5 Tips for Bringing Balance to Your Running

5 Tips for Bringing Balance to Your Running

We often think of our running and race training simply in physiological terms: increase our endurance, build speed, include a taper, and race hard. These aspects of running and racing are certainly important, and I talk about them frequently on this little blog.

However, there are other undervalued areas of training and running to which I believe we could and should give more attention, both in how we talk about running and how we train. These areas include balance, sustainability/durability, fatigue resistance, and mental strength.

Over the next several weeks, I hope to devote a post to each of these areas. Today, I want to begin with balance.

5 Tips for Bringing Balance to Your Running

Balance requires listening to your body’s signals, prioritizing your workouts, training at the appropriate paces, and emphasizing recovery as much as running.

A balanced runner is a healthy runner. She does not approach the starting line feeling burnt out, nor does she push herself each and every day to do exactly what her training plan demands when her body indicates otherwise.

A primary focus on my training cycle for the Lake Sammamish Half Marathon fostering a more intuitive and thus more balanced approach to how I train. Rather than setting a time goal at the start, the first month of training was devoted to running by effort and discovering where exactly my current fitness and potential progress intersect.

After pushing too hard, too often while following the Hansons Marathon Method, this intuitive and balanced approach to training also manifests as adaptive training. I listen to my body and adapt my workouts from there.

My own self-coached training plan (heavily inspired by Brad Hudson’s Run Faster from the 5K to Marathon) features ranges on easy days. This is to encourage me to listen to my body, rather than focus on simply piling up (and possibly junking out) my miles.

While there are scientifically-supported benefits to running high mileage, mileage should only be a means to a goal, never the end, when you’re training for a race. Frequently, many of us runners (myself included) can lose focus and sacrifice balance when we become too fixated on a particular aspect of our training.

Overtraining most often occurs not when you run too much (although too high mileage in relation to your own fitness can contribute) but when you do not achieve the proper balance of training and recovery.

The philosopher Aristotle posited that the happy life was achieved through pursuing the happy medium. Neither gluttony nor starvation offer any virtue, according to his writings on ethics; rather, moderate and enjoyable consumption is the ideal.

Likewise, the same is true for running: skipping your workouts will not help you maintain a healthy life, enjoy your hobby, or achieve your racing goals, but neither will pushing yourself so hard that you lose all sense of enjoyment and stop seeing benefits from your workouts.

So how do you achieve balance in your training? Much like intuitive eating, balance in training varies from runner to runner based on our past training, recovery rate, personal disposition, and other factors.

No matter what your abilities or tendencies in training, these five tips on bringing balance to your running will help you achieve healthier and happier training.

5 Tips for Bringing Balance to Your Running

Heed Your Body’s Signals

If you don’t already, you should do a quick self-assessment of how you feel before you begin a workout. Do you have any aches or pains (even minor ones), lingering soreness, or fatigue? Those are your body’s signals that you may need to reduce the volume or intensity of a run, especially if it’s not your most important workout of the week.

This is why I set mileage ranges for my easy runs. If I’m feeling stiff or tired, I stick to the lower end of the range. If I don’t sense any excessive fatigue or soreness, I am for the higher end of the range. My daily mileage on easy days is not dictated by some external schedule, but by an assessment of what will offer the most benefit that day in both terms of progressing my running while recovering well.

Set a Purpose for Each Run

If you are following a reputable plan or using a certified and knowledgeable running coach, you plan should already feature a balance of training runs: easy, hard, long. To emphasize balance in my running, I clearly note the purpose of each run before I begin and then stick to that purpose during each run.

Recovery runs are meant to be slower and shorter than any other workout. Tempo runs are different than time trials. By following the purpose of each workout and adjusting accordingly if need be, you bring a better sense of balance to your training.

With purposes come priority: easy runs don’t matter as much as tempo runs, long runs, and speed workouts. Why push too far or too fast on an easy day if it’s going to leave you feeling even more fatigued for your hard workout?

Don’t Forget to Count Cross-Training, Yoga, and Other Active Hobbies

I hike almost every week, and you better believe I count that as a hard workout in the equation of balancing my workouts. If I hiked far and high on Saturday, I’m more likely to favor an easy run or an effort-based fartlek run on Monday than a hard speed workout.

Spinning, power yoga, kettlebell, Pilates, and weight lifting can all add fatigue to our bodies and require their own recovery periods as well. Your running should strike a balance with these other activities (and vice versa), both to prevent overtraining and for your own state of mind.

Mileage is a Means, Not an End

While there are scientifically-supported benefits to running high mileage, mileage should only be a means to a goal, never the end, when you’re training for a race. Frequently, many of us runners (myself included) can lose focus and sacrifice balance when we become too fixated on a particular aspect of our training.

