aching from Sunday’s unexpectedly long bike ride. Maybe you feel like annihilating a 12-miler but haven’t taken a day off in weeks. Or maybe with work and home demands, your stress levels are off the charts.
There are a million reasons why you question whether or not to run. Here’s one way to help you find the answer: “You’ve got to really listen to your body,” says Chris Bennett, Nike Running global head coach. It can clue you in to whether your muscles are feeling a little fatigued or are actually beaten up, or when a jog could be a good head-clearing break or just another anxiety-producing task on a stressful day.
Being a good listener takes trial and error, but getting to know yourself on that deeper level is the fulfilling part about running, says Olympian Marielle Hall, a professional long-distance runner and Nike athlete.
“Knowing when to take a day off and when to rest can be just as powerful as a PR or a really great workout,” she says. “You become intuitive about your body, and you’re able to distinguish discomfort from injury-causing pain.” That self-awareness is what can take you to the next level in your running, says Hall. You’re not being forced to rest because you’re injured or burnt out. You’re in control, making a choice — one that can get you stronger for the future.
The Simple Change
If you’re debating a run, ask yourself, How is this run going to make me feel?
That’s advice from Shalane Flanagan, four-time Olympian and a coach for the Bowerman Track Club. “If running is too much of a stress, if something’s hurting or you’re not going to have a better day because of it, the answer is, Today’s not the day to run,” she says.
Flanagan, who recently recovered from two knee surgeries, says she’s been asking herself this question often. “I have to read the cues and have that honest conversation with myself.”
Honesty also means knowing whether you’re bailing on a run because you’re psyching yourself out, says Bennett. If that’s you, he recommends telling yourself you’ll go out for only five minutes. You can always stop. You can always walk. But you just might find that starting was the hardest part, and that the 30 minutes you were able to polish off was exactly what you needed.
And if you’re more of a type-A, gotta-get-it-in runner, heed this message from Brett Kirby, PhD, a human-performance scientist who’s worked with some of the world’s greatest runners at the Nike Sport Research Lab.
“You want to build a gentle relationship with running, not an aggressive ‘I’m going to go jam lots of miles in and go full gas then put myself into a hole I can't get out of the next day’ one,” says Kirby. “That’s just intensity for intensity’s sake, and I don’t think we’ve seen a lot of success with that type of attitude.”
“I have to read the cues and have that honest conversation with myself.”
Four-Time Olympian and Bowerman Track Club Coach
More Tips to Move You Forward
01. Learn from your mistakes.
Did you do a long run after a bad night’s sleep, and it went terribly? Focus on the upshot: You know to adjust your schedule next time. As Kirby says: “Beating ourselves up over missing a day or having a bad run only gives us more penalty. We get more payoff by trying to embrace, learn, and go forward.”
02. Try something besides running.
If your body or mind isn’t up to a run, lift some weights, do yoga, or take a long walk, says licensed physical therapist and Nike Performance Council member Derek Samuel. Cross-training can help your body prepare for your next run, he says. And just as important, you avoid any negative associations with running.
03. Tweak your plan.
Remember, recovery doesn’t have to mean not running, says Bennett. A run can be mentally cathartic and a great release for built-up stress and anxiety. That just might not come from the speed run or killer intervals you had planned. “The goal is to progress, and sometimes you’ve progressed just by adjusting,” says Bennett. “There are endless ways to tweak a run — shorter, slower, flatter — and all can help give your body and mind the run it needs.”
04. Leave something on the table.
“If you overcook it, a lot of times there’s a price to pay,” cautions Samuel. He tells his clients that it’s okay to go to bed thinking, I need to do more. “That’s going to feed your thirst,” says Samuel, “versus thinking, I really did too much today, and I feel awful.”