There are such things as junk miles, especially when you are training for a race. Don’t junk out your miles to achieve an arbitrary mileage goal each week; this is the quickest way to lose a sense of balance in your training. Having a purpose for each run will decrease the likelihood of running junk miles. 

5 Tips for Bringing Balance to Your Running

When In Doubt, Less is More

Repeat this with me: it is better to undertrain than overtrain.

Let’s say that again: it is better to undertrain than overtrain.

One more time for me, please: it is better to undertrain than overtrain.

This is something I’m still working on overcoming, and I know many other runners struggle in finding the balance between training enough and training too much.

The renowned exercise physiologist and running coach Jack Daniels advises avoidance of overtraining in his book Daniels’ Running Formula. Scheduled rest days and appropriate recovery methods and balancing training with the demands of professional and family life are vital to preventing overtraining.

One of the best actions you can take against overtraining is to find balance in every hard workout (speed work, tempo runs, and long runs). Think of training as a scale: too little of a stimulus will tip you in one direction, where you do not make any progression, and too much will tip you in the opposite direction, where you plateau, are injured, or burn out.

Of course, it’s always better to favor the balance in the direction of doing too little. As Daniels states in Daniels’ Running Formula, “An approach I suggest for runners is that whenever you are not sure which of the two training sessions to take on at any particular time, select the less stressful of the two.”

Most of All…

Run in a way that brings you joy. Your running will feel so much more out of balance if your heart isn’t in it. 

Need help to bring balance to your training? Consider my run coaching services. My goal as a coach is to help you run your personal best through sustainable methods, individualized workouts, and adaptable training. You’ll learn to run by effort to discover your full potential, train according to your strengths, improve on your weakness, and enjoy your running even during the hardest weeks of training! 

Do you struggle to achieve balance in your training?
How do you find balance in your running or in other areas of life?
Do you tend to overtrain?

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32 Responses

  1. Great tips, and I think this can be so tricky, especially for runners who are trying to take their training to the next level. I think it can be really difficult to learn that intuition, and sometimes when we push ourselves too hard we realize it a little too late.

    1. Thank you, Lisa! I agree – learning that intuition is so difficult, especially in this era of Garmins and easily accessible data. It’s so important to learn before we push too far!

  2. Great post, and very much in line with many of my training cycles. My body can be so finicky, and me so emotional as a runner, that I often need to do what feels good that day, while avoiding overtraining. Now, if I could get my body not to be a putz and get ridiculous injuries, that would be helpful!

    1. Thank you, Susie! I find it sometimes tricky to balance emotional running with listening to my body, because it seems so often these don’t match up (okay, usually on Monday’s!). Maybe the R&R in Cabo will help your body heal up! 🙂

  3. Setting a purpose for each run is essential for me. If I just go out there and say that I have to do 3 miles, they’re really meaningless. I always have a plan and each mile means something! Great advice 🙂

    1. Thank you, Gretchen! And yes – you’re so smart and in touch with your running! It’s easy to junk miles and run in that moderate zone too often if there’s no purpose. That type of training you’re doing is really going to help you with your marathon! 🙂

  4. Love, love, LOVE this! I tend to beat my body up a little but have recently been focusing taking my rest days and using them to practice restorative exercises! Hoping to see a difference in my performance come race day!

    1. Thank you, Annmarie! I used to be there also years ago, beating my body up in every workout – I didn’t even know such thing as an easy pace. I’m glad you’ve been focused on rest days – those will really help you feel strong and ready to race on race day!

  5. Always so informative! I totally used to run junk miles! I stopped doing that though once I caught on and figured out a routine that worked much better for me in terms of balancing my harder longer runs with the easy shorter recovery miles. Sometimes it’s hard to hold to the slow paces and shorter miles but I refuse to sacrifice the next day’s harder workout! And yes agreed, so much better to undertrain rather than overtrain. So often I want to keep going but I stop myself short to save myself for another day. I like to think I have found balance in my runs and workouts, especially since incorporating Pure Barre and yoga. Such a difference in how I feel overall.

    1. Thank you, Meredith! I used to junk miles also – back in college I would just push and push everyday! I love how you say that you refuse to sacrifice the next day’s workout by going too hard on a recovery day – that’s the exact mentality that inspired this post! I’m glad you’re finding such strong balance in your training – keep it up!

  6. I 100% agree with running with joy. In the end none of us are getting paid so we need to run however brings joy for our lives. I also agree with your thoughts on a purpose for runs and not just running to run, or running too many speedwork/fast workouts in a week.

    Since I slowed down my longer runs and added more easy days than speed (I still do 1 interval workout a week), my race times actually got faster- I was probably leaving my race on the track in training which wasn’t good!

    1. So true – none of us are getting paid or winning the big time races! And yes, it is so possible to leave our races in our training – in the past I’ve gotten caught in the trap of wanting to constantly test my fitness rather than just being patient for race day.

  7. Great post, Laura! Oh the on going pursuit of balance… its not easy but I think bringing awareness to what hasn’t worked is a great first step! If we don’t listen and pay attention to our body, we miss out on very important information that will help in finding this balance. I can fall into the trap of needing to hit a certain mileage each week which is why I am looking forward to this winter and really focusing on supplemental workouts, speed workouts and easy runs. I try to mix it up and listen to my body as much as possible. Like this morning I had fartleks planned and my body was tired. I eased up a bit on my fast pace and still got in a great workout. Love that mantra and I will remember it :-).

    1. Thank you, Angie! Love your idea of starting with what hasn’t worked – learning from mistakes is invaluable! I’m glad you were able to adjust your run this morning to have a great workout! 🙂

  8. For some reason, my body is wired for high mileage but not so much speed. I can overtrain if I do too much speed work, but my body handles 60-80 miles per week really well. I would say 70 miles per week is my sweet spot. When I go above 70, I can feel it, and so I dial back the speed when I go high. Actually, you know what? I don’t really follow any sort of plan. I just go by feel, and I think it takes a long time and years of experience to know the difference between pushing too hard, and pushing just hard enough.

    1. Speed work is SO much harder on the body than volume! It’s very common to overtrain from speed rather than from a lot of miles, because the recovery from speed work is just ridiculous! I read in Pfitzinger that you can recover from a long run in usually 3 days, but a hard speed session takes 3-5 days to recover. That’s awesome that you’ve found your mileage sweet spot – definitely something I and so many other runners aspire to find!

  9. Great post, as usual! These things are all so important to keep in mind. I know a lot of people who basically consider any non-running activity a rest day, and I’ve never understood it. We may not have to endure the pounding but XT still takes a toll on our bodies! I always take at least one complete rest day a week, as I believe it’s crucial, although I understand others have different preferences and needs.

    For all my faults, I’ve always been pretty good about balance. I think I can confidently say I have never overtrained, or even been tempted to. I just enjoy my rest days too much – sometimes maybe even a little too much :-). One thing I have struggled with in the past is keeping my recovery pace easy enough for actual recovery. I think it’s difficult for us runners to do, because it’s hard not to get insecure about what the numbers on our watch say. I’ve been making recovery a priority this cycle with slower easy runs, and even though I’m only 4 weeks in, I can already see what a difference it’s making in how much energy I have and how I feel every day.

    1. Thank you, Hanna! That’s good that you enjoy rest days! Our society puts too much focus on do, do, do without any on just being, and I hate the fitspo that promotes pushing our bodies hard every day. I love my recovery days also – it’s great time to catch up on Netflix or a book!

  10. This is a great post that I think any runner or athlete can benefit from. Often times we view running as “giving up” certain aspects of life or training and that definitely does not have to be the case. I have found myself needing 1-2 rest days per week otherwise I get injured!

    1. Thank you, Hollie! I agree – even with long distance running, it doesn’t have to be one or the other, running or life/work/hobbies/family, but rather we just need to learn to balance. and yay for rest day! 🙂

  11. I needed this. 🙂 I am just getting back into running after a fairly lengthy break, and I have a hard time being a bit slower than I used to be. I push myself a little too hard sometimes to overcompensate, but I know I just have to trust my training program and give it time!

    1. I’m glad you found the post helpful! Yes – trust your training – one of the best mantras in the sport. It is hard to be slower than you want to be (I’ve been there plenty of times as well) but the journey is so much more enjoyable if we focus on where we are and work from there. And I always say to myself that an easy run can never be too easy, but it can too easily become too hard! 🙂

  12. I think balance might be the hardest thing for many runners and athletes in general to achieve, because it seems to go against everything we learn and be way we succeed early on. Like many runners, I learned the hard way when enough is enough for me – and also that it’s not worth it to push all the time, especially when your heart isn’t in it.

    1. I so agree on not pushing all the time! Whether it’s any given day in training or a whole training cycle, it just feels better to finish with something left in the tank and not completely burning out.

  13. Setting a purpose for each run is a GREAT WAY to get yourself on the road and hitting the pavement hard! Dedicate runs to people, use them as a way to blow off steam, etc etc! So smart!

  14. Great tips! I love your last point – I’m super afraid of overtraining now that I’m coming back from an injury, and I need to remember this! I don’t want to accidentally push too hard in any of my workouts.

    1. Thank you! I think a good rule of thumb for avoiding overtraining is to always finish a workout feeling like you could give another rep or go another mile. I hope you’re doing well coming back from your injury!

    1. Thank you, Jess! Weights are so beneficial for runners – and they don’t need to always do a super hard workout like some people think. Just 15 minutes of weights can do the trick!

